Fox Searchlight on a tear in Sundance

Trio of pacts for distrib

Fox Searchlight emerged as a major dealmaker at the Sundance Film Festival, picking up “Homework” and “Martha Marcy May Marlene” and nabbing remake rights to “The Bengali Detective.”

The three deals added to an increasingly busy pace at the festival, which also saw pickups Monday for “Buck,” “The Ledge,” “Life in a Day,” “Page One,” “Silent House” and “Circumstance.”

Searchlight made a deal for “Homework,” from first-time director Gavin Wiesen and toplining Freddie Highmore and Emma Roberts, late Sunday, while a pact for “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” with this year’s Sundance darling Elizabeth Olsen, was finalized Monday afternoon with Searchlight beating other interested buyers like IFC Films. Sources suggest that Searchlight reportedly paid $3 million for “Homework” and nearly half that ($1.6 million) for “Martha.” The distrib plans to unspool both pics sometime this year. Olsen also stars in horror thriller “Silent House,” which was acquired by Mickey Liddell.

Searchlight has enjoyed a heightened presence at the fest so far this year — it came in with “Win Win” and “Cedar Rapids” — though other distribs have laid claim to their share of higher profile fest pics.

IFC landed two acquisitions Monday, one for sister division Sundance Selects, with Cindy Meehl’s docu “Buck.” The other title, Matthew Chapman’s U.S. feature competish entry “The Ledge,” will go through IFC with a late spring theatrical bow planned.

IFC generally releases films on VOD and in theaters at the same time. Chapman said, “I believe that with the help of IFC Films we will reach the widest audience possible, which was always my intention.”

Mike Cahill’s debut pic “Another Earth,” which preemed Monday afternoon, was welcomed by the crowd with an instant standing ovation. Festgoers murmured it was the breakout film of the fest, with some distribs extending their stay to catch later screenings of the sci-fi romance.

Graham Taylor, head of the WME indie wing that is repping the pic, said: “Sundance has proven we are entering a renaissance era for independent film,” citing talent like Cahill, Andrew Maclean, Dee Rees, Azazel Jacobs and Braden King as some of the fest standouts this year.

Sony Pictures Classics’ acquisition of Morgan Spurlock’s docu “Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Story Ever Sold” on day one of the fest set the tone for docu sales — and even the rights to remake docs as fiction films, as in the case of Searchlight’s buy of remake rights to “The Bengali Detective,” about an unusual Indian private eye.

There was also interest in remake rights for Irish docu “Knuckle,” about two families and their history of bare-knuckle fighting, with HBO nearing a deal for rights to adapt it as a drama series. Rough House Pictures, the shingle run by Jody Hill, Danny McBride and David Gordon Green, will steer the adaptation.

Halfway through the fest, the docus are selling fast despite a volatile theatrical market: National Geographic snapped up domestic rights to Kevin Macdonald’s YouTube experiment pic “Life in a Day” on Monday, days before the pic’s preem on Thursday at the Eccles Theater and on YouTube.

Magnolia Pictures and Participant Media joined forces to acquire domestic rights to “Page One,” the docu that takes a behind-the-scenes look at a year in the New York Times.

After acquiring all domestic rights to James Marsh’s docu “Project Nim,” a first-ever move for HBO Documentary, the cabler is nearing a U.S. theatrical deal with a handful of distributors circling.

A slew of other projects are nearing deals, namely, Irish buddy comedy “The Guard” and Miranda July’s “The Future.” Both premiered last week, emphasizing buyers’ patient approach.

Titles that screened Monday — including Channing Tatum starrer “The Son of No One” and “Salvation Boulevard,” with Pierce Brosnan and Jennifer Connelly — have sparked interest with potential buyers, and are likely to sell over the next few days.

Upcoming preems could motivate such buyers as Focus Features and FilmDistrict, which have been quiet so far.