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Searchlight taming ‘Beasts’

Distrib in active talks to acquire Sundance hit

EXCLUSIVE: Fox Searchlight is in active talks to acquire Benh Zeitlin’s “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” emerging from a swarm of suitors who’ve been circling the Sundance hit.

No deal is in place, and sources caution that other buyers are still in the mix. But multiple people familiar with the negotiations say Searchlight is intent on bagging its quarry, the tale of a 6-year-old girl (Quvenzhane Wallis) who lives in a southern Delta community at the edge of the world.

WME Global is selling domestic rights to the pic, which has seen a flood of interest since its debut at the Eccles Theater on Friday. Though the unusual pic has its detractors, the reception from critics and bloggers has been glowingly positive.

Sony Pictures Classics, Focus Features and the Weinstein Co. had all been circling the film, which Zeitlin co-wrote with Lucy Alibar.

TWC’s early interest in the pic faded, while Sony Classics execs were divided on it.

Fox Searchlight was an active buyer at last year’s Sundance, purchasing high-profile titles such as “Another Earth” and “Martha Marcy May Marlene.” Sources believe that the distrib is likely to close on “Beasts” soon.

Zeitlin is currently without representation, though there’s likely to be an agency feeding frenzy after the festival for the young director who created the film via Sundance Labs.

“Beasts of the Southern Wild” will screen on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday at various locations.