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Sony Pictures Classics Acquires Vera Farmiga’s Sundance Debut ‘Higher Ground’

Mike Fleming

Sony Pictures Classics bought North American, Australian and New Zealand rights to Higher Ground, the directorial debut of actress Vera Farmiga that made its debut at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. She stars with John Hawkes (Oscar-nominated for Winter’s Bone), Donna Murphy and Joshua Leonard. The film is an adaptation of This Dark World: A Memoir of Salvation Found and Lost, by Carolyn S. Briggs, who wrote the script with Tim Metcalfe. It’s a study of a woman’s internal struggle with the primary love relationships in her life over two decades. The child of a traumatic divorce, she and her partner dedicate their lives to God and a small hippie church, but some of the machinations of that church give her pause. CAA brokered the deal.

Sony Pictures Classics partners Michael Barker and Tom Bernard and exec Dylan Leiner add another acquisition title to what proved to be a bountiful Sundance. They made preemptive buys of  the Michael Shannon-starrer Take Shelter and the Morgan Spurlock documentary POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Story Ever Sold. At the festival, they  bought the John Michael McDonagh-directed The Guard, the Irish action comedy which stars Brendan Gleeson and Don Cheadle.

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Sundance: Oprah’s OWN Acquires Docu ‘Crime After Crime’

Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: Oprah Winfrey’s upstart cable network OWN continued its aggressive buying at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival by acquiring North American rights to Crime After Crime, the Yoav Potash-directed documentary. I’m told the deal was six figures, and that OWN will afford the film a qualifying Oscar run before it airs on Oprah’s new network. OWN chief creative officer Lisa Erspamer made the deal with Submarine’s Josh Braun and David Koh. The doc is about Deborah Peagler, an abused woman who struck back at the boyfriend who beat her. She was sentenced to 25 years to life for his murder. Some 20 years into her sentence, California passed a law permitting domestic violence survivors to have their case reopened. A pair of real estate lawyers took on Peagler’s case, and what seemed an easy effort turned into a politically-driven nightmare to free her. The film debuted January 23 at the Temple Theatre, and I’d heard this was an emotionally wrenching tear-jerker. Several distributors including Goldwyn and IFC were interested. The film will have its DVD distribution through Oprah’s Documentary Club, and comes on the heels of OWN’s announcement that Rosie O’Donnell will be a collaborator in the OWN Docu Club. Remake rights were not part of the deal, and I’ve heard there is interest on that front. OWN also acquired the docu Becoming Chaz, which premiered at Sundance.

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Sundance: Oscilloscope Near ‘Bellflower’ Deal

Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: Oscilloscope is close to a deal to acquire English language territories for Bellflower, the Evan Glodell-directed action film which premiered January 21 in Sundance’s Next Films category of low budget fare. Glodell made his helming debut in a film that is described as an apocalyptic love story for the Mad Max generation. Glodell stars with Jessie Wiseman, Tyler Dawson and Rebekah Brandes. Two slightly delusional pals build flamethrowers and other weapons of mayhem to prepare for a global apocalypse they feel will open the door for an imaginary gang they’ve invented called Mother Medusa. When one of them falls for a woman, the pair finds themselves integrated into new a group of people, set on a journey where all hell breaks loose. CAA is handling the sale, and I hear it’ll go down shortly, with David Fenkel, who co-founded Oscilloscope with Adam Yauch. It’s the first acquisition of the festival for Oscilloscope.

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Sundance: HBO Acquires Docu ‘Hot Coffee’

Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: HBO has closed a deal for Hot Coffee, the Susan Saladoff-directed competition documentary which focuses on  how corporations have used the memory of outlandish legal verdicts as a way to press for tort reforms and avoid jury trials through arbitration on cases that actually have merit.

HBO’s Sheila Nevins viewed the documentary after it premiered last Monday. I’m told the deal was mid to high six-figures. HBO licensed the film for broadcast and VOD for 2 years, and will afford the film a qualifying Oscar theatrical run before it airs on the pay channel. Preferred Content’s Kevin Iwashina brokered the sale. Carly Hugo and Alan Oxman produced with Saladoff.

The film’s title refers to the famous case of a woman”s million dollar judgment from McDonald’s over a spilled cup of coffee. Saladin, a lawyer, focuses on other outrageous cases that illustrated where corporations were negligent or unresponsive. They include a case involving Halliburton, which housed a 19-year old worker overseas in a barracks with men and ignored her concerns. She was gang-raped.

HBO had a busy Sundance, acquiring remake rights to turn the documentary Knuckle into a potential TV series with Rough House Productions, and making a preemptive acquisition of the docu Project Nim and then setting up theatrical distribution through Roadside Attractions.

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Sundance: Fox Searchlight Makes Foreign Rights Deal For ‘Another Earth’

Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE 2ND UPDATE: Two days after buying English speaking rights to Another Earth, Fox Searchlight has acquired worldwide rights to the film. That makes Searchlight’s minimum guarantee commitment around $3 million. Relative to its $150,000 budget, Another Earth walks away with one of the bigger commitments to a small film in recent memory, maybe since The Blair Witch Project. The picture has received glowing reviews for director Mike Cahill and the script he wrote with Brit Marling. She stars with William Mapother in a drama with sci-fi elements. Foreign buyers responded, and the sellers scheduled a screening in Hollywood today. Much to the chagrin of buyers, it has been canceled, after Searchlight stepped up last night and closed in a deal with WME Global’s Graham Taylor, Preferred Content’s Kevin Iwashina, and Andre Des Rochers. It is one of two WME-brokered pictures expected to go today. The other is the Dito Montiel-directed The Son Of No One. Despite a trade slam piece, the movie has five distributors circling, and the auction is around $2 million so far, I hear. The deal could be done before the film’s official premiere this evening. WME is brokering that deal with Cassian Elwes. Read More »

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Sundance: IFC, Sony Worldwide Acquisitions Take ‘Salvation Boulevard’

Mike Fleming

IFC Films and Sony Pictures Worldwide teamed for North American rights to Salvation Boulevard, the George Ratliff-directed film that stars Pierce Brosnan, Jennifer Connelly, Ed Harris, Greg Kinnear, Jim Gaffigan and Marisa Tomei. Brosnan plays a charismatic preacher who captivates a city with his charm. When an accident with an antique firearm does in preacher’s adversary, he calls in a loyal worshiper and former Deadhead (Kinnear) for help. All hell breaks loose. UTA brokered the deal for Mandalay Vision, the division of Mandalay Pictures. Cathy Schulman, Celine Rattray and Peter Fruchtman produce. IFC will distribute.

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Sundance: Roadside Attractions To Release ‘Project Nim’

Mike Fleming

Following the preemptive acquisition of the documentary Project Nim by HBO, there was some question of whether theatrical distributors would be as excited about acquiring the film, when all of its rights were now spoken for. Roadside Attractions has stepped up. Here’s the release:

Park City, UT (January 27, 2011) – HBO has partnered with Roadside Attractions for US theatrical and DVD rights to PROJECT NIM, the 2011 Sundance Film Festival opener in the World Cinema Documentary Competition, it was announced today by Sheila Nevins, President, HBO Documentary Films and Howard Cohen, Co-President Roadside Attractions. The film will go out theatrically through Roadside Attractions, on television through HBO and on DVD through Lionsgate.

From the Oscar©-winning team behind MAN ON WIRE, director James Marsh and producer Simon Chinn, comes the story of Nim, a chimpanzee who in the 1970s became the focus of a landmark experiment which aimed to show that an ape could learn to communicate with language if raised and nurtured like a human child. Following Nim’s extraordinary journey through human society, and the enduring impact he makes on the people he meets along the way, the film is an unflinching and unsentimental biography of an animal we tried to make human.

The deal was negotiated by HBO, Submarine’s Josh Braun and Roadside Attractions’ Howard Cohen.

“James Marsh and I are absolutely thrilled to be working with Roadside Attractions and HBO Documentary Films on the US theatrical release of

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Sundance: Dada Films Climbs ‘The Last Mountain’

Mike Fleming

LOS ANGELES, CA – January 27, 2011 – MJ Peckos announced today that Dada has acquired U.S. theatrical rights to Bill Haney’s “The Last Mountain” and will release the film June 3. The film had its world premiere in the U.S. Documentary Competition category of the 2011 Sundance Film Festival.

“The Last Mountain” is about an epic battle taking place in the heartland of America, as a small community fights to protect their way of life against one of America’s biggest coal companies. “This amazingly uplifting David and Goliath film combines superb storytelling and extraordinary cinematography,” said Peckos. “The fight for Appalachia’s last great mountain has consequences which affect every American; the heroism and effectiveness of the ordinary Americans who are taking on the coal companies will inspire everyone who sees it.

Bill Haney said, “I was impressed with the business model that Peckos and her partner Steven Raphael presented which seems right on target for the way environmental docs are being released today. There was a lot of distributor interest but I felt that their passion for the film and experience with releasing documentaries was the right fit. The fact that they are committing to a seven figure distribution budget is a great marker for the passion they have for the film. ”

Directed by Bill Haney (“The Price of Sugar”), the film was written by Haney and Peter Rhodes, produced by Clara Bingham, Eric Grunebaum, Bill Haney, and executive produced by Tim Disney and

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Sundance: Lionsgate Near ‘Devil’s Double’ Deal

Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: Lionsgate has entered into exclusive negotiations to acquire The Devil’s Double, the Lee Tamahori drama about the man who was forced to become the body double of Saddam Hussein’s thuggish son, Uday. Lionsgate team has been pursuing the film since it first aired last Saturday at the Eccles Theater, as had Summit and Relativity Media. The subject matter is rough, but festival goers have been talking about the breakout double performance by Dominic Cooper, who plays both Uday and the body double. The picture marks Tamahori’s first independent film since his breakthrough Once Were Warriors, another viscerally-shot drama with disturbing moments. The film seems a good fit for Lionsgate, which has been mentioned as competitive in several festival films. CAA and Paradigm worked together on the deal.

The Devil’s Double is one of the last titles that were on the priority lists of major buyers, in what has been a most satisfying festival for acquisition deals.  Developing…

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Sundance: IFC Acquires ‘Perfect Sense’

IFC Films has acquired North American rights to director David Mackenzie’s romantic thriller Perfect Sense, which debuted in the Premieres section this week.

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Sundance: Magnolia Nabs ‘I Melt With You’

Mike Fleming

Park City, UT – January 26, 2011 – The Wagner/Cuban Company’s Magnolia Pictures announced today they have acquired US theatrical rights to Mark Pellington’s I MELT WITH YOU, a kinetic and visceral ensemble film starring Thomas Jane, Rob Lowe, Jeremy Piven, Christian McKay, Carla Gugino and Sasha Grey.

Jane, Lowe, Piven and McKay give bravura, unhinged performances as four friends on a drug and rock n’ roll fueled trip together in Big Sur. Pellington explores themes of masculinity and friendship with a groundbreaking visual style and dizzying post-punk soundtrack. Written by Glenn Porter, the film was produced by Pellington,  Norm Reiss and Rob Cowan, and executive produced by Aaron Gilbert, Heidi Levitt and Neil LaBute.   “Mark Pellington has made a maverick, stylish and powerful film that resonates for days after viewing,” said Magnolia SVP Tom Quinn. “Thomas Jane, Rob Lowe, Jeremy Piven and Christian McKay give some of the best performances of their entire careers and attention must be paid.”

“I’m ecstatic that our film has found a home for theatrical distribution and thrilled it is a company with people that completely understand what the film is about philosophically and aesthetically,” said Pellington.

The deal was negotiated by Magnolia SVP Tom Quinn with Submarine’s Josh Braun and UTA’s Rena Ronson.

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Sundance: Ex-Guns N’ Roses Guitarist Slash Tunes Up Trio Of Fright Films

Mike Fleming

Musicians spiced up the 2011 Sundance Film Festival last weekend, with films involving Lou Reed, James Taylor and the Grateful Dead. And then there was iconic ex-Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash, who spent the weekend meeting potential studio partners for three new horror films he has  set under his Slasher Films producing label.

Slash  launched Slasher Films last fall by setting up the Jonathan W.C. Mills-scripted fright film Nothing to Fear. He has partnered with Scout Productions’ Michael  Williams and Rob Eric to acquire three horror film packages. Jay Russell is attached to direct Wake the Dead, a contemporary re-imagining of Frankenstein. It is adapted from the graphic novel by Steve Niles, whose work has been turned into such films as 30 Days of Night.

A deal is being made to produce Theorem, to be helmed by Splice director Vincenzo Natali from a script he wrote with Mike Finch. Pic is about a genius college professor who, trying to break down the genetic compound of an ancient artifact, discovers it’s a relic from hell and that he has unwittingly unlocked the equation for evil. Steve Hoban is producing. Read More »

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Sundance: Sony Pictures Classics Acquires ‘The Guard’ With Brendan Gleeson

Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: Sony Pictures Classics has closed a 7-figure deal for U.S. and Latin American distribution rights to The Guard, the Irish action comedy written and directed by John Michael McDonagh. The film premiered last Thursday and multiple distributors have been circling since.

Brendan Gleeson plays a local cop who begrudgingly assists an FBI agent (Don Cheadle) who is chasing the members of an international drug smuggling ring that has taken up residence in the Irish town. McDonagh, the brother of In Bruges writer/director Martin McDonagh (the pic’s executive producer), makes his feature debut. It’s the third deal of the festival for SPC partners Michael Barker and Tom Bernard, but the first one they made on the ground at Park City. They are distributing Morgan Spurlock’s documentary POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Story Ever Sold. And made a sight-unseen preemptive acquisition of the Jeff Nichols-directed drama Take Shelter, the drama that stars Michael Shannon as a small town man who builds a storm cellar in his yard after dreams tell him that an imminent apocalyptic event. Jessica Chastain plays his wife. That drama premiered today at Eccles Theater and it has received glowing reviews.

UTA’s Rena Ronson and David Flynn brokered the deal with Metropolis Film Sales.

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Sundance: Fox Searchlight Cages ‘Bengali Detective’

Mike Fleming

PARK CITY, UT January 24, 2011 – Fox Searchlight Pictures President of Production Claudia Lewis announced today that the company has acquired worldwide remake rights from Native Voice Films to the entertaining original feature documentary, THE BENGALI DETECTIVE, directed by Philip Cox and produced by Giovanna Stopponi, Annie Sundberg and Himesh Kar.

“We adored this film and are delighted to have the chance to work with such entertaining, funny material. We were charmed by this story of a dedicated husband and self-made detective who dreams big,” said Lewis.

“We are thrilled that Fox Searchlight has fallen in love with our leading man Rajesh and his wild adventures as a detective in Kolkata. Fox Searchlight has an amazing track record of bringing stories set in India to a worldwide audience, and we are excited to be sharing this journey with them,” said director Phil Cox and The Bengali Detective team.

In THE BENGALI DETECTIVE, Calcutta’s criminal underworld is explored by intrepid private eye Rajesh Ji. Following both his investigations and Rajesh’s pursuit of his dream to dance on Indian TV, THE BENGALI DETECTIVE provides a look at modern India through the eyes of one of its most unlikely heroes.

The deal was brokered on Fox Searchlight’s side by Senior Vice President of Business Affairs Megan O’Brien with Andrew Hurwitz of Schreck Rose Dapello Adams & Hurwitz, LLP on behalf of Native Voice Films. Creative Executive Richard Gold will oversee development for Fox Searchlight

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Sundance: Participant Media Acquires ‘Circumstance’

Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: In its second Sundance deal today, Participant Media has acquired North American rights to Circumstance, a tale of forbidden love in Iran, written and directed by Maryam Keshavarz. Deal is worth mid to high six figures. The picture, which premiered Saturday, is Farsi language with English subtitles.

Participant Media president Ricky Strauss sealed the deal and is now in talks with several distributors on a film that was produced by Keshavarz, Karin Chien and Melissa M. Lee, with Christina Won exec producing. A wealthy Iranian family struggles to contain a teen’s growing sexual rebellion and her brother’s dangerous obsession. Deadline readers might recall Keshavarz was one of the first filmmakers to speak out against the imprisonment of Iranian filmmakers Jafar Panahi and Muhammad Rasoulof when they were issued draconian 6-year prison sentences and banned from making films for two decades by the oppressive regime there. Keshavarz told me at the time that she had to shoot in Lebanon, because she feared her film’s provocative subject matter would put its crew in danger.

“This remarkable debut from an exciting new film making talent, Maryam Keshavarz, gives us the perfect vehicle to begin expanding our international outreach with foreign language storytelling,” Participant’s Strauss said in a statement.

Participant Media teamed with Magnolia Pictures earlier today to acquire Page One, the documentary about The New York Times. Strauss, Jeff Ivers and Jonathan King … Read More »

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Sundance: Liddell Moves Into ‘Silent House’

Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: Mickey Liddell’s Liddell Entertainment has acquired domestic and most world rights to the horror film Silent House in a deal just brokered by CAA. I’m told the deal is a $3 million minimum guarantee, and a P&A commitment upwards of $3 million. Liddell gets all territories but UK, Scandanavia and the Middle East. Liddell, who made a splash last year backing the acquisition of the Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu-directed Biutiful, is working with CAA to set a distributor. Several are circling, including Lionsgate and The Weinstein Company. The film made its debut in a  Friday midnight screening. A remake of the Gustavo Hernandez-directed Uruguayan thriller La Casa Muda, Silent House is the second film by Chris Kentis and Laura Lau, filmmakers who helmed the 2004 Sundance midnight pic Open Water.

Elizabeth Olsen heads the cast. A family returns to their former boarded up house to spruce it up for sale. Once they hear a noise inside and investigate, the scares begin. The film was done in one long continuous shot, which could prove a catchy technique like those “found footage” fright films Blair Witch and Paranormal Activity.

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Sundance: Fox Searchlight Buys ‘Martha Marcy May Marlene’

Mike Fleming

PARK CITY, UT January 24, 2011 – Fox Searchlight Pictures Presidents Nancy Utley and Stephen Gilula announced today that the company has acquired worldwide rights to the suspenseful drama MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE. Written and directed by Sean Durkin, MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE stars Elizabeth Olsen, Sarah Paulson, John Hawkes and Hugh Dancy. Maybach Cunningham and FilmHaven entertainment present a Borderline Films Production in association with This Is that. The film was produced by Josh Mond, Antonio Campos, Chris Maybach and Patrick Cunningham. Ted Hope, Matt Palmieri, Saerom Kim, Saemi Kim and Alexander Schepsman are executive producers with Andrew Corkin as co-producer. The film is scheduled to be released in 2011.

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Sundance: Participant Media, Magnolia Team For New York Times Docu ‘Page One’

Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: Participant Media and Magnolia are partnering on the U.S. distribution rights to Andrew Rossi’s Page One. Deal was mid-six figures and a commitment for a strong theatrical release. Participant will provide the backing it did past documentary successes Food Inc, Waiting for Superman and An Inconvenient Truth. The documentary is what director Andrew Rossi brought back after spending 14 months camped out at the media desk of The New York Times. He followed reporters like David Carr and Brian Stelter as they reported on technological changes, the same ones that were walloping the newspaper’s circulation and advertising, causing newsroom layoffs. Deal was brokered by Submarine’s Josh Braun after the film had its premiere on Sunday. IFC, Goldwyn and Magnolia battled late into the evening. When things were well along with Magnolia, Participant Media emerged, and the decision was made to partner.

It’s intriguing the deal comes the same morning that the Times wrote a long article about troubles at rival LA Times, and how that paper is losing standing with homegrown readers. “The conceit of the film was I followed editors and reporters on the media desk as they covered stories about changing technology as the paper itself underwent tumultuous change and layoffs because of that technology,” Rossi told me days ago when Deadline ran a clip about Stelter’s first story involving WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange. Here is it again:

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Sundance: National Geographic Grabs Kevin Macdonald’s ‘Life In A Day’

Mike Fleming

National Geographic Films acquired US rights to Life in a Day, the docu that paired Kevin Macdonald and Ridley Scott. Pic will be released by Nat Geo domestically in partnership with YouTube. The film is culled from footage gained by asking average people around the world to capture their lives on July 24, 2010. Some 80,000 submissions from 192 countries were culled down to the 90-minute documentary.

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