For the second time in six months, HBO Films has sealed adeal to release one of its productions theatrically in North America before itsHBO TV premiere, this time teaming with AOL Time Warner sister company FineLine Features to release American Splendorwhich last month won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival.

The film was one of the best-received at Sundance andseveral distributors were after theatrical including Newmarket Films whichsuccessfully released HBO's Real Women Have Curves late last year and grossed $5.8m - making it themost successful alumnus of the dramatic competition section at Sundance lastyear. Sony Pictures Classics and three other distributors are also thought tohave made offers

The film marks the return to the acquisitions market ofFine Line, whose president Mark Ordesky has been otherwise engaged supervisingproduction of parent company New Line Cinema's behemoth blockbuster The LordOf The Rings which shot and has been inpost in New Zealand. Ordesky returned from the New Zealand in November and hasbeen aggressively kickstarting Fine Line's activities, assembling the keyelements of a new production - the $23m drama Birth directed by Jonathan Glazer and starring NicoleKidman, Danny Huston and Lauren Bacall - and now winning the battle todistribute American Splendor.

Ordesky said that Fine Line's mandate is to releasebetween three and six films a year, and more attention could be given to eachfilm - a selling point for HBO.

According to the deal with HBO, the distribution of thefilm will be handled as a joint venture with no money upfront but a shared potagreement after costs are deducted. Fine Line will handle theatrical, while HBOwill handle video and, of course, TV.

Ordesky added that, while no release date was yet set forAmerican Splendor, it could open asearly as August. "HBO is on the leading edge of ground-breakingindependent cinema, and we are excited to help bring that vision to a wideaudience," he said.

Ironically - and coincidentally - the writer/directors ofAmerican Splendor Shari Springer Bermanand Robert Pulcini also have a film in development at New Line called FamilyPlanning.

The film is produced by former Good Machine principal TedHope who has previously worked with Fine Line on his films Storytelling and Human Nature. It stars Paul Giamatti as comic book writer Harvey Pekar and HopeDavis as his wife Joyce Brabner.

"We'revery proud that HBO Films was able to help Shari and Robert realize theirvision of American Splendor," said HBO Films president Colin Callender in a statement."It's an extraordinary directorial debut. It was very exciting to see thereception it received at Sundance from audiences and critics alike. We'redelighted to be in business with Bob Shaye, Michael Lynne, Mark Ordesky,Russell Schwartz and the entire New Line and Fine Line team. They share ourpassion for Harvey Pekar's story; and we look forward to working together withthem to bring American Splendor to the big screen."