It's not just domestic buyers who are putting up millions for premiere pictures at Sundance anymore. Yesterday Lions Gate Films made its first ever worldwide acquisition - American Spectrum title Two Family House - while Fiona Mitchell of United Artists Films (UAF) was reportedly set to buy international rights to competition favourite Girlfight.
Girlfight - an emotive and powerful story of a New York teenager from the projects who finds hope as an amateur boxer - is one of the most popular audience titles at Sundance. Not only did UAF reportedly take international rights on the film, but Sony Pictures Entertainment's mid-budget distribution label Screen Gems won domestic rights yesterday in what turned out to be the most vicious domestic bidding war of this year's festival. Fine Line Features, Paramount Pictures and USA Films were also up for the picture which was represented by John Sloss of New York-based Sloss Law Office. The film is directed by first-timer Karyn Kusama, produced by Sarah Green, Martha Green and Maggie Renzi and executive produced by, among others, John Sayles whose 1997 picture Men With Guns was also handled by Mitchell and partner Wendy Palmer when they ran CiBy Sales.
For Lions Gate, the acquisition of Two Family House, a moving portrait of relationships in 50s New York, marked a clear indicator to the production community that the company's domestic distribution division (under Mark Urman and Tom Ortenberg) was now confidently buying in tandem with its international sales arm (under Joe Drake and Nick Meyer). "People really like the movie here," Meyer told Screen International, although he refused to specify the price paid for the film. "We think the film has great foreign appeal. It's a small movie and a great story which we think has the same potential as Big Night." Producers rep Jeff Dowd sold the picture to Lions Gate on behalf of the film-makers.
Two Family House, directed by Raymond DeFelitta (Cafe Society), stars Michael Rispoli and Scotland's Kelly Macdonald.
Just before Sundance, Lions Gate acquired all international rights to Errol Morris' documentary Mr Death: The Rise And Fall Of Fred A Leuchter Jr, which had been bought last year for domestic release by Lions Gate Films.