Marking its fourth film acquisition in the last two weeks, upstart US distribution outfit Newmarket Films has acquired all North American rights to Whale Rider, Niki Caro's magical fable from New Zealand, which won the AGF People's Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival last weekend.

The film, which world premiered in Toronto, was sold by London-based The Works. Based on Maori legends and set in a Maori community, it tells the story of a young girl's fight to prove her love, her leadership and her destiny on New Zealand's East Coast. Newcomer Keisha Castle-Hughes plays the girl.

The film is Caro's second after Memory And Desire which won the best film award at the 1999 New Zealand Film Awards. It is adapted from the novel by Witi Ihimaera and produced by Tom Sanders, John Barnett of South Pacific Pictures and Frank Hubner of ApolloMedia. Executive producers are Bill Gavin and Linda Goldstein Knowlton. Pandora Film of Germany was also a co-producer.

Newmarket Capital Group chief Will Tyrer negotiated the deal with Aline Perry, CEO of The Works and producer Barnett.

Also at Toronto, Newmarket - which is run by Bob Berney and is a division of Newmarket Capital Group - acquired domestic rights to Jonas Akerlund's Spun, Susanne Bier's Open Hearts and Lukas Moodysson's Lilya 4-ever. The company's first release will be Real Women Have Curves in association with HBO on Oct 22.