SearchParty Films, the new "distribution services" outfit looking to hoover up films that have been ignored by conventional buyers, has picked up its first eight US-made indie acquisitions and is now training its ambitious sights on international features of all languages.

SearchParty, jointly spearheaded by co-chairman Larry Estes and Scott Rosenfelt, used this week's Sundance Film Festival to unveil its first tranche of acquisitions. Several more pick-ups are under negotiation including several Scandinavian titles from Norsk Films, English films from Canada and Australia, and at least one from mainland China, confirmed Rosenfelt.

"We're interested in having foreign language titles available in the US," said Estes, even if such films only reach a tiny constituency of world cinema buffs via distribution avenues such as videocassettes, DVDs or downloads at the click of a computer mouse. Accordingly, one of SearchParty's original partners is Loudeye Technologies, a company that has developed a system for encoding music and video for distribution over the Internet.

Among the announced US pick-ups is Ed Radtke's The Dream Catcher, a hitherto overlooked film despite winning multiple awards at festivals including one at last year's Locarno. The Dream Catcher will now be given a limited theatrical release in US cities during the first six months of this year. Overseeing the release as head of distribution and marketing for SearchParty will be Richard Abramowitz, a veteran of the domestic independent arena who was most recently in charge of Unapix' now defunct specialist theatrical division.

Another acquisition that is expected to be released this year through SearchParty is Stacy Cochran's Drop Back Ten, a film that premiered in the dramatic competition at last year's Sundance but has remained on the shelf ever since despite a cast that includes indie fixture James LeGros and fashion model Amber Valletta (What Lies Beneath). SearchParty has worldwide rights to Drop Back Ten and will now be representing the film in foreign territories.

Estes oversaw financing and distribution of Cochran's debut My New Gun back in 1992 when he was in charge of Columbia TriStar Home Video's once-aggressive independent film financing programme that put money into such Sundance favourites as sex, lies & videotape, Twenty-One and City Of Hope during the early nineties. Fittingly, Cochran became the first filmmaker to sign up with SearchParty just prior to last year's Independent Feature Film Market in New York.

Although SearchParty's ambitions include a film production arm that can already count on all new projects from Native American writer-director Alexie Sherman (Smoke Signals), Estes is quick to point out that the company will not be putting up sizeable advances in the way that CTHV once did.

Indeed, the company, which is about to raise a second round of financing after receiving backing from an initial group of private investors, intends to keep its spending in check by working with funding partners in production and avoiding bidding wars in acquisitions. And while SearchParty will branch into new areas such as soundtrack albums, it wants to avoid the trap of expanding too fast. A foreign sales operation, for example, is not an immediate priority.

The ultimate goal, says the duo, is to build a rights library of a size rivaling that of a large studio, but made up of niche titles that would be marketed under the SearchParty brand in the next four to five years when even the most microcosmic of audience demographics might be reached profitably. By keeping overheads low, revenue expectations ever lower and a willingness to put the work into titles others have little interest in, Estes hopes to break the distribution mould "until someone proves to us that our business model won't work."

More information on the company can be found on its website: The remaining acquisitions announced so far are as follows:

  • The Magic Of Marciano, produced by Lila Cazes and starring Nastassja Kinski, Cody Morgan and Robert Forster. The film won the New American Cinema Award at the 2000 Seattle International Film Festival.
  • Life Tastes Good, which featured at Sundance two years ago as part of the American Spectrum sidebar. Starring Sab Shimono, Julia Nickson, Tamlyn Tomita and Greg Watanabe, the film will also see a US theatrical release via SearchParty.
  • The Atrocity Exhibition, adapted by (director) Jonathan Weiss and Michael Kirby from the novel by J.G. Ballard.
  • Along For The Ride, directed by Bryan Simon from a screenplay by Jim Moores and starring Randall Batinkoff, Dylan Haggerty, J.E. Freeman and Jenny Gago.
  • Freak Weather, written and directed by Mary Kuryla and starring Jacqueline McKenzie, Aida Turturro, Jacob Chase and John Carroll Lynch.
  • Trade Off, which marks SeachParty's first documentary acquisition. Shaya Mercer's inside view of the shambolic World Trade Organisation summit in Seattle in 1999 that ended in riots, Trade Off has already played theatrically across the US.