Showtime Networks has launched Showtime Independent Films, itsfirst foray into financing films directly for the independent theatricalmarketplace.

The fledgling outfit has collaborated with specialty producers anddirectors to create three low budget titles that will be presented under thebanner at Sundance, which runs from Jan 15-25, 2004.

Jacob Kornbluth's inner city drama The Best Thief In The World centres on an 11-year-old boy who breaksinto homes to escape his depressing family life.

Tony Award winners May-LouiseParker, Audra McDonald star with newcomer Michael Silverman star and the filmwill premiere in the dramatic competition.

Speak,which screens under the American Spectrum banner, is a tragic-comedy about ayoung rape victim who conceals the incident and slowly recovers.

Directed by Jessica Sharzer, Speak stars Kristen Stewart, who played JodieFoster's daughter in Panic Room, Elizabeth Perkins and Steve Zahn.

Mario Van Peebles' Gettin' The Man's Foot Outta Your Baadasssss recreates the making of his fatherMelvin's cult 1971 blaxploitation drama Sweet Sweetback's Baad Asssss Song.

It was picked up by SonyPictures Classics and will screen in the Premiere section at Sundance. JoyBryant, Saul Rubinek and David Alan Grier are among the cast. The two othertitles are available for theatrical release in 2004.

"We're very excited about this new slate of independent movies,which we plan to have exhibited in limited theatrical release before appearingon the Showtime channels," Showtime president of entertainment Bob Greenblattsaid in a statement.

The Showtime Independent Films programme is being supervised byShowtime's executive vice president Ann Foley.

Showtime has previously co-developed, co-produced and co-financedtitles that gained theatrical release prior to their network premiere,including The House Of Mirth, Gods And Monsters and Down In The Delta.