After a decidedly slow start, this year's Sundance Film Festival finally caught fire on Wednesday with Miramax Films grabbing actor Todd Fields' debut feature In The Bedroom and IFC Films snapping up both Jump Tomorrow and the documentary Go Tigers! for US distribution. At the same time Arrow Entertainment was closing in on the Canadian feature Maelstrom.
The purchase of In The Bedroom, which had been pursued by other studio-run specialist distributors, marks a return to the festival acquisitions game for Miramax, which has been noticeably quiet on that front ever since Cannes last year.
Arriving for the first time in Sundance memory without a selected film to its name, Miramax made a point of announcing its attention to buy at the festival where co-chairman Harvey Weinstein was a visible presence during the opening days. The fact that Miramax signed off on a press release announcing it was in final negotiations on buying In The Bedroom, rather than waiting for the ink to dry on the contract, also suggested that this was very much a statement purchase.
In the end the deal for In The Bedroom was brokered by Agnes Mentre, Miramax executive vice president of acquisitions and co-productions, in discussions with Vicki Cherkas of GreeneStreet Films and David Linde, co-partner of Good Machine. The initial asking price for North American rights was said by US buyers to be around $1.5m.
Based on a short story by Andre Dubus, In the Bedroom is a quietly devastating drama with stand-out performances from Sissy Spacek, Tom Wilkinson, Nick Stahl and Marisa Tomei. A joint production of New York's GreeneStreet and Good Machine, the film is being sold overseas through Good Machine International.
Field, who previously directed the Sundance award-winning short Nonnie & Alex, has appeared as an actor in a number of indie features including Walking & Talking and Broken Vessels as well as Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut.
Commented Good Machine co-founder Ted Hope: "In the Bedroom is one of the most assured debut features I've encountered. To have it in the hands of Miramax, a company that gives such care and craft to the handling of such films, is a perfect match that we're thrilled to have."
The double acquisitions by IFC Films, the US theatrical distribution offshoot of the Independent Film Channel that is spearheaded by Bob Berney, itself signals the arrival of a potent new buying force at festivals.
Although unconfirmed at the time of writing, IFC was said to have paid around $1m for Joel Hopkins' Jump Tomorrow, a Film Four-financed romantic comedy that is based on Hopkins' short film Jorge that screened at Sundance in 1999. The film, which showed here as part of non-competitive sidebar known as American Spectrum, has also been acquired for France by ARP.
Go Tigers!, which chronicles the fate of a high school football team in an Ohio steel mill town suffering through industrial decline, was seen as one of the most commercial documentaries in this year's competition. Shot by veteran filmmaker Kenneth A. Carlson, the film was being represented at the festival by William Morris dealmaker Cassian Elwes.
With Denis Villeneuve's Maelstrom being pursued by Arrow, and offers said to be on the table for films such as L.I.E., Haiku Tunnel and Lift, Sundance will end up once again living up to its reputation as a dealmaking hothouse - even if the prices fail to reach the giddy heights of recent festivals. Such negotiations come on the heels of Fox Searchlight's $3m worldwide acquisition of Super Troopers late on Sunday night and Lions Gate's $1m purchase of Double Whammy for the US.
And although the dot-com carnage seen in recent months may have diminished the number of Internet outlets, short films continue to be in hot demand. New media film studio Hypnotic, for example, announced Wednesday that it secured the exclusive worldwide distribution rights to two short films that premiered in Park City this year: Anthony Dominici's Peter Rabbit And The Crucifix and Tiffany McLinn's Shoot.
The two films will be distributed by Hypnotic through its extensive online and offline distribution network with the support of its strategic partner Universal Pictures. The films will debut exclusively at www.hypnotic.com later this year.