United Artists (UA) closed the biggest deal of the Sundance Film Festival yesterday, beating competitors including Fox Searchlight and Focus Features to worldwide rights to fest favourite Pieces Of April. The price paid was $3.5m.
The film once again comes from the digital video production powerhouse InDigEnt and backer IFC Productions, which last year delivered Tadpole and Personal Velocity at Sundance, the former of which sold for $5m to Miramax Films. UA picked up Personal Velocity.
Pieces Of April has been a huge favourite since it first screened over the weekend. The directorial debut of screenwriter Peter Hedges (What's Eating Gilbert Grape), it is a bittersweet comedy about a young woman preparing Thanksgiving dinner for her estranged family. Katie Holmes plays the woman, Derek Luke (Antwone Fisher) her boyfriend, and Patricia Clarkson and Oliver Platt her parents.
Cinetic Media's John Sloss, himself a partner in InDigEnt, closed the deal with Paul Brennan of Sloss Law Office on behalf of the film-makers. Bingham Ray and Danny Rosett negotiated on behalf of UA. On Wednesday, Sloss had sold North American and other territorial rights to Miramax Films for The Station Agent also starring Clarkson.
UA's Ray said that he was not yet sure how the film would be distributed internationally. Films from UA parent MGM are handled internationally by 20th Century Fox, but Ray has been talking to independent buyers about his recent production Nicholas Nickleby and said individual territory sales on Pieces Of April could be an option.
Meanwhile after four days of tense negotiation, Fox Searchlight Pictures finally closed its deal for worldwide rights excluding UK to Catherine Hardwicke's Thirteen which is one of the best-received films in dramatic competition. There was conflict in the negotiations between Fox and Universal-owned Working Title Films which co-produced Thirteen and retains UK rights - apparently over Working Title's credits at the beginning of the film - but they were resolved yesterday.
Thirteen is the story of a 13 year-old girl whose life spirals out of control when she falls in with a bad girl at school. It stars Evan Rachel Wood, Holly Hunter, Jeremy Sisto, Deborah Kara Unger and Nikki Reed, who, at the age of 13, also wrote the screenplay with Hardwicke.
"We are so proud to be able to distribute this tremendous film. Not since Boys Don't Cry has there been such an uncompromising look at a young girl's search for her true identity," said Fox Searchlight president Peter Rice in a statement. "Catherine Hardwicke is an extremely talented writer and director. Not only does she elicit stunningly wonderful performances, but in the great tradition of Sundance, her style is wonderfully fresh and unique."
Fox Searchlight executive vice president Joseph de Marco and senior vice president of acquisitions Tony Safford brokered the deal with the filmmaker's representatives, ICM and attorney Irwin Rappaport.