January 24, 2006

‘Sunshine’ only big money hit so far at Sundance

By Bob Tourtellotte

PARK CITY, Utah (Reuters) - The Sundance Film Festival
entered its second week on Monday with more stars and parties
than ever before, but only one big movie sale and the lack of
action had industry tongues wagging, "I told you so."

The film that was sold -- "Little Miss Sunshine" -- went
for a hefty price, more than $10 million, which when all the
contract details are known may surpass the festival's record
film sale of $10.25 million spent for "Happy, Texas" in 1999.

But while people were busy congratulating the "Miss
Sunshine" filmmakers, who had spent years getting their project
developed, some festival watchers cautioned not to expect many
more sales of such magnitude.

They say that the lack of acquisitions highlighted what
many festival watchers expected: the 2006 film slate was much
less mainstream than in recent years.

Sundance, which is the top U.S. showcase for independent
movies and a launching pad for art-house titles, has always
focused on filmmaking outside the commercial mainstream.

Before the opening, festival director Geoffrey Gilmore told
Reuters: "It's a festival that feels more independent, that
feels less mainstream." The lack of dealmaking has surprised
few of the distributors that come here looking for movies.

"Sunshine" was the only movie, so far, that ran counter to
that expectation. The 20th Century Fox specialty division Fox
Searchlight bought it for the eye-popping sum that topped $10
million plus extra money based on the film's potential box
office performance.

The offbeat comedy stars Steve Carell, star of NBC's "The
Office" and the recent hit film "The 40 Year Old Virgin," along
with Greg Kinnear and Toni Collette, and tells of a family
trying to get their 7-year-old into a beauty pageant. It
premiered to a packed house on Friday, won a standing ovation
and sparked a bidding war that lasted until Saturday morning.

While the price tag seems high, it is in keeping with a
trend that started last year when the sums independent films
fetched from distributors began to rise. Industry players here
cite many reasons for the uptick, ranging from higher
production costs to the potential of some of the more
commercial-oriented films.


Movies seeking to appeal to art-house audiences like
"Brokeback Mountain," "Crash," and "Good Night, and Good Luck,"
are major players in this year's Oscars race. "Brokeback," the
story of a romance between two cowboys, is climbing at the box
office, having so far grossed $42 million.

As a result, more money has flowed to small,
independent-style films,

Fox Searchlight head Peter Rice told Reuters that this
year, more than ever, he can look at his rival distributors and
know that each one is well-funded.

Among the films getting good buzz at Sundance are "Thank
You for Smoking," a comedy about a man promoting tobacco sales,
which Fox Searchlight will distribute, "Little Miss Sunshine"
and "The Illusionist," starring Edward Norton as a magician who
uses his tricks to battle an Austrian prince for the woman he

Sundance also spotlights documentaries, and one hot title
is "Wordplay," about New York Times crossword puzzle editor
Will Shortz. Its filmmakers were in talks about a sale but had
not closed a deal as of Monday morning.

Music documentaries such as "Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man,"
and former Police drummer Stewart Copeland's "Everyone Stares:
The Police Inside Out" also found rabid fans.

Meanwhile, Hollywood's stars have come out in droves to
promote their films and pick up many of the gift bags that are
handed out.

At Self magazine's Ultimate Luxury Lounge & Spa, Lucy Liu
and Paris Hilton picked up new BlackBerry 8700c wireless
devices and were able to download customized workout routines
at Podfitness.com.

(Additional reporting by Jane Clark)