Sundance: Buzz Films 'Arbitrage,' 'Liberal Arts,' 'Robot & Frank' & 'V/H/S' All Find Distribution

Festivals
by Oliver Lyttelton
January 26, 2012 10:40 AM
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As ever, Park City is quieting down again, with many journalists heading home after a week of Sundance madness. We've still got plenty of coverage to come, don't get us wrong, but as is so often the case with festivals, things tend to be a little front-loaded. Except, that is, on the business end; now that most films have unspooled, the acquisitions folk are ready to start handing out the checks. We've already seen a few big sales: Fox Searchlight took two of the best-reviewed films of the festival, "The Surrogate" and "Beasts Of The Southern Wild," while "For A Good Time Call," "Lay The Favorite," "Black Rock," "Celeste and Jesse Forever" and "Red Lights," among others, have all found homes.

And now a brace of others have joined them as well. Perhaps the biggest of them is Nicholas Jarecki's financial drama "Arbitrage," which stars Richard Gere as a billionaire hedge funder who finds his life unravelling. A strong cast including Susan Sarandon, Tim Roth, Brit Marling and Nate Parker are in support, and the film picked up decent reviews for the first-time feature filmmaker, with some calling Gere's performance one of the finest of his career. While Universal, Relativity and The Weinstein Company, among others, were reputedly interested, the film's instead been picked up by Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions, who teamed to buy U.S. rights to the film for over $2 million.

It's a very similar deal to the one the two companies made for last year's Sundance film, the sleeper hit "Margin Call," which picked up an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay on Tuesday, and they're clearly hoping they can follow in the footsteps of that film, which also revolved around high-finance, as they're planning a similar release pattern, with a simultaneous theatrical and VOD bow planned for later in the year. [THR]

Going for a similar number, albeit for rights across several territories, was "Robot & Frank." The film, which details the friendship between an elderly jewel thief (Frank Langella) and his home-help android (voiced by Peter Sarsgaard), and also stars Sarandon along with James Marsden, Liv Tyler and Jeremy Sisto, while Jake Schreier, the former keyboard player in indie band Francis and the Lights, makes his directorial debut. Again, the film proved something of a crowd-pleaser at the festival, and Samuel Goldwyn Films have teamed up with Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions to buy 'Frank,' again for north of $2 million. Goldwyn will release the film in the U.S., and Sony will take it to Latin America, Australia, Scandinavia and a few other territories. [Deadline]

Meanwhile, "Liberal Arts," the sophomore feature from "How I Met Your Mother" star Josh Radnor, was generally deemed, including in our review, to be a step up by from the writer/director/star's first film "happythankyoumoreplease," thanks to strong performances from its helmer, Elizabeth Olsen, Allison Janney and even Zac Efron. It was only a matter of time before it sold, and in the end, it was IFC Films that won out, for an undisclosed sum. While we're sure the production team were hoping for a mini-major like Fox Searchlight or Focus, we're sure IFC Films will do right by them. There's no word on when or how the distribution will take place, but considering IFC's usual strategy, we imagine there's a good chance of a simultaneous, or even early VOD bow. [Variety]

And look for a similar path for found footage horror "V/H/S." The portmanteau picture, which involves a group of criminals looking through an increasingly horrific selection of video tapes, is helmed by a who's-who of indie horror, made-up of Ti West, Joe Swanberg, Adam Wingard, Glenn McQuaid, David Bruckner and collective Red Silence, and received rapturous notices from genre fans when it premiered early in the festival. Several distributors were circling, but it's Magnolia who've closed the deal, for over $1 million, and they'll be following their standard pattern of putting the film on their premium-priced Ultra VOD program 30 days ahead of theatrical release. Given the nature of the conceit, we imagine it might play even better on the small screen. Congrats are due, incidentally, to producer Brad Miska, who's been a long-time web presence as the top dog at veteran horror site Bloody Disgusting, and makes his producing debut here. [Risky Business]

More deals are sure to follow in the next few days.

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