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Sundance & Berlin Dealbook: Higher Ground, Magic Trip, Madonna's Love Epic, Take Shelter

by Sophia Savage
February 14, 2011 6:04 AM
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Thompson on Hollywood


Higher Ground - Actress Vera Farmiga's directorial debut, which premiered at Sundance, has gone to Sony Pictures Classics for North American, Australian and New Zealand distribution. Farmiga co-stars with Winter's Bone Oscar nominee John Hawkes, Donna Murphy and Joshua Leonard. The film is based on Carolyn S. Briggs' memoir This Dark World: A Memoir of Salvation Found and Lost, in which a woman tries to find her own voice within a close-knit spiritual community. Briggs co-wrote the screenplay with Tim Metcalfe. SPC calls the film “one of these rare independent films—perfectly crafted, honest and inspiring. Vera Farmiga not only delivers a great performance but her debut as a filmmaker is one of the most auspicious in years."

A round-up of the latest deals are listed below. Here are parts one and two of our Berlin Dealbook.

- Jeff Nichols' Take Shelter, starring Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain, goes to FilmNation for international rights; Sony picked up North America, Australia and New Zealand before the fest. The film premiered at Sundance. Shannon and Chastain play Curtis and Samantha - a married couple whose lives are thrown when Curtis's nightmares prompt him to build a storm shelter.

Thompson on Hollywood


- Magic Trip also goes to Magnolia for North American rights. Alex Gibney and Alison Ellwood's film - which they co-wrote and directed - looks at the fabled LSD road trip of Ken Kesey and Merry Pranksters on the Magic Bus. The film was produced with the help of the History Channel, which will broadcast the film after Magnolia's VOD and theatrical release. Magnolia's Eamonn Bowles says the Gibney and Ellwood “have done a masterful job piecing together this incredibly amazing footage. It is truly like a taking a trip in a time machine back to the cultural beginning of the sixties.” Here's our Sundance interview.

- Headhunters, a Norwegian thriller from director Morten Tyldum, went to Magnolia for North American distribution. The film is based on Jo Nesbø's popular Scandinavian novel, about a man who is an avid headhunter as well as an art thief. Magnolia's SVP Tom Quinn calls it "a nail-biting thriller that resonates with US audiences much like Tell No One and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo have.”

- Several offers are in to IM Global for Italian, French, German, Spanish, Scandinavian and Latin American rights for Madonna's W.E.. Village Roadshow got Australian rights. Offers came in following a 35-minute presentation in which buyers were shown scenes from the film, which is about two love affairs, including one at the root of The King's Speech drama --between Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson. The film stars Abbie Cornish, James D’Arcy, Andrea Riseborough, Oscar Isaac and Richard Coyle. Madonna directed and co-wrote the script with Alek Keshishian.

- Lar Von Trier's Melancholia has gone to Magnolia for North American distribution. The film is set to complete its shoot later this year with its all star cast of Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kiefer Sutherland, Charlotte Rampling, John Hurt, Alexander Skarsgard, Stellan Skarsgard and Udo Kier. Dunst and Gainsbourg star as sisters who drift apart while the world approaches Armageddon.

- North American rights to Pawel Pawlikowski's (My Summer of Love) The Woman in the Fifth, starring Kristin Scott Thomas and Ethan Hawke, has been picked up by ATO Pictures. The film is a psychological thriller based on Douglas Kennedy's novel about an American writer who goes to Paris to be closer to his daughter with his French ex-wife. He meets a mysterious widowed woman and he begins to lose control of his life amidst a backdrop of murders. ATO's founders Johnathan Dorfman and Temple Fennell (Musician Dave Matthews is also a co-founder) are "riveted by the material. Pawel has done an incredible job putting together a first rate thriller with a terrific cast.”

- The Courier, from production house Arclight Films, has delivered its UK rights to eOne and German rights to Constantin. The film is, from director Hany Abu-Assad (Paradise Now) and screenwriters Michael Brandt and Derek Haas, follows an international courier who delivers to those who are unable to be reached. Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Mickey Rourke and Josie Ho star.

- Freestyle Releasing, via Strategic Film Partners, has US rights to A Little Help, a comedy-drama starring The Office's Jenna Fischer and Chris O'Donnell. Fischer plays a woman who tells strange lies in attempt to protect her son. Michael Weithorn directs. The film will be released in April. 


- Sola Media's Turtle: The Incredible Journey, about a loggerhead turtle's worldwide journey, will be released this June in the US via Target Development Group's Hannover House. The film was directed by Nick Singer.

- UK director Peter Greenaway is finding funds for two projects, Goltzius and The Pelican Company and Eisenstein In Guanajuato. The first will be a co-production of the Netherlands' Kasander Films (Kees Kasander) and the UK's Film and Music Entertainment (Sam Taylor and Mike Downey), France's CDP (Catherine Dussart), MP of Zagreb, with additional financing from the Netherlands and Rotterdam Film Funds, the Centre National du Cinema and Eurimages. The film, about Dutch engraver and illustrator of erotic printed books Hendrick Goltzius, will shoot in Croatia. The latter project, which will make way after Goltzius, is about Sergei Eistenstein, a Russian director who visits Hollywood and Mexico in the 1930s and has a love affair with his young, married guide. Submarine will produce, and Fu Works (San Fu Maltha) and Super Prod (Clement Calvet) are also on board.

- Paradigm Motion Picture Finance Group and Belgian production house Corsan, along with Jon Shestach Productions, have made a deal for a sci-fi adventure titled 2525, in which a fighter pilot whose involvement in an experiment results in waking up as the brain of a deadly spaceship 500 years later. The screenplay is written by Wes Clark, whose father, Wesley Clark, was a NATO Supreme Allied Commander. Production is loosely set for November.

- Paranormal Xperience 3D will mark Spain's first 3-D genre picture. Barcelona based Rodar y Rodar and Antena 3 Films are aligning with Sony Pictures releasing for theatrical DVD and digital distribution in Spain. Latin American rights have gone to Mexico's Quality Films. In negotiations are Canal Plus and TV3. The film will be a psychological thriller-horror about two sisters who travel to an abandoned village to investigate paranormal activity. The film is aiming for a young audience with PG-13 parameters. This will be director Sergi Vizcaino's first feature.

- US rights to John Carpenter's The Ward have gone to ARC Entertainment and XLrator Media Partnership. The film stars Amber Heard, Mamie Gummer and Danielle Panabaker and is set in a 1960s mental hospital.

- UK's Bankside and NY-based Killer's first co-development deal is Innocence, a vampire flick to star Julianne Moore and Abigail Breslin; Bankside has been pre-selling rights at the EFM. The film is set to shoot in the late Summer. Hilary Brougher is directing from a script adapted from Jane Mendelsohn's novel. Killer's Pamela Koffler says they are "thrilled to launch our first project with Bankside with such a classy team. With Julianne, Abigail and Hilary, we are excited to make a smart and terrifying film that delivers on the promise of the genre.”

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