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DVD in Mind At Sundance

27 Jan, 2005 By: Jessica Wolf

Negotiations were whirling in Park City, Utah, last week as content suppliers wrapped up deals in the final days of the annual Sundance Film Festival.

Suppliers at the festival looking for acquisitions said DVD is no small part of the negotiations, especially among the smaller artists and companies.

Sundance Channel Home Entertainment and Docurama struck a major deal early in the festival to partner on a line of documentaries, about six per year, that will be called the “Sundance Channel Home Entertainment Documentary Collection.”

The first title, The First Amendment Project, will debut April 26 on DVD. It will include three films — Fox vs. Franken, Poetic License and Some Assembly Required — produced through a partnership between the Sundance Channel and Court TV, exploring contemporary issues surrounding the First Amendment.

The idea for Docurama as a company sprang out of the quality documentary films that regularly come out of the Sundance Film Festival, said Susan Margolin, co-founding principal for Docurama. Teaming up with Sundance Channel Home Entertainment is like coming full circle, she said.

Picking Docurama to distribute Sundance Channel documentary programming, which is a staple of the cabler's lineup, was a logical choice, said Mike Haney, VP of Sundance Channel Home Entertainment.

“We really wanted to find a partner that will turn over every rock when marketing a title and getting it into retail,” he said. “New Video [Docurama's parent company] has proved themselves over and over again to be that company.”

The Sundance Channel also was looking to acquire new product for the cable channel as well as home video releases. Haney said his company does have a bit of an edge when it comes to brokering deals, thanks to the Sundance brand.

“We learn each time we release on home video what works and what doesn't,” he said. “You never know what you're going to find. This festival turned out to be a very fruitful one because most of the films are very, very good.”

It was a competitive environment this year, said Palm Pictures general manager Lisa Nishimura. Palm had several bids in for films by Wednesday of last week. Nishimura said Palm's reputation for working closely with filmmakers to create quality DVD content serves the indie company well in contract negotiations at festivals like Sundance.

Rich Wolff, director of acquisitions for TLA Releasing, was having some fun wheeling and dealing at this year's event, as well as participating as exhibitor for the film Mysterious Skin, which TLA is co-distributing with Tartan Films. TLA also announced at the festival that it will begin distributing 12 to 16 titles a year from its catalog into the United Kingdom market starting in July.

When it comes to recoupment on films the company might acquire at Sundance, DVD numbers are more important than theatrical, Wolff said.

The big deals happen early and get the blood in the water, that's when all the fun starts, he said.

Paramount Pictures made news early in the festival by shelling out nearly $17 million for Hustle & Flow, a drama from producer John Singleton. The deal also included rights to two future Singleton projects. That's the biggest deal since the $11 million Miramax spent on Happy Texas back in 1999.

Lions Gate Home Entertainment had finalized deals on two films at press time last week: Rize, a documentary about the “krump” dance craze from director David LaChappelle and Hard Candy, an edgy drama about a teenage girl out for revenge against an Internet pedophile from director David Slade.

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