January 21, 2008 / 8:53 AM / 10 years ago

Hyped movies fall flat at Sundance

PARK CITY, Utah (Hollywood Reporter) - Documentaries stole the show at the Sundance Film Festival over the weekend.

Morgan Spurlock, best known for his documentary film "Supersize Me" and the new documentary in "Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden" which is in competition at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, gestures on Main Street in Park City, Utah January 20, 2008. REUTERS/Fred Prouser

The most-hyped feature films meanwhile, including the Tom Hanks-produced comedy “The Great Buck Howard” and the Hollywood comedy drama “What Just Happened?” failed to ignite overwhelming enthusiasm or bidding wars.

The stir over the documentaries, however, defied pundits who had predicted that distributors would be cool to the category after such big Sundance acquisitions from last year as “Crazy Love” and “My Kid Could Paint That” failed to live up to expectations.

Bidding reached the $2 million-$3 million range for Nanette Burstein’s narrative-driven documentary “American Teen,” which examines assorted high-school seniors in Indiana. Fox Searchlight, Paramount Vantage and a number of other players were said to be in the mix for the A&E Indie Films production.

Meanwhile, Marina Zerovich’s “Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired,” which takes a second look at the Oscar-winning director’s statutory rape trial, sold in a split international/domestic deal. HBO picked up all U.S. rights. The Weinstein Co. scooped up most international rights.

ESPN scored Susan Koch’s soccer documentary “Kicking It,” which follows seven homeless players from around the world who compete in the fourth annual Homeless World Cup.

Other documentaries creating late acquisitions buzz included the Hurricane Katrina-themed “Trouble the Water” and Peter Galison and Robb Moss’ national security expose “Secrecy.”

The big documentary news only partly concealed what had been lackluster performances for some of the bigger titles. On Saturday, one of the most expensive movies ever to come to Sundance played to one of the most distributor-heavy screenings ever to hit the festival.

Buyers from pretty much every major company turned out for Barry Levinson’s “What Just Happened?” the serio-comic study of a studio producer (Robert De Niro) plagued by personal and professional issues over the course of one turbulent week. The movie, loosely based on “Into the Wild” producer Art Linson’s memoir, entered the festival with buzz that it could sell for a significant sum and could possibly even go to a studio division hungry for material during the Hollywood writers strike.

But reactions among a number of buyers surveyed as they exited the theater were mixed.

Another film that failed to meet its pre-fest hype was “The Great Buck Howard,” which screened in Salt Lake City on Friday and in Park City the next day. John Malkovich stars in the title role as a mentalist, alongside Hanks’ son, Colin.

Reaction was also mixed to “Sunshine Cleaning,” despite the presence of bankable stars Amy Ryan and Emily Blunt.

Meanwhile, the Jonathan Levine coming-of-age drama/stoner comedy “The Wackness” generated some interest, though its multiple hooks and potential marketing angles were an asset to some and a drawback to others.

Geoff Haley’s dark comedy “The Last Word,” starring Winona Ryder, Wes Bentley and Ray Romano, looked likely to go to ThinkFilm unless offers unexpectedly picked up.

Other slow burns included Michael Keaton’s understated romantic fable “The Merry Gentleman,” which many top buyers didn’t get a chance to see when it screened opposite “Sunshine Cleaning.”

Distribution executives were divided on why dealmaking was so slow. Some pointed to quality issues, while others said the prices were too high.

“Distributors are concerned about the press hype over films last year that didn’t perform at the box office,” said film attorney John Sloss, but he predicted the market would pick up in the next few days.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

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