January 22, 2008 / 3:15 AM / 10 years ago

"Teen" frenzy at Sundance

PARK CITY, Utah (Hollywood Reporter) - With buyers exercising caution at Sundance, a documentary about the trials of being a teenager offered the most suspenseful dealmaking plotline.

<p>Cast member Mary-Kate Olsen attends the premiere of "The Wackness" during the 2008 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, January 18, 2008. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni/Files</p>

Nanette Burstein’s “American Teen” revolves around Indiana high school seniors. A cheerleader, hipster, jock and band geek are all featured in a film one insider dubbed “a smarter ‘Laguna Beach.”’

In the wake of the blockbuster success of Fox Searchlight’s “Juno,” a fictional account of a resolute and colorful teenager, buyers were showing keen interest in “Teen.”

Fox Searchlight, in fact, made an early play for the film Saturday, but then dropped out at the $1 million-$2 million mark. By Monday, Sony Pictures Classics was said to have the inside track, though Paramount Vantage was in the running.

Elsewhere -- save for some smaller buys like PBS’ pickup of the slave-trade documentary “Traces of the Trade: Stories From the Deep North” for its “POV” series -- buyers and sellers seemed to be locked in a standoff.

A quartet of prestige films that debuted Sunday attracted interest but no immediate top-level bids.

They included the dark literary drama “Incendiary,” starring Ewan McGregor; Rawson Marshall Thurber’s “The Mysteries of Pittsburgh,” based on the early novel by Michael Chabon; the Elle Fanning and Felicity Huffman family drama “Phoebe in Wonderland”; and Paul Schneider’s quirky tale of hucksters and science “Pretty Bird.”

Attention shifted to Andrew Fleming’s “Hamlet 2,” set for a Monday night screening, in hopes that it might jump-start the sales action. The film stars Steve Coogan as a high school drama teacher who attempts to stage a musical sequel to Shakespeare’s play.

<p>Cast members Mischa Barton and Reece Thompson from the movie "Assassination of a High School President" pose during the 2008 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah January 21, 2008. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni</p>

Two of the weekend’s high-profile debuts appear to have been temporarily left by the wayside.

While a handful of buyers eyed “The Wackness,” they were waiting for the price to drop on the coming-of-age stoner comedy. There also were predictions that Barry Levinson’s Hollywood satire “What Just Happened?” would end up with a deal thanks to its all-star cast, but the chances for the most expensive film of the festival to make a record sale were dwindling.

The slow market is being attributed to high price tags and an array of films that present marketing challenges.

<p>Cast members Mischa Barton and Reece Thompson from the movie "Assassination of a High School President" pose during the 2008 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah January 21, 2008. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni</p>

One other factor included renewed hopes of a resolution to the Hollywood writers strike, on the heels of the Directors Guild of America’s new labor contract with the studios. The longer the strike continues, the bigger the gaps the studios need to fill in their programming slates.

While they are holding on to their wallets, a number of distributors were using the festival to launch films they are readying for release.

Fox Searchlight debuted Stephen Walker’s documentary “Young at Heart,” which follows a senior-citizen choir that sings rock covers, by screening it in several Utah cities and also bringing members of the chorus to Sundance.

Miramax launched “Smart People,” “Sideways” producer Michael London’s academia comedy-drama, following up with a glitzy dinner Sunday.

On Monday night, the Weinstein Co. took the wraps off “Where in the World Is Osama?” documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock’s one-man quest to track down the terrorist leader.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

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