NEW YORK – J-Lo, Britney and P. Diddy are there, the paparazzi are swarming and TRL-like mobs are squealing but beneath the celebrity hoopla, the real business of Sundance continues apace.
Though lacking in the $10 million acquisitions of past years, this year's festival has seen a number of indie films snapped up for distribution.
Miramax just inked a deal worth more than $1.5 million for The Station Agent, New York actor Tom McCarthy's first feature, about a train-crazy dwarf who lives in an abandoned New Jersey depot, which Peter Dinklage and Sundance belle-of-the-ball Patricia Clarkson.
Buyers have also been circling another Clarkson film the popular competition entry Pieces of April, about a black-sheep daughter's attempts to throw a Thanksgiving dinner for her family with bids reportedly reaching as high as $4 million.
Thirteen, a provocative drama about bad-girl seventh-graders, starring Holly Hunter and Evan Rachel Wood, has been picked up by Fox Searchlight for about $2 million, and Paramount Classics bought The United States of Leland, which was produced by Kevin Spacey's Triggerstreet Productions and stars Sundance regular Ryan Gosling as a teenager who kills a handicapped boy.
Lions Gate reportedly paid $1.5 million for The Cooler, starring William H. Macy as a gambler on a losing streak, and the tiny New York distributor Women Make Movies picked up the documentary Love & Diane, about a recovering crack addict.
Bids are rolling in for the crowd-pleasers dot the i, a Brit romance starring Gael Garcia Bernal and hot newcomer James D'Arcy; the futuristic thriller It's All About Love, with Claire Danes and Joaquin Phoenix; and the gleefully camp dark comedy Party Monster, starring Macaulay Culkin as real-life New York club-kid killer Michael Alig and Seth Green as his sidekick James St. James.
Film buyers prowling Sundance also have their eye on the surreal horror film Nightstalker; the very funny Die Mommy Die, a retro Hollywood satire featuring theater veteran Charles Busch in drag; Mark (Happy, Texas) Illsley's Bookies, a crime caper starring Nick Stahl and Rachael Leigh Cook; and American Splendor, a quasi-documentary based on the life and work of cult cartoonist Harvey Pekar.