Sundance Recap: Indie Films Strike Gold Yet Again

'Hustle & Flow' and 'Pretty Persuasion' lead the pack.

PARK CITY, Utah — If Napoleon Dynamite's "Freakin' gosh" was the catchphrase of last winter's Sundance Film Festival, then 2005's was "It's hard out here for a pimp."

The line is from one of two can't-get-it-out-of-your-head songs from Terrence Howard's pimp-turned-rapper character in "Hustle & Flow," and its infectiousness paid off for the filmmakers.

The movie, which co-stars real-life rapper Ludacris, won the Sundance audience award for American dramatic film when honors were handed out Saturday.

"I [asked director Craig Brewer], 'Can we change it to a guitar player?' Because I play guitar and I did not want to be a rapper," said Howard, who initially passed on the part. "But he said, 'No, he has no other talents than his gift of gabbing, and this is all he has to express himself."

"Hustle & Flow" was also Sundance's top seller — the biggest in the festival's history, in fact — going to MTV Films and Paramount for $9 million (see "Ludacris' 'Hustle & Flow' Makes History At Sundance").

As much as awards and media hype mean to directors with films at Sundance, the ultimate goal is to find homes for their labors of love, and many such deals closed throughout the week.

(Click for photos from Sundance.)

Marcos Siega, best known for directing Blink-182's videos, sold his sexual-harassment comedy "Pretty Persuasion" to Samuel Goldwyn Films and Roadside Attractions, who were "knocked out by Evan Rachel Wood's sexy and shocking performance," Roadside Attractions co-president Howard Cohen told Variety (see "Marcos Siega's Unlikely Road From Blink-182 Videos To Social-Commentary Film").

"I just saw it for the third time today and it still amazes me that we got this movie made," Wood said last week. "This movie boldly goes where no movie has gone before."

Fellow video director David LaChapelle (Christina Aguilera's "Dirrty," Avril Lavigne's "I'm With You") also struck indie-film gold, selling "Rize" to Lions Gate Films. The documentary, which began as a short LaChapelle screened at last year's Sundance, explores krumping, an underground dance exploding on the streets of Los Angeles.

Film buyers apparently hit Park City with a sweet tooth, as both "Strangers With Candy" and "Hard Candy" were swallowed up. The former, based on a cult television show on Comedy Central, stars Amy Sedaris as an ex-con who returns to high school after doing 32 years of hard time. Stephen Colbert from "The Daily Show" co-stars and co-wrote the movie, which Warner Independent Pictures acquired.

"After the series was over, we wrote a book and while we were working on it, we kept doing character voices, saying things that Jerri [Sedaris' character] would say ... but there was no vehicle to put those lines in," Colbert said, explaining how the movie came to be.

Meanwhile, Lions Gate Films handed over $4 million for "Hard Candy," about a 14-year-old (newcomer Ellen Page) who seeks revenge on an unsuspecting Internet predator (Patrick Wilson of "The Phantom of the Opera").

Miramax Films, which single-handedly turned Sundance into a buying frenzy over the years with its aggressive purchases of movies like "Pulp Fiction" and "Clerks," paid $7.5 million for the offbeat comedy "The Matador," about the unusual friendship that develops between a hitman (Pierce Brosnan) and a loser (Greg Kinnear). Miramax also purchased the Australian horror movie "Wolf Creek" just before Sundance began.

Following a record box-office year for documentaries (thanks to "Fahrenheit 9/11" and "Super Size Me"), nonfiction films were a hot commodity. Before "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room" even made its world premiere at Sundance, Magnolia Pictures snatched it up, while the USA Network bought "Ring of Fire: The Emile Griffith Story," a documentary about six-time world boxing champion Emile Griffith, who in 1962 killed another fighter in the ring.

"The Aristocrats," a documentary produced by Penn Jillette (of Penn and Teller fame) about a notoriously dirty joke told in various incarnations by comedians like Robin Williams and Whoopi Goldberg, sold to ThinkFilm.

The company also acquired "Ill Fated," about a high school graduate whose attempt to leave his small town is complicated by the relationships with his troubled family and friends. "Ill Fated" actually screened at the Slamdance Film Festival, which takes place in Park City during the same week, giving more filmmakers a chance to take advantage of the buyers in town. "Mad Hot Ballroom," a documentary about preteen competitive ballroom dancers that opened Slamdance, sold to Paramount Pictures for $2 million.

As for the other awards bestowed on Saturday at Sundance, the festival's grand jury selected "Forty Shades of Blue," about a Russian woman who marries a man twice her age to immigrate to America, as the top American drama, and the anti-war "Why We Fight" as the top American documentary.

The grand jury awarded acting prizes to Amy Adams, who co-stars in "Junebug" with Benjamin McKenzie from "The O.C.," and Lou Pucci, who co-stars in "Thumbsucker" with Keanu Reeves and Vince Vaughn.

Several special awards were also handed out, including an originality prize to director Rian Johnson for his high school film noir, "Brick." Teenagers Terrence Fisher and Daniel Howard, who used a grant to make a 22-minute documentary about gun violence in their Brooklyn neighborhood called "Bullets in the Hood: A Bed-Stuy Story," were also recognized.

"Murderball," about quadriplegic men who play a rugby-like game in wheelchairs, won the American documentary audience award.

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