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Closing the deal just part of Sundance

Miramax, Fox Searchlight team up to buy 'Garden State'
/ Source: The Associated Press

Distributors pulled out their checkbooks at the Sundance Film Festival, whose first weekend closed with deals on some of the event’s hot movies.

Miramax and Fox Searchlight teamed to buy “Garden State,” a romantic comedy that is one of 16 films in Sundance’s dramatic competition.

Fox Searchlight bought a second dramatic-competition entry, the teen-geek tale “Napoleon Dynamite,” while Lions Gate bought the ocean thriller “Open Water,” based on a true story about married scuba divers mistakenly left behind in shark-infested waters by a careless boat crew.

Sony Pictures Classics picked up the festival’s opening-night film, the surfing documentary “Riding Giants.” Focus Features bought “The Motorcycle Diaries,” chronicling Che Guevara’s biker odyssey through South America with a friend in the early 1950s.

The Miramax and Fox Searchlight partnership is unusual, since distributors scouting film festivals generally go it alone when buying a movie. Studios often team up to minimize their risk by co-financing big-budget films, and the Miramax-Fox Searchlight deal was the indie equivalent.

20th Century Fox, the parent company of Fox Searchlight, and Miramax recently joined forces on “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.”

“We had worked with Fox at the bigger studio level, so it made sense to get involved at the independent level,” said Miramax spokesman Paul Pflug.

“Garden State” was written and directed by Zach Braff of TV’s “Scrubs.” Braff also stars as a man who returns home for his mother’s funeral and breaks free of a lifetime of medication-induced passivity, striking up a relationship with a quirky young woman (Natalie Portman). The film co-stars Peter Sarsgaard and Ian Holm.

“Napoleon Dynamite,” an early crowd-pleaser at the festival which runs through Sunday, was directed by Jared Hess and follows the trials and triumphs of a high-school dork (Jon Heder) with bushy red hair.

“Open Water” stars Blanchard Ryan and Daniel Travis and was written and directed by Chris Kentis.

Tom Ortenberg, president of Lions Gate Films, called “Open Water” a blend of “‘Blair Witch’ meets ‘Jaws.”’

Lions Gate plans to put the movie into wide release this summer.