Sundance '12 acquisitions round-up #1: THE WORDS, BLACK ROCK, and more

Some in the industry predicted Sundance ’12 would be a “wild” year for sales, but so far it hasn’t turned out that way. As of this morning (four days into the festival), just two films, both from opening night, had managed to secure distribution deals. Things do seem to be heating up a little today in the snowy climes of Park City, with a, ahem, flurry of acquisitions coming over the wire in just the last few hours.

The latest is the biggest deal of the festival to date, the $2 million purchase of Sundance ’12 closing night film THE WORDS by CBS Films. This feature directorial debut from screenwriting team Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal (TRON: LEGACY) tells the story of a struggling writer, played by THE HANGOVER’s Bradley Cooper, whose career gets a big boost after he discovers an unpublished manuscript and claims it as his own. After the manuscript’s rightful owner shows up, things get more complicated. Entertainment Weekly reports that while the film won’t officially screen at the festival until next week, the drama — which co-stars Jeremy Irons, Dennis Quaid, Olivia Wilde, and Zoe Saldana — sparked a bidding war after buyers got a look at it during a private screening yesterday. EW also says to look for THE WORDS in the fall.

Word of THE WORDS’ deal overshadowed Sunday’s other acquisition; writer/director/star Katie Aselton’s film BLACK ROCK getting snatched up by upstart distributor LD Entertainment. Despite a lukewarm response at its midnight premiere last night, Deadline reports that after interest from numerous companies (including Gold Circle, Lionsgate, IFC, and Magnolia) LD picked up the film for a six-figure sum. The film, the second from Aselton after the Sundance ’10 selection THE FREEBIE, follows three women (Aselton, Kate Bosworth, and Lake Bell) on a camping trip gone bad. Like we-want-to-murder-you bad, not I-forgot-the-toilet-paper bad.

Sundance ’12′s other deals came in the hours after Thursday’s opening night festivities, both on the documentary side of things. THE QUEEN OF VERSAILLES, a doc about the downfall of a real estate mogul, was bought by Magnolia for a theatrical release later this summer. The crowd-pleasing SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN went to Sony Pictures Classics for a price The Hollywood Reporter pegs in the mid-six figures. The story of a forgotten ’60s folks singer from Detroit who becomes a sensation in South Africa (and the quest to figure out what happened to him after he disappeared from the music industry) played extremely well in Park City with both critics and festivalgoers. Release date of that one is still TBD.

With a little less than a week to go in the festival, those are all the sales to report. Which means there are plenty of big titles still out on the market, including Rashida Jones’ CELESTE AND JESSE FOREVER and ARBITRAGE with Richard Gere. They may not go so fast. Yesterday, the same outlet that was anticipating “wild” times for buyers at Sundance ’12 had a new article and a new word to describe the atmosphere in Park City: “cautious.”