Sundance Film Fest 2008: Slow Year for Star Vehicles

January 25, 2008–Star-driven features like the Robert De Niro inside Hollywood movie, “What Just Happened” and “The Great Buck Howard,” which Tom Hanks produced and co-starred in, would leave Sundance without a distribution deal.

“What Just Happened,” directed by Barry Levinson, entered the fest with an enthusiastic buzz. But even a red-carpet appearance by De Niro himself could do little to prevent the insider Hollywood tale from leaving Park City with a whimper.

Though several films hovered on the verge of landing distributors, only one found a home in the past 24 hours. Sony Pictures Classics scooped up U.S. rights to the fest's dramatic competition entry “Frozen River,” for low six figures.

William Morris Independent represented the film, which was written and directed by tyro helmer Courtney Hunt and centered on a woman caught up in poverty and human smuggling in rural upstate New York.

Distribution deals were expected for the Deep South-set drama “Ballast” and the Colin Farrell-narrated soccer documentary “Kicking It,” which was acquired earlier in the fest by ESPN.

Several buyers were courting the Duplass brothers' relationship-themed comedy “Baghead.” The Weinstein Co. showed interest in the Russianfairy tale “Mermaid,” but no deal had been inked yet.

The ensemble wine country drama “Bottle Shock,” which unspooled nearly a week ago, fielded offers, as buyers were in play for Stacy Peralta's documentary.

Deals may come the way of the feel-good drama “Phoebe in Wonderland” and the Spanish-language CG-laden “Sleep Dealer,” which had IFC motivated.