The biggest deal of the 2009 Sundance Film Festival closed on Friday night in New York, less than a week after the Park City festival ended. After winning three awards at Sundance -- the grand jury prize, audience award and an acting prize -- Lee Daniels' acclaimed "Push: Based on the novel by Sapphire" scored a $5.5 million dollar North American pact with Lions Gate. The deal, brokered by Cinetic, weaves in the support of the likes of Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry, champions who supporting the film.
Produced by Daniels, and Sarah Siegel-Magness and Gary Magness of Smokewood Entertainment Group (S.E.G.), the film was executive produced by Lisa Cortes and Tom Heller, from a script by Damien Paul, based on Sapphire's 1996 book. The film stars Gabourey "Gabby" Sidibe, Paula Patton, Mo'Nique, Mariah Carey, Sherri Shepherd and Lenny Kravitz. The pact is the second collaboration between Lionsgate and Daniels, who produced the company's Oscar-winning "Monster's Ball."
"This a return to what Sundance is supposed to be as a market," an enthused John Sloss from Cinetic told indieWIRE today, elaborating a strategy that included screening the movie at the Magic Johnson theater in Harlem days before it's Sundance world premiere. Buoyed by an 80% definite recommend rating out of the Harlem showing, they battled an unfortunate first screening time that had "Push" playing against Antoine Fuqua's "Brookyn's Finest."
By awards night last Saturday at Sundance, Lee Daniels and Cinetic had enlisted the support of Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry, who watched the movie prior to the festival. They then spent the week putting together a deal, with the Lionsgate team at Cinetic's New York office to close the deal. Winfrey will support the release through her Harpo Films, while this will be the first movie affiliated with Perry's 34th Street banner.
Elephant Eye is selling international rights to the movie, planning to push the film at the upcoming European Film Market concurrent with the Berlin International Film Festival.
"I've never seen anything like it," said Oprah Winfrey, in a statement today, "The moment I saw "Push: Based on the novel by Sapphire," I knew I wanted to do whatever I could to encourage other people to see this movie. The film is so raw and powerful - it split me open." While Perry added in a statement today, "I am honored to join Oprah Winfrey and Lionsgate in releasing Lee Daniels' exceptional film. I was immensely moved by 'Push: Based on the novel by Sapphire', and wanted to do whatever I could to help others share in its redemptive experience. Lionsgate is the ideal studio to shepherd this artistically courageous film to market."
"I am over the moon, I don't know how to articulate my happiness and my humility," Lee Daniels told indieWIRE today. He added that he hopes the pact for his movie, and the deliberate strategy he and his reps pursued, will pave the way for pacts for other Sundance '09 films. Going into the festival, Daniels explained, "People didn't feel like it was a good time (to buy movies)," but he continued, "I hope that this will make distributors not so wary of purchasing films."