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Fox Searchlight Acquires Once

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Fox Searchlight has acquired North American rights to John Carney’s “Once,” a critical hit from January’s Sundance Film Festival. Summit Entertainment picked up world rights to the film at Sundance and sold North American rights to Searchlight for just under $1 million, sources said. "Once" took home the Sundance World Cinema Audience Award: Dramatic.

Carney shot the musical love story digitally and inexpensively with hand-held cameras, natural light and live sound. The movie shows how a chance meeting on the street between two-like minded musical souls can lead to surprising growth, warmth and music. As the two performers sing, play and interact, the camera reveals depths of emotion that they would not reveal through speech. The film didn’t sell immediately because some distributors were afraid that it was too Irish, too local, too small, sources said.

Here's Gregg Goldstein's interview with Carney from Sundance:

Carney, meanwhile, had music junkies in mind when he made his film "Once." "I wanted to create a visual album, something you could watch over and over again," he said. In the process, the filmmaker created one of the most unique musicals in recent memory, telling the story of a Dublin street busker (Glen Hansard) and an aspiring Czech musician (Marketa Irglova) whose evolving romance is communicated in the film through the songs they sing, share and compose together.

Carney's DV-shot feature, made for just $100,000, has become one of the most talked-about projects since its North American premiere at Sundance. Producer Samson Films partnered with Summit Entertainment this week to serve as sales agents on the project, which has attracted interest from several indie distributors.

It has all been an amazing ride for Carney. "I was going to meet with Harvey Weinstein on Wednesday night," he said in awe. "It was like 'Waiting for Godot' on Ecstasy."

Not that Carney is enthralled with the U.S. film business. He said the film's Salt Lake City screening was his favorite because "there were all very real, normal filmgoers. There was no bullshit independent film scene."

After making his first independent feature, "November Afternoon" in 1997, Carney was hired by Universal Pictures to direct "On the Edge" starring Cillian Murphy and Stephen Rea, an experience he didn't enjoy. "In a studio film, there are so many people to answer to that you lose control at a certain stage," he said.

"Once" was a true return to Carney's roots. He played bass for the Irish band the Frames in the early '90s and recruited the group's current lead singer-guitarist, Hansard (who appeared in Alan Parker's "The Commitments"), and Irglova, who already had collaborated with Hansard on a side project, the album "The Swell Season." The result is a film with music in the vein of Damien Rice, most of it performed live, that feels as authentic as its origins. With its warm reception, Carney said, "Sundance has made my dreams come true."

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