Sundance: Magnolia Pictures And CNN Films Reel In ‘Blackfish’

UPDATE: Magnolia Pictures and CNN Films have confirmed this. I’m putting the release at the bottom of the original break.

EXCLUSIVE: Another Sundance deal! I’m hearing that Magnolia Pictures and upstart film company CNN Films will reel in Blackfish, the documentary about the notorious killer whale Tilikum that is responsible for the deaths of three individuals, including a top trainer of killer whales. The film had numerous distributors swirling since it first screened Saturday night at the Temple Theatre in Park City. The film was directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite. Appropriate for a fish tale, the film was repped by Submarine. There was keen interest from TWC-Radius, Lionsgate, eOne, HBO and Sony Pictures Classics.

Park City, UT, Tuesday, January 22 — CNN Films, a production and acquisition unit of CNN Worldwide, and the Wagner/Cuban Company’s Magnolia Pictures have partnered to acquire the U.S. rights to director Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s buzzed about documentary Blackfish at the Sundance film festival.

Thrilling, thought provoking and thoroughly entertaining, Blackfish traces a 39 year history of killer whales in captivity leading up to a 2010 incident where an experienced Sea World trainer was killed by the 12,000 lb. Orca whale Tilikum, a whale previously associated with the death of two other people. Blackfish chillingly shows that this incident of violence is hardly an isolated one, along the way exploring the extraordinary nature of Orcas, thought to be one of the most intelligent species in the animal kingdom. Ultimately, it is a story about the life and death consequences of a spectacle that has thrilled millions.

“Blackfish is one of the most exciting, compulsively watchable documentaries that we’ve seen in a long time,” said Magnolia President Eamonn Bowles. “Gabriela Cowperthwaite has made a beautiful, eye-opening film that sticks with audiences for a long time.”

“At CNN Films we want to showcase compelling documentary storytelling that also sheds new light on important social and cultural issues. Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s beautiful and moving film ‘Blackfish’ is at once an investigation into the people and practices of the marine park industry and a thought-provoking meditation on the limits of man’s ability to manipulate nature. We look forward to presenting this fascinating film to our audience,” said CNN Worldwide Managing Editor, Mark Whitaker.

Magnolia plans a summer theatrical release for the documentary, followed by a domestic broadcast premiere on CNN later in 2013. Magnolia has had much success with summer doc releases, including The Queen of Versailles, acquired at last year’s Sundance festival, which went on to be one of the top grossing documentaries of 2012.

“I was deeply honored to be accepted into Sundance and am overwhelmed to find partners of this magnitude,” says Cowperthwaite. “To partner on the theatrical release with Eamonn Bowles of Magnolia and Mark Whitaker of CNN, two people who understand and embrace this film, and to receive the support of a powerhouse global brand like CNN, I couldn’t be happier.”

The film is produced by Cowperthaite, and Manuel Oteyza. Executive produced by Judy Bart, Erica Kahn, and Rick Brookwell. The acquisition deal was negotiated by Magnolia SVP Dori Begley and CNN SVP Vinnie Malhotra, with Josh Braun, David Koh and Dan Braun of Submarine.

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