Sundance ’13: Magnolia, CNN Films reel in “Blackfish”

Magnolia Pictures and CNN Films have partnered to acquire the U.S. rights to director Gabriela Cowperthwaite's Sundance documentary Blackfish (pictured).
January 22, 2013

Magnolia Pictures and CNN Films have partnered to acquire the U.S. rights to director Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s Sundance documentary Blackfish (pictured).

Blackfish, which is competing in the U.S. Documentary Competition in Park City, looks at both an Orca whale which killed its Sea World trainer, and more broadly at the nature of whales in captivity.

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

CNN Worldwide managing editor Mark Whitaker added: “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.”

Magnolia plans a summer theatrical release for the documentary, followed by a domestic broadcast premiere on CNN later this year. The deal comes after Magnolia last year acquired festival award-winner The Queen of Versailles at Sundance.

“I was deeply honored to be accepted into Sundance and am overwhelmed to find partners of this magnitude,” said Cowperthwaite in a statement. “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.”

Blackfish is produced by Cowperthaite and Manuel Oteyza, and exec produced by Judy Bart, Erica Kahn, and Rick Brookwell. The deal was negotiated by Magnolia senior VP Dori Begley and CNN senior VP Vinnie Malhotra, with the filmmakers repped by Josh Braun, David Koh and Dan Braun of Submarine.

The news comes after CNN Films unveiled details of a deal earlier in the festival to acquire director Steve James’s forthcoming, as-yet-untitled documentary on film critic Roger Ebert.

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Jonathan Paul is a Toronto-based writer into creativity, content, advertising, tech, comics, video games, film, TV, time and space travel.