Despite the hoopla generated at Sundance and other film festivals, most independent films still have trouble getting into movie houses around the world.

But on March 3 at the Bel Age Hotel, 15 independent films go on the block in what is being billed as "The World's First Film Auction."

"The mission of a film festival is to provide an opportunity for movies to be seen, and business is a byproduct," said Hal "Corky" Kessler, an attorney and filmmaker who helped conceive the auction. "With us, the business is the sale of movies and showcasing is the byproduct."

While the quality of the films may be debatable, the list of registered bidders is impressive Miramax Films, Walt Disney Co., Time Warner Inc., USA Films, Sony Classics, and DreamWorks SKG.

What appealed to the creators and sponsors was the simplicity of the format. Most independent films get sold to distributors on a hit-and-miss basis at festivals and film markets. Films that generate the most advance buzz usually three or four films have no trouble getting picked up. The rest tend to languish, forcing their sales reps to go from distributor to distributor trying to make a deal, often any deal. Many films, however, are left on the shelf and never released to the public.

Even if a film is picked up, there are plenty of additional hurdles to overcome, including a pile of contracts that can be a daunting and infuriating.

"The definition of 'net profits' can be 37 pages," said Kessler. "You have to worry about net profits, which usually get you zero anyway. Here you just let the buyer set market value through bidding."

At the sale, the winning bidder will get world rights to a film, except for any foreign territories that may have been previously sold. There are no accounting battles over profits. Everything is sold off the night of the auction. The only outstanding issue will be residuals for union films. Six out of the 15 films on the block are union films.

Each winning bidder must pay 25 percent on the night of the auction and the balance within five business days. Any buyer failing to pay the balance by the end of that period will forfeit its down payment, as well as any ownership rights to the film.

The auction, titled Films4Auction, will be gaveled by William Doyle Galleries, a New York-based auction house that has specialized in the sale of the estates of such Hollywood stars as Gloria Swanson, James Cagney, Bette Davis and Rock Hudson.

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