When ''The Woodsman'' debuted at Sundance, it was deemed too hot for any distributor to handle. But the story of a convicted pedophile returning to society after a 12-year jail sentence was picked up by Newmarket (which also distributed ''The Passion of the Christ'') for a reported $1.5 million.
Kevin Bacon admits the material gave him pause. ''I was haunted by the script, so I let [real-life wife] Kyra Sedgwick read it,'' recalls the actor. ''Just, you know, 'Am I crazy, or [is this] really good?' I found the character's struggle to get well compelling.'' He was also impressed with first-time director Nicole Kassell and Steven Fetcher's deft handling of the topic. (The screenplay was adapted from Fetcher's 2000 Off Broadway play.) ''It's not a cut-and-dry morality tale,'' says Bacon, ''and that's what independent films should do: challenge the emotions we feel in mainstream movies.'' Sedgwick worried that playing her husband's love interest would be distracting, but she found the character of Vicki, a lumberyard worker, too rich to pass up. ''It's a beautiful story about redemption,'' she explains. The characters ''are both so damaged you don't even know if they should be together. In their quest for help, these unhealthy people find each other.''
WHAT'S AT STAKE Newmarket's streak. After ''Monster'' and ''The Passion,'' the indie distributor has proven it can translate controversy into box office.