Even before the movies began unspooling at the Sundance Film Festival last night, the first distribution deal had already been signed. According to Variety (subscription required), Paramount swooped in yesterday afternoon and purchased worldwide rights to 'Waiting for Superman,' a documentary about the crisis in the American educational system, filmed by 'An Inconvenient Truth' director Davis Guggenheim.

The film will hit theaters under the Paramount Vantage label, which also distributed 'Truth,' to the tune of $50 million in worldwide ticket sales.

More on day 1 of Sundance, including founder Robert Redford's speech, opening night films 'HOWL' (starring James Franco) and 'Restrepo,' and other goings-on in Park City, after the jump. Even before the movies began unspooling at the Sundance Film Festival last night, the first distribution deal had already been signed. According to Variety (subscription required), Paramount swooped in yesterday afternoon and purchased worldwide rights to 'Waiting for Superman,' a documentary about the crisis in the American educational system, filmed by 'An Inconvenient Truth' director Davis Guggenheim.

The film will hit theaters under the Paramount Vantage label, which also distributed 'Truth,' to the tune of $50 million in worldwide ticket sales.

Founder Robert Redford kicked off the fest with his customary opening remarks, including his customary hope that the festival is returning to its indie roots and trying not to be such a Hollywood schmoozefest. He really means it this time; this year's Sundance has a new head honcho (John Cooper, who replaces longtime chief Geoff Gilmore) and a renewed commitment to exhibiting movies made for under $500,000, under the festival's "Next" banner. Redford also urged festivalgoers reveling amid the glitz to remember the plight of Haiti. Read full coverage of the speech at indieWIRE.

The festival's opening night feature 'HOWL' stars James Franco as poet Allen Ginsberg and recounts how the Beat legend came to write his landmark 1956 poem and how he faced down an obscenity trial over his verses. Cinematical gives the film a middling review. Still, Franco's incarnation of Ginsberg seems uncannily accurate, judging by the four clips indieWIRE found.

Four Clips From 'HOWL'


The other opening night film, 'Restrepo,' is a documentary about the war in Afghanistan, co-directed by Sebastian Junger (author of 'The Perfect Storm') and Tim Hetherington. The pair spent a year embedded with the Second Platoon and documented the camaraderie of men on the front lines. IndieWIRE has an in-depth report on the film.

In other Sundance news:

YouTube launches its streaming video rental service today with three low-budget titles from the current Sundance lineup. You can also watch short films from the current festival for free at YouTube's Screening Room.

This year's Sundance Surprise screening, on Saturday Jan. 24, is 'Exit Through the Gift Shop,' the feature debut of graffiti artist Banksy, whose work has been popping up on walls around Park City this week. IndieWIRE has more, here.

Cinematical's daily 'Sundance in 60 Seconds' digest has more news, as well as links to trailers and excerpts from several hotly anticipated Sundance entries, including this one from 'Blue Valentine,' with Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams as a couple trying to save their marriage.

An Excerpt From 'Blue Valentine'