Film on Oscar Grant slaying creates buzz at Sundance

"Fruitvale," starring Michael B. Jordan and Octavia Spencer, follows Grant during the last 24 hours of his life.

One of the most talked about movies at this year's Sundance Film Festival is "Fruitvale," based on the New Year's Day shooting death of 22-year-old Oscar Grant by a BART police officer in 2009.

Grant, who was shot by transit officer Johannes Mehserle after being detained at the Fruitvale BART station in Oakland, Calif., was unarmed. The incident went viral after being captured on video and cellphone cameras, sparking riots in Oakland that underlined racial tensions protesters claimed played a part in the shooting.

Mehserle was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in July 2010 for shooting Grant to death. He testified during his trail that he meant to use his stun gun instead of his hand gun on Grant. 

"Fruitvale," written and directed by 26-year-old filmmaker Ryan Coogler, portrays the last day of Grant's life. It is based on text messages found on Grant's cellphone, one of which wished his mother happy birthday.

The Los Angeles Times reported Monday that The Weinstein Co. had purchased the rights to distribute the movie for about $2 million after a heated bidding war among studios, including big names such as Fox Searchlight, Paramount Pictures and Focus Features.

Oscar Grant shooting: Ryan Coogler attends the BMI Roundtable at Sundance House in Park City, Utah, on Wednesday. IMAGEGetty Images: File

The film stars Michael B. Jordan ("The Wire," "Parenthood") as Grant and Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer as his mother "Wanda." It is produced by Forest Whittaker.

Some are calling "Fruitvale" this year's "Beasts of the Southern Wild" for Sundance. Film critic Todd McCarthy described "Fruitvale" as "a powerful dramatic feature film" in The Hollywood Reporter.

Related: Read a review of "Fruitvale"

First-time writer-director Coogler has stated in several media interviews that watching footage of Grant's shooting had felt extremely personal for him. "He looked like he could have been any one of us. Like, he dressed like all of us, you know what I mean? His friends look like my friends," Coogler told Democracy Now.

Coogler. who works with incarcerated youth in the Bay Area, said that BART cooperated with the making of the film.

The Sundance awards ceremony takes place Saturday night.

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