A Sundance Film Festival midpoint report -- Our critics talk about what they've seen so far at the independent movie showcase

Indie filmmakers rejoice! The 2006 Sundance Film Festival kicked off with more than its share of wheelin’ and dealin’, crazy surprises, and hot fresh faces. Straight from Park City, Utah, your midfest round-up:

THE BIG DEAL Fox Searchlight acquired Little Miss Sunshine, a dark family comedy starring Steve Carell and Greg Kinnear, for a reported $10 million. ”We sat in an audience of 1,200 people last night,” says Searchlight president Peter Rice, who inked the sale early Sunday morning after an all-night powwow at Park City’s Riverhorse restaurant. ”They burst into applause four or five times.” You’ll be able to see it soon too: The studio hopes to release the film in mid-to-late summer as an alternative to the season’s blockbusters.

THE BIG SURPRISE Bobcat Goldthwait’s perverse romance Stay, which generated heavy buzz after its Saturday premiere and was close to a sale by Tuesday. ”I thought I’d just be inviting my friends over like, ‘Hey, you guys wanna see something f—ed-up?”’ laughs the director. ”Just that we got into Sundance might be the greatest joke I ever pulled.”

THE BIG SNAFU Searchlight’s Thank You for Smoking debuted at the Toronto festival, but played Park City minus a sex scene featuring Katie Holmes and Aaron Eckhart, which was omitted due to a technical goof. ”I know that’s not as sexy as some of the rumors that are floating around,” says writer-director Jason Reitman. ”But, no, Tom Cruise did not call me and tell me to cut the scene.”