This year’s Sundance Film Festival is already shaping up to be a stronger acquisition market than last year’s, with several films already having been sold, including Mindy Kaling’s “Late Night” for a whopping $13 million and “Blinded by the Light” nearing a deal for $15 million.
The buzzy Richard Wright adaptation “Native Son” was sold to HBO films before it even premiered on Thursday night. Several movies were sold ahead of the festival as well, including Tilda Swinton’s “The Souvenir” and Ryan White’s documentary “Ask Dr. Ruth.”
Several sales agents and buyers predicted a healthy and stable marketplace this year after last year’s somewhat slower festival.
Bidding wars have been scarce so far this year. “Buyers are savvy and generally are paying what they think is necessary to make a deal happen while also fitting their individual business model,” one insider said. “I don’t expect there will be more than one or two legitimate bidding wars but I do expect it will be an active market given the number of players in the space looking for content.”
Here are the Sundance entries that have signed new distribution deals so far in Park City:
The first big festival acquisition was Mindy Kaling’s “Late Night,” which sold to Amazon Studios for $13 million just shortly after its premiere on Friday night. The film received loud claps and laughs, and many audience members had called it the first commercial hit of this year’s festival.
Nisha Ganatra directed the film that also stars Emma Thompson and John Lithgow. Kaling wrote, produced and starred in the film that follows a legendary late night talk show host (Thompson).
Ahead of the Thursday night premiere of “Native Son,” HBO Films bought the rights to Rashid Johnson’s modern re-imagining of Richard Wright’s seminal novel, about a young African-American man named Bigger Thomas (Ashton Sanders) who takes a job working for a highly influential Chicago family, a decision that will change the course of his life forever.
Margaret Qualley, Nick Robinson, KiKi Layne, Elizabeth Marvel, David Alan Grier, Sanaa Lathan and Bill Camp also star.
“Blinded by the Light”
New Line is in final negotiations for a $15 million deal to buy British filmmaker Gurinder Chadha’s film “Blinded by the Light.”
The film, which premiered Sunday at the Sundance Film Festival, follows a 16-year-old British Pakistani boy in 1987 England whose life is changed when his friend loans him Bruce Springsteen cassettes.
Amazon Studios acquired the worldwide rights for the fact-based political thriller “The Report” for around $14 million on Monday.
The Vice Studios and Unbranded production, which premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, was written and directed by acclaimed filmmaker Scott Burns and stars Adam Driver, Annette Bening and Jon Hamm.
“The Report,” following one man’s pursuit of justice and adherence to oversight and accountability, chronicles not only the CIA’s secret torture program, but also the remarkable struggle to release the report that tested the nation’s separation of powers and the rule of law.
“Brittany Runs a Marathon”
On Wednesday, Amazon bought another movie for a hefty price: “Brittany Runs a Marathon,” starring Jillian Bell, sold for $14 million.
Writer-director Paul Downs Colaizzo’s comedy, which premiered Monday night in dramatic competition, stars Bell as an out-of-shape 27-year-old New Yorker who decides to lace up her Converse sneakers and get fit after an alarming visit to a Yelp-recommended doctor from whom she hoped to score an Adderall prescription.
The cast also includes Michaela Watkins, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Lil Rel Howery, Micah Stock and Alice Lee.
After shelling out more than $40 million during the festival, Amazon dropped another $5 million to acquire Shia LaBeouf’s beloved feature film writing debut, “Honey Boy.”
The much-talked about film, which stars LaBeouf, Noah Jupe, FKZ Twigs and Lucas Hedges, is based on LaBeouf’s own experiences growing up with his ex-rodeo clown addict father. LaBeouf said during a Q&A following the film’s Sundance premiere that, “It’s strange to fetishize your pain and make a product out of it… This whole thing felt very selfish. I was falling apart.”
Neon, in partnership with Topic Studios, acquired the rights to “Luce” starring Naomi Watts and Octavia Spencer on Wednesday.
The film, directed by Julius Onah, is based on a play by JC Lee and was shot on 35mm. “Luce” is gripping drama that features performances by Naomi Watts, Octavia Spencer, Kelvin Harrison Jr, and Tim Roth. The film has garnered rave reviews since its Sundance premiere on Sunday.
“Luce” follows Amy and Peter Edgar (Naomi Watts and Tim Roth) who adopted their son Luce (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) from war-torn Eritrea ten years ago. Now Luce is an all-star student athlete, beloved by everyone. After a series of encounters with his teacher, Harriet Wilson (Octavia Spencer), questions about who Luce really is begin to emerge. A thrilling psychological drama, Luce is a complex film that addresses identity, truth, individuality and race.
Neon partnered with Hulu to win a bidding war for the rights to the Lupita Nyong’o-led zombie comedy “Little Monsters” in a deal worth mid-seven figures. The film was part of another all night negotiation taking place in Park City.
“Little Monsters” follows directionless Dave (Alexander England) who takes an opportunity to chaperone an upcoming school trip alongside the charming and enigmatic teacher, Miss Caroline (Lupita Nyong’o), in order to impress her, but he wasn’t expecting to have to survive a zombie invasion, armed only with the resourcefulness of kindergartners.
Neon snapped up rights to the Riley Keough thriller “The Lodge,” which premiered Friday night in the midnight section of the Sundance Film Festival. The deal was said to be worth just under $2 million.
In the film, Lia McHugh and Jaeden Lieberher (“It”) star as siblings who are snowed in a remote cabin with the much younger woman (Keough) whom their dad (Richard Armitage) plans to marry after dumping their mom (Alicia Silverstone).
“Ask Dr. Ruth”
Hulu picked up the rights to the “Ask Dr. Ruth” documentary well ahead of the festival.
Directed by Ryan White (“The Keepers,” “The Case Against 8”), “Ask Dr. Ruth” chronicles the life of Dr. Ruth Westheimer, a Holocaust survivor who became America’s most famous sex therapist. With her diminutive frame, thick German accent and uninhibited approach to sex therapy and education, Dr. Ruth transformed the conversation around sexuality. As she approaches her 90th birthday and shows no signs of slowing down, the documentary follows Dr. Ruth as she revisits her painful past and unlikely path to a career at the forefront of the sexual revolution.
“The Untitled Amazing Johnathan Documentary”
On Wednesday, Hulu acquired the “Untitled Amazing Johnathan Documentary” following its premiere at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival last week.
The film follows a deranged magician who built his career out of shock and deception in the 1980s. He is diagnosed with a terminal heart condition and given one year to live, but three years later, Johnathan is still alive. The documentary chronicles his amazing comeback tour.
Ben Berman directed the film. Berman, Miranda Bailey, Russell Groves, Amanda Marshall and Jacob Perlin are producers on the film, with Jason Beck, Kirk Johnson and Jon Mugar executive producing.
“The Tomorrow Man”
Bleecker Street acquired the North American rights to Noble Jones’ debut feature “The Tomorrow Man” a week before the festival.
John Lithgow and Blythe Danner star in the romantic film, which is slated for release on May 19 after its Sundance premiere on Jan. 30.
The film follows Ed (Lithgow), who spends his life preparing for a disaster that might never come, while Ronnie (Danner) shops for things she might not need. The two try to find love while trying not to get lost.
In January, IFC Films acquired the U.S. rights to “The Nightingale,” the latest film from Jennifer Kent, the Australian director of “The Babadook.”
IFC Films is re-teaming with Kent after distributing “The Babadook” in 2014. That horror film made $10.3 million worldwide. IFC is planning a summer release for “The Nightingale,” which first premiered at the 2018 Venice International Film Festival and won the Special Jury Prize, as well as the Marcello Mastroianni Award for Best New Young Performer for Baykali Ganambarr.
“David Crosby: Remember My Name”
Sony Pictures Classics announced Monday that it has acquired the North American rights to “David Crosby: Remember My Name,” the documentary on the career and life of the Crosby, Stills and Nash singer that premiered Saturday at the Sundance Film Festival.
The deal also includes several other territories outside the U.S. — Sony Pictures Classics has yet to set release plans.
Cameron Crowe produced the documentary directed by A.J. Eaton that is competing in the U.S. Documentary section at Sundance. “Remember My Name” attempts to go beyond the conventions of typical rock-doc profiles and observes the often candid Crosby throughout his 50-year career in music.
In December, Tilda Swinton’s “The Souvenir” was picked up by A24. Martin Scorsese executive produces the film that also stars Honor Swinton-Byrne and Tom Burke. A24 will release the film theatrically in 2019 and acquired it from Protagonist Pictures and 30WEST.
“The Souvenir” follows a quiet film student (Swinton Byrne) who begins to find her voice as an artist while navigating a turbulent courtship with a charismatic but untrustworthy man (Burke). She defies her protective mother (Swinton) and concerned friends as she slips deeper and deeper into an intense, emotionally fraught relationship that comes dangerously close to destroying her dreams.
French-born Frédéric Tcheng’s documentary “Halston” about the fashion designer was picked up during Sundance by the company formerly known as The Orchard, under its new owners, 1091 Media. The company acquired North American rights to the film on the heels of its premiere at the festival on Saturday.
North American broadcast rights for “Halston” are owned by CNN Films, and CNN plans a broadcast premiere for the documentary in the third quarter of 2019.
HBO Films, in association with A24, bought Pippa Bianco’s debut film “Share,” about a 16-year-old girl who discovers a disturbing video from a night she doesn’t remember, and must try to figure out what happened.
“Share,” which premiered at the festival on Friday as one of the 16 films in the U.S. Dramatic competition, was bought in a seven-figure deal. The film will make its debut on HBO in 2019.
“Delhi Crime Story”
On Monday, Netflix acquired the worldwide rights to Indian anthology series “Delhi Crime.” The streamer plans a launch on March 22.
Written and directed by Richie Mehta, the seven-part first season is inspired by a 2012 Delhi gang rape case and was shot on location in New Delhi. “Delhi Crime” looks at the complexities of the case, including the scrutiny of the victim and the investigative team’s determination to bring the perpetrators to justice.
Neon acquired the U.S. distribution rights to the Latin American survival thriller “Monos,” which is screening in the World Cinema Dramatic section at this year’s festival.
“Monos” stars Julianne Nicholson as an American hostage held by a group of young soldiers. After an ambush, the group is driven into the jungle, where the group dynamic quickly crumbles as they struggle to survive.
A24 picked up the worldwide rights excluding China to Lulu Wang’s “The Farewell” in a deal somewhere between $6 million and $7 million.
The film, starring Awkwafina, follows a Chinese family that opts not to tell their beloved matriarch about her lung cancer diagnosis, instead scheduling an impromptu wedding-reunion to give everyone the chance to say their goodbyes.
“Where’s My Roy Cohn?”
The film, directed by award-winning journalist Matt Tyrnauer, premiered in the U.S. documentary competition during the festival. Tyrnauer is known for documentaries about designer Valentino Garavani and Studio 54 co-founder Ian Schrager.
“Sea of Shadows”
The award-winning Sundance documentary, which was executive produced by Leonardo DiCaprio, was acquired by National Geographic Films. “Sea of Shadows,” directed by Richard Ladkani, won the Audience Award for a documentary following its festival premiere.
The film examines an environmental crisis formed as a result of actions by Mexican drug cartels and the Chinese mafia. The film looks at the Sea of Cortez, which is collapsing as a result of the hunting of a valuable fish called totoaba that drug cartels have dubbed the “cocaine of the sea.”
Kino Lorber announced on Jan. 23 it had picked up North American rights to Rick Alverson’s 1950s-set drama “The Mountain,” starring Tye Sheridan, Udo Kier, Hannah Gross and Jeff Goldblum.
The Vice Studios production premiered last fall in competition at the Venice Film Festival, but also screened in the spotlight section of this year’s Sundance. Sheridan stars as a young man who joins a doctor (Goldblum) on a tour to advocate for lobotomies despite his own mother’s institutionalization.
Magnolia Pictures picked up rights to “The Brink,” Alison Klayman’s fly-on-the-wall documentary about former Trump campaign and administration official Steve Bannon, ahead of its Sundance premiere.
“The Brink” was co-financed with RYOT Films and is being planned for a theatrical release in spring of this year.