Sundance 2020: Following a festival sale record, some of the buzziest titles are getting scooped up
While the Sundance 2020 market started slow, sales started to pick up late Sunday night with “The Night House” and “Herself” both selling, followed by “Ironbark” and “Uncle Frank” on Monday morning. Since then a handful of documentaries have sold, and Andy Samberg’s “Palm Springs” set a new festival sales record at $17.5 million and some spare change.
A lot of films selected as part of the festival program also already had distribution in place. Others pre-sold before the festival even began: “The Father,” the documentary “Mucho Mucho Amor” and the midnight thriller “His House” have already found homes. We’ll be updating this list with any additional sales as they come in.
Sony Pictures Classics on Jan. 17 acquired the U.S. rights and select international rights to “The Father,” which stars Olivia Colman and Anthony Hopkins in a drama based on French writer Florian Zeller’s own adaptation of his stage play. Colman and Hopkins play daughter and father in a story about battling loss that comes with age.
“The Father” also stars mark Gatiss, Imogen Poots, Rufus Sewell and Olivia Williams. The play first launched in Paris in 2012 and won the Moliere Award for Best Play.
No release information has been set for “The Father.”
“The Perfect Candidate”
Haifaa Al-Mansour’s “The Perfect Candidate” premiered at the Venice Film Festival in 2019, but it’s playing Sundance for its U.S. premiere and was acquired by Music Box Films on Jan. 17.
Al-Mansour’s drama was Saudia Arabia’s official submission to this year’s Academy Awards. It’s the story of a young, Saudi doctor who decides to run for local political office in an attempt to pressure the government to pave the road to her clinic, only to find herself invested as a rare woman entering a political race in her region.
The distributor is planning a 2020 theatrical release followed by a home entertainment rollout.
“Mucho Mucho Amor”
On Jan. 19, Netflix acquired the worldwide rights to “Mucho Mucho Amor,” a feature documentary about Walter Mercado, the famed Puerto Rican astrologer and TV personality who dazzled viewers for over four decades before his death last November.
The feature film, directed by Cristina Costantini and Kareem Tabsch, showcases how Mercado broke through gender norms and influenced generations of Latino figures, including Lin-Manuel Miranda, Eugenio Derbez and Raul De Molina, who are all featured in the documentary.
“Mucho Mucho Amor” premiered at Sundance on Jan. 24.
Netflix on Jan. 22 acquired the worldwide rights to “His House,” a thriller that played in the Midnight section of the festival. Remi Weekes wrote and directed the film about a refugee couple that escapes Sudan and start a new life in a small English town, only to encounter an evil force that begins to haunt their life.
Felicity Evans and Toby Venables wrote the screenplay that became Weekes’ debut film. Wunmi Mosaku and Sope Dirisu star in the thriller.
Late on Jan. 26, Amazon Studios acquired the North American rights to Phyllida Lloyd’s “Herself.”
The distributor is planning a theatrical release for the film later this year. No financial details were disclosed.
“Herself” follows single mother Sandra, who escapes her abusive partner with her two young children, but soon finds herself trapped in temporary accommodations. She then comes up with the idea to self-build an affordable home with the help of friends and neighbors.
“The Night House”
Late on Jan. 26, there were reports that Rebecca Hall’s “The Night House” was nearing a deal to be acquired by Searchlight Pictures for $12 million. On Feb. 6, the deal closed.
The David Bruckner film stars Rebecca Hall, Evan Jonigkeit, Stacy Martin and Sarah Goldberg, and was written by Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski. It follows a widow (Hall) who begins to uncover her recently deceased husband’s secrets.
On Jan. 27, Amazon Studios acquired Alan Ball’s “Uncle Frank” for $12 million. Alan Ball wrote and directed the film, which stars Paul Bettany as an esteemed literature professor at NYU where his teenage niece (Sophia Lillis) enrolls in 1973 and discovers that he has been hiding his relationship with his longtime partner, Wally (Peter Macdissi).
After the sudden death of surly patriarch Mac (Stephen Root), Frank reluctantly returns home for the funeral with Beth and Wally in tow. Along the way, he’s forced to reckon with the ghosts of the past and finally face his family.
The film, which follows the trio’s road trip from the bohemian scene of post-Stonewall New York City to rural South Carolina, also stars Judy Greer, Steve Zahn, Margo Martindale and Lois Smith.
On the morning of Jan. 27, Lionsgate was in the final stages of acquiring U.S. distribution rights to the Benedict Cumberbatch thriller “Ironbark.” Roadside Attractions will handle theatrical distribution as part of the deal following the film’s Friday night premiere at the Sundance Film Festival.
Tom O’Connor wrote the script, which follows Cumberbatch as Greville Wynne, who leads a quiet life with his wife Sheila (Jessie Buckley) until he’s recruited because of his ordinariness to serve his country when rumblings of a mole in the Soviet Union government reach British intelligence agent Dickie Franks (Angus Wright) and CIA official Emily Donovan (Rachel Brosnahan).
On Jan. 27, Neon and Hulu acquired the rights to “Palm Springs,” starring Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti. The film sold for $17,500,000.69, which conveniently set a new sales record at the festival by 69 cents. The sale beat out the previous record set by Nathan Parker’s “The Birth of a Nation” in 2016.
Max Barbakow directed the film that stars Samberg and Milioti as two reluctant wedding goers who find themselves unable to escape the venue or each other.
J.K. Simmons, Meredith Hagner, Camila Mendes and Peter Gallagher co-star in the film. Samberg also produced with Becky Sloviter, Akiva Schaffer, Jorma Taccone, Dylan Sellers and Chris Parker.
On Jan. 27, Apple and A24 bought the global rights to political documentary “Boys State,” which played in the U.S. documentary competition and won the Grand Jury Prize for a documentary. THR reported that the deal was for $10 million, but sources could not confirm the amount.
The film is produced by Laurene Powell Jobs, Davis Guggenheim, Jonathan Silberberg and Nicole Stott and was also the first sale completed for the newly formed Concordia Studio.
Jesse Moss and Amanda McBaine directed the film that is described as something of a coming-of-age story following 17-year-old boys in Texas who all exist on different ends of the political spectrum as it tries to examine how democracy works in today’s America.
A24 will release the film theatrically before it debuts on Apple TV+.
“The Truffle Hunters”
Sony Pictures Classics nabbed the worldwide rights to “The Truffle Hunters” on Jan. 27, a documentary playing in the World Cinema Documentary Competition. Michael Dweck and Gregory Kershaw directed the feature about a group of dogs and their owners in a region in Italy who are the only people in the world who know how to find one of the rarest and most valuable truffles around.
“Call Me By Your Name” director Luca Guadagnino executive produced the documentary. Submarine brokered the deal.
“I Carry You With Me”
On Jan. 28, Sony Pictures Classics partnered with Sony’s Stage 6 Films to acquire the global rights to “I Carry You With Me,” the debut narrative feature from director Heidi Ewing. The film premiered in the NEXT section of Sundance and will be released later this year.
“I Carry You With Me” is based on a true story of a decades-spanning romance that begins in Mexico between an aspiring chef and a teacher. Societal pressure weighs on them, forcing the couple to relocate to New York.
On Jan. 28, Kino Lorber acquired the North American rights to “Identifying Features” from director Fernanda Valadez. Kino Lorber will release the film theatrically this summer followed by a VOD rollout later this year.
The drama is a migrant story of a Mexican mother searching for her son who disappeared en route to the US border. The film later won the Audience Award in the World Cinema competition at the festival and also picked up the jury’s Best Screenplay prize.
Magnolia and Topic Studios on Jan. 29 were nearing a co-distribution deal for “The Fight,” a documentary about the ACLU’s legal battle against President Trump’s immigration bans in the immediate wake of his inauguration. The deal is said to be in the low seven-figures.
Elyse Steinberg, Josh Kriegman and Eli Despres directed the documentary that premiered last Friday at Sundance. Steinberg, Kriegman and Despres also produced with Maya Seidler, Peggy Drexler and Kerry Washington. Topic Studios was an early investor in the project and entered into the co-distribution deal with Magnolia at the festival.
On Jan. 31, it was reported that Hulu was nearing a worldwide deal for Justin Simien’s “Bad Hair,” a satirical thriller set in the ’80s that premiered in the midnight section of the Sundance Film Festival last Thursday. No deal has closed.
Simien wrote and directed the film that stars Elle Lorraine, Vanessa Williams, Jay Pharaoh, Lena Waithe, Blair Underwood and Laverne Cox.
On Jan. 31, HBO Documentary Films acquired the worldwide television and streaming rights to “Siempre, Luis,” a documentary about Puerto Rican immigrant, politician and father to Lin-Manuel Miranda, Luis A. Miranda Jr.
The film by first-time director John James traces how Miranda Jr. helped to shape New York politics over the last three decades.
On Jan. 31, Magnolia acquired the worldwide rights to “Assassins,” Ryan White’s documentary about the trial surrounding the murder of Kim Jong-nam, the half-brother to North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un.
The film follows closely the trial of two young women who perpetrated the assassination with a deadly chemical but said in their defense that they believed they were participating in a comedy prank show.
Magnolia will release the true-crime documentary later this year.
RLJE Films on Jan. 31 was nearing a deal to acquire the North American distribution rights to “Spree,” a satirical thriller about social media and the tech age that played in the NEXT section of the festival. The film sold for $2 million, and RLJE Films will release theatrically.
In “Spree,” “Stranger Things” star Joe Keery plays a rideshare driver who outfits his car with live-streaming webcams and then goes on a murder spree in order to achieve viral fame.
Eugene Kotlyarenko directed and wrote the film, and the rapper Drake executive produced. David Arquette, Sasheer Zamata, Kyle Mooney, Mischa Barton and Josh Ovalle co-star.
“Sylvie’s Love,” the lush and jazz-inflected period romance starring Tessa Thompson, was acquired by Amazon for a price tag in the high seven figures on Feb. 4.
Eugene Ashe directed the film that’s set in the late 1950s and early 1960s and follows a woman who meets an aspiring saxophonist and has a summer romance and then reconnects with him after years apart.
“The 40-Year-Old Version”
Netflix on Feb. 5 acquired the worldwide rights to “The 40-Year-Old Version,” director and writer Radha Blank’s debut film that played in competition at festival. The film stars Blank as a down on her luck playwright who, at age 40, decides to turn to being a rapper.
Blank won the directing prize from the jury at the festival, and Netflix plans to release the movie both theatrically and on streaming later this year.
On Feb. 5, TheWrap exclusively reported that the streaming service Topic, part of First Look Media, acquired the North American streaming rights to “Meats,” a short film from director Ashley Williams that played in the shorts section of the festival.
Williams also starred in the short alongside a real-life master butcher in a story about a pregnant vegan who suddenly gets a craving for meat. The film is a commentary about the ethics of eating meat as inspired by writers like Michael Pollan and Jonathan Safran Foer.
Topic also acquired the first look rights for any subsequent projects developed related to the feature.
Miranda July’s “Kajillionaire” was acquired in a competitive bidding war by Focus Features on Feb. 6 after A24 was originally reported to be in the mix for the absurdist comedy.
Evan Rachel Wood, Debra Winger, Gina Rodriguez and Richard Jenkins star in the quirky film as a family of con artists whose plans go awry when they welcome a polite stranger into their latest scheme.
Focus will release the film in the US, and Universal Pictures International will handle abroad.