Content quality might be especially high for diverse filmmakers at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, but wallets have been frozen shut when it comes to dealmaking.
Indie distributors have barely moved on several buzzy titles up for acquisition, though TheWrap has exclusively reported on a few big deals and two hot bidding wars.
“No one has festival fever this year,” one senior acquisitions executive at a studio label told TheWrap, referring to the competitive rush to buy that sometimes happens after a high-energy movie premieres in Park City.
It was a painful four days waiting for someone to break the metaphorical market ice. That was Bleecker Street and 30West, who spent $4 million on Keira Knightley’s feminist poet tale “Colette.” Trickling in after was a $5 million worldwide package for the inventive John Cho drama “Search,” which takes place entirely on laptop screens and FaceTime video.
There are two ongoing competitive bidding situations — Chloe Sevigny’s Lizzie Borden telling “Lizzie” and the captivating racial drama “Blindspotting.”
TheWrap can’t say we didn’t warn you. We previously reported on a variety of factors that would slow the buying pace at this year’s Sundance market, including: turbulent deal structures with spend-happy streaming services, an increased call to vet the character of filmmakers and consolidation, like Disney’s acquisition of the Fox film studio.
Our full tally of Sundance sales excludes international rights and pre-sold titles, of which there are many, like Netflix’s “Come Sunday” and “A Futile and Stupid Gesture.”
Here’s what’s shaking so far in Park City:
The period drama starring Keira Knightley and Dominic West was the first major acquisition at the Sundance Film Festival, selling to Bleecker Street and 30West in a seven-figure deal on Sunday. It premiered in the Premieres section on Saturday.
The film follows Knightley’s Colette as she writes her loosely autobiographical Claudine novels, which become huge best-sellers in Paris, but begins increasingly frustrated since her domineering husband (West) takes authorial credit. Eventually she sets out on her own transgressive adventures without her husband.
Then, the John Cho/Debra Messing tech thriller sold its worldwide rights to Sony Worldwide Acquisitions for a whopping $5 million. This marked the third big acquisition for SPWA at the festival — it has also acquired the international rights to Nick Offerman’s “Hearts Beat Loud” and Debra Granik’s “Leave No Trace.”
“Monsters and Men”
Fledgling indie distributor Neon took the police brutality drama from feature-debut director Reinaldo Marcus Green, which even they touted as one of the “first major acquisitions” of the festival.
“Monsters” tells of a young guy who uses his phone to record the killing of an unarmed black man at the hands of police officers. Endeavor Content made the deal.
“Pick of the Litter”
While this title technically played at fringe festival Slamdance, the tale of a litter of puppies who grow up to become seeing eye dogs captivated the folks at IFC Films, who bought it for their Sundance Selects label.
TheWrap exclusively reported this acclaimed title was being courted by three distributors — Neon, CBS Films and The Orchard. And MoviePass, the moviegoing subscription service that announced plans to acquire films at the festival, is also seeking a co-release with whoever ends up buying the film. At the time of publication, “Blindspotting” has not been sold.
The Lizzie Borden murder film starring Chloe Sevigny is still up for grabs, and for good reason: following its Eccles Theater premiere, the film delivered on its promise of blood, sex and graphic violence. Three distributors — Roadside Attractions with Saban Films, IFC and Magnolia Pictures – are currently chasing the film, TheWrap also reported exclusively.
“Sorry to Bother You”
Boots Riley’s film that boasts a glitzy cast in Armie Hammer, Tessa Thompson, Terry Crews, Steven Yeun and Lakeith Stanfield is still on the market. Insiders told TheWrap that some distributors were waiting for both this film and “Blindspotting” to screen given that they have similar themes. “Blindspotting” got more action at first, but “Sorry to Bother You” has gotten solid feedback.