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Sundance Acquisitions Market Heats Up with ‘The Bronze’ and ‘The Witch’

Sundance Acquisitions Market Heats Up with 'The Bronze' and 'The Witch'

From January 22 to February 1, 2015, 120 feature-length films will screen in Park City, Utah, including 103 world premieres. The program, which festival director John Cooper calls “fun, bolder and braver” than ever, as well as more personal, represents 29 countries and 44 first-time filmmakers, including 26 in competition. “We felt an intensity this year, on all fronts.” About 30% of the program are women filmmakers.

The beauty of these world premieres is that they have to be checked out by the hordes of cinephiles, media and buyers descending on Park City. And for those filmmakers lucky enough to have made the cut, their careers hang in the balance. Will they land theatrical distribution? Or wind up having to go the DIY route or VOD? Getting into Sundance is one thing, emerging with a viable release is another. But Sundance is mainly about emerging talent, both behind and in front of the camera. 

Read: The Best Things Robert Redford Said on the Opening Day of the Sundance Film Festival

This year Sundance sales started flying before the hottest acquisition titles had been shown to the public over the first weekend. Netflix had already picked up strong Festival opener “What Happened, Nina Simone?”, which earned a standing ovation opening night. Fox Searchlight took Noah Baumbach’s latest Greta Gerwig collaboration “Mistress America” off the table the week before the festival (the comedy screens Saturday), Magnolia nabbed Andrew Bujalski’s “Results,” and A24 acquired James Ponsoldt’s third film to debut at Sundance, “The End of the Tour,” starring scruffily brilliant Jason Segal as novelist David Foster Wallace. A24 reportedly will land period thriller “The Witch,” which screened for press and industry ahead of its Tuesday premiere. 

Check the IW Sundance Bible for all the stories published so far at this festival. 

More typically, distributors like to see how a movie plays with an audience before they but it. Sony Pictures Classics scooped up Oscar contender “Whiplash” right after its opening night screening last year; it has grossed $7 million worldwide. The advantage for a distributor like Searchlight is that they can launch and control publicity and marketing themselves at the festival. 

A24’s David Fenkel told me that they bought “The End of the Tour” on the basis of their prior relationship with Ponsoldt on sleeper hit “The Spectacular Now”; it was worth taking the gamble based on the hyper-competitive seller’s market right now. He did not see the completed film–or even any footage–until the Friday screening. (Hmmm. Many industry insiders scoff at this notion: “That would be financially irresponsible,” observed one Sundance veteran.) Fenkel plans to push the movie out in the fall. 

Another hot title, Bryan Buckley’s raunchy comedy “The Bronze,” set in 2004 and starring “Big Bang Theory” star Melissa Rauch as a hard-swearing American bronze medal gymnastics winner, generated raucous laughter at its public screening; Relativity is in final negotiations on the film, and could close a deal in the $3 million range, reports Variety. Reviews were mixed.
Other potential pickups that have already screened include CAA-repped Australian missing children drama “Strangerland,” a sexily atmospheric and disturbing outback drama starring an excellent Nicole Kidman; Sean Baker’s NEXT section title “Tangerine,” shot on an iPhone 5s; Kirby Dick’s campus rape expose “The Hunting Ground,” Ethan Hawke-starrer “Ten Thousand Saints,” a coming-of-age drama set in the ’80s from the team Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini; sexy comedy “D Train,” starring James Marsden and Jack Black; and Josh Mond’s well-acted heartfelt relationship drama “James White.” 

On Saturday, actress turned director Marielle Heller world-premiered her debut feature “The Diary of a Teenage Girl,” based on the graphic novel of the same name about a teen artist (Bel Powley) in 1970s San Francisco who enters into an affair with her mother’s (Kristen Wiig) boyfriend (Alexander Skarsgard). Distributors were running out of the theater to bid on this extraordinarily hot, sensational and likely controversial title that has already generated strong word-of-mouth.

Still to come are unusual doc competition discovery Crystal Moselle’s “The Wolfpack,” about seven kids trapped in an East Side apartment who hardly ever go outside and the life they create for themselves watching and reenacting films; raunchfest “Sleeping with Other People” from Leslye Headland (IW interview here), a film about Jesus “Days in the Desert,” starring Ewan McGregor and Tye Sheridan (the “Mud” star is  in three Sundance films this year; Eli Roth’s Keanu Reeves starrer “Knock Knock”; midnight flick “Cop Car,” highly buzzed daredevil doc “Being Evel”; filmmaker comedian Bobcat Goldthwait’s doc portrait of an heroic standup comedian, “Call Me Lucky”; Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s coming-of-age story “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” whose young lead actor Thomas Mann may be a “real star in the making,” said Groth; Kris Swanberg is in the competition with “Unexpected,” a “fresh story with an honest approach looking at issues” said Groth, “about women and a girl going through something,” while her husband Joe Swanberg has a new film in the Premiere section, “Digging for Fire.”
Contributing to the heated atmosphere is a rash of new buyers including not only Amazon Studios, which has recently added indie insider Ted Hope to run production, and Netflix–which is not only acquiring docs but announced a four-picture deal with Duplass Brothers Prods., who backed multiple titles here at Sundance (including “Tangerine,” “The Overnight,” “The Bronze” and two episodes of animated series “Animals” ) as well as Bleecker Street, which is partnering with Universal, Saban, STX, and Broad Green.

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