UPDATE 2/24/15: Almost a month since Fox Searchlight paid a reported Sundance Film Festival record of $17.5 million for worldwide rights to Nate Parker’s "Birth of a Nation," the distributor has set an official release date of October 7, 2016, which obviously places the film right in the middle of awards movie season – an indication of what their hopes are for the film. I’d assume an initial limited release, followed by a gradual national roll-out, but an immediate wide release is certainly possible as well, given all the excitement the film has generated since its Sundance premiere. I wouldn’t be surprised if Fox Searchlight gives it some film festival exposure going into the October release – like at the Toronto International Film Festival, the Venice Film Festival, the New York Film Festival, and Telluride, which are all typically stops for awards contenders annually. Each pre-release screening could certainly help reinvigorate the kind of buzz that the film was enveloped in last month.
I’m looking forward to checking out the first trailer.
All previous updates follow below.
UPDATE #3: Following the below news from earlier today that Fox Searchlight won the bidding war over Nate Parker’s "Birth of a Nation," paying what is reportedly a Sundance Film Festival record $17.5 million for worldwide rights, Deadline is reporting that there was an even larger bid for the film that came from an unexpected buyer – Byron Allen! Yes, that Byron Allen and his production/distribution company, Entertainment Studios, who bid $20 million for worldwide rights to the film, $2.5 million above the winning bid made by Fox Searchlight, and matching Netflix’s $20 million offer as well. Who knew Byron Allen was rolling like that? I knew he was doing very well – especially after he bought independent film distribution company Freestyle Releasing last October for an undisclosed sum; but even this news of his aggressive bid for "Birth of a Nation" took me by surprise! "Yes, we did make a bid for $20 million and a wide theatrical release for this outstanding film," Allen said. "Nate Parker made the right decision by going with Fox Searchlight, and we made the right bid. I’m very proud of Nate, and he owes me lunch.” Well Mr Allen, if you’ve got the money to spend like that, there are certainly a few other films you could pick up, or maybe even finance! I assume Mr. Allen will suddenly be on every filmmaker’s short list of potential backers and/or distributors – if he isn’t already.
UPDATE #2: Well, it’s a done deal! Worldwide rights for the film have been bought by Fox Searchlight for a whopping $17.5 million! Keep in mind that, as I said in my earlier post below, Fox Searchlight also released "12 Years a Slave" 2 years ago, and saw much success with it, at the box office, and awards received (including a Best Picture Oscar). So this acquisition is certainly fitting for the company.
UPDATE: After yesterday’s electrifying premiere (see below for the details), Variety is reporting this morning exclusively that there’s apparently a bidding war for the film, with The Weinstein Company, Fox Searchlight, Sony and Netflix all believed to be in the mix, with bids for worldwide rights exceeding $15 million, which would make it the biggest sale at Sundance this year (so far anyway). So there’s a good chance that a deal might be announced shortly! Once that happens, you will know. In the meantime, if you missed it, read my summary of reactions to the film after yesterday’s world premiere, below.
It made its world premiere at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, ending just a couple of hours ago. I’m unfortunately not at Sundance this year, so no early review of the film from me – at least, not until it screens in New York City, which I hope will be sooner than later.
But while you wait, I thought I’d round up some Twitter reactions from those who were present for the screening this evening, to give you some idea of what’s being said about it thus far. In brief, reactions have been overwhelmingly positive on the film, which is obviously great, and should lead to a distributor pick up. Both Anne Thompson at Thompson on Hollywood and Deadline suggested that there is distributor is interest; "Potential buyers for the film streamed out of the lobby mere minutes after the cast had left the stage post-screening. Some worked multiple cell phones (with assistants standing nearby fielding calls of their own) in what appeared to be fevered discussions about the awards-bait film," Deadline said in its post-screening report. Thompson’s tweet was similar, further identifying both Fox Searchlight and Roadside Attractions as potential bidders.
So it may only be a matter of time before we receive news of an acquisition. It would make sense for Fox Searchlight given that they were successful with "12 Years a Slave" two years ago (Nate Parker’s film is, as you might expect, already drawing comparisons to Steve McQueen’s Oscar-winning drama, even if only because of the subject matter/period). It’s also a film that I mentioned in my 2017 Oscar potentials list, published last week.
Titled "The Birth of a Nation," Parker wrote, directed and also stars in the film, playing Nat Turner.
The official synopsis reads: Set against the antebellum South, this story follows Nat Turner, a literate slave and preacher, whose financially strained owner, Samuel Turner, accepts an offer to use Nat’s preaching to subdue unruly slaves. After witnessing countless atrocities against fellow slaves, Nat devises a plan to lead his people to freedom.
Joining Parker in front of the camera are Armie Hammer, Aja Naomi King, Jackie Earle Haley, Gabrielle Union, and Mark Boone Jr.
Still no trailer yet; but the stills (above and below), as well as Sundance premiere reactions (all below), should hold you over until then.
First, a sample of what the critics have had to say about the film so far:
— Jordan Zakarin (@jordanzakarin) January 26, 2016
Powerful BIRTH OF A NATION, American slave revolt film echoing BRAVEHEART. Sure to be major discussion piece and awards contender #sundance
— Jason Gorber (@filmfest_ca) January 26, 2016
The Birth of a Nation – A triumph in every way. Nate Parker takes this one to the top. Score, performances, story are perfect. Masterpiece.
— Alex Billington (@firstshowing) January 26, 2016
THE BIRTH OF A NATION: Absolutely essential, a masterful telling of a story we haven’t told nearly enough. Devastating. #Sundance
— Alissa Wilkinson (@alissamarie) January 26, 2016
Prolonged standing ovation for the best narrative feature I’ve seen @sundancefest, actor-director Nate Parker’s powerful Birth of a Nation.
— Anne Thompson (@akstanwyck) January 26, 2016
Ovation after Nate Parker’s BIRTH OF A NATION started as the credits began and audience stood until the lights came up #Sundance
— Jacqueline Lyanga (@evesther) January 26, 2016
— Terrell Garrett (@TerrellTGarrett) January 26, 2016
You’re about to hear a LOT about THE BIRTH OF A NATION. A remarkable and remarkably powerful debut from writer, director, star Nate Parker
— chris nashawaty (@ChrisNashawaty) January 26, 2016
— Shadow And Act (@shadowandact) January 26, 2016
And on, and on, and on… you get the picture! Much enthusiasm for the film after its World Premiere, which may make it a strong contender for the festival’s Grand Jury Prize, although the festival isn’t over yet; another week to go!