"I'm going to take it slow this week and not do too much," Groth told Indiewire later in the day. "I'm going to try to let my voice rest for a while." But first, he took some time to reflect on this year's experience one last time.
How was Film Church?
It went very well. We had some special guests and showed some clips, using a talk-show format. I think everyone there really enjoyed it. We've done it for a number of years, but last year we changed the format. Prior to that, we'd have an invited guest give a sermon on whatever they wanted. Last year, we decided that [John] Cooper and I would give everyone who showed up an insider's guide looking back at the festival, telling some stories that maybe they didn't know about. This year, we expanded it a little bit. ["Beasts of the Southern Wild"] Benh Zeitlin came, ["The Queen of Versailles" director] Lauren Greenfield came, ["Young and Wild" director] Marialy Rivas came, and [The Salt Lake City Tribute critic] Sean Means came as well. Everyone had a good time.
Do you think the festival met the expectations that various people had going into it?
I think so. When you look back and try to evaluate the festival, there are various constituencies: There are attendees who come just to watch films, the critics, the industry, the acquisitions people, and ultimately our sponsors are part of it as well. I know that from our perspective it was a great success. I can tell the audiences were truly engaged and provoked at times, but very responsive to the films. Our sponsors were happy. The business was solid. The right films are going to the right companies for the right prices. Hopefully that will continue even after the festival. Critically, it is what it is. Critics found films to champion and some they didn't respond to--but that's just the nature of it every year.
Reporting on the deals at the festival, The New York Times concluded that it was a good but not great year. At the same time, it seemed there were a lot of sales. What did you make of the marketplace?
Ultimately, I only care secondarily about that. It's great because it's part of the process for getting these films out there so they reach as big an audience as possible. But that's commerce. We're more about the art. Those companies have to make money and if they see a way of doing it they'll do it; if not, they won't. We pay attention to it and try to help as much as possible, but it doesn't affect how the festival works. The Times piece was responding to the two $7 million deals we had last year and how we didn't have that this year, although "The Surrogate" was picked up for a pretty hefty price. I don't think that's a bad thing. Films should go for the right value and that's the way distributors can sustain them. I'm pretty happy with the business, especially Magnolia for stepping up during the latter part of the festival and making a lot of acquisitions. They were really waiting to see what they wanted. Once they got active, it made everything feel perfect.
Were you surprised by any acquisitions or the lack thereof?
Did "Safety Not Guaranteed" sell yet?
That's the one. I think that's a great film and a huge crowdpleaser. Really smart, won the screenwriting prize. It's my mom's favorite film of the festival (laughs). That, to me, is a surprise. I know it'll go and it's just a matter of time, but I'm surprised it wasn't snatched up. [Editor's note: "Safety Not Guaranteed" was picked up by FilmDistrict shortly after this interview.]
Personally, I was more interested in the films that didn't receive universal acclaim. What do you make of "Simon Killer," "The Comedy" and "Compliance," which inspired walkouts and acclaim from different places?
I agree with you 100%. Look, when we're programming this festival, we see films that we know will be well received by just about everyone. And that's great. We love to have those. Then there are films that are going to be divisive, and they're going to challenge and provoke people. Some people will question why we show those films, while others absolutely love them. I think it's important for us to have a mix of the divisive and the universally beloved films. You can't just strive for one or the other. For me, to see the films that received polarized reactions find real champions makes me really happy. It doesn't always happen that way. Some years we've shown films where I know why I've shown them but they didn't work. This year, those kind of films were very successful at doing what they intended to do.
Sundance has been viewed through the prism of the "Little Miss Sunshine" narrative for five years now. Do you feel like the festival is in a different place from when that movie came along, landed a huge deal and became seen as the prototypical Sundance breakout story?
I do think it's in a different place as far as the industry is concerned. People are less concerned about looking for that home run, trying to scoop up the film that breaks out at the festival and make tens of millions of dollars on it. I don't think that's the mentality. Now they're just looking for sustainability.