HBO Films captured American distribution and streaming rights to Sundance documentary tearjerker “The Sentence,” director Rudy Valdez’s personal plea for the U.S. to reconsider mandatory minimum prison sentencing. For his feature filmmaking debut, Valdez told the story of his sister, Cindy Shank, who was arrested without warning in 2008 dating back to her involvement with a Michigan drug cartel before she became a married mother of three daughters. The account is part of the 34th annual festival’s U.S. Documentary Competition.
“This film has been more than ten years in the making and we wanted to make sure we found the right home, especially given the intimate nature of the story,” stated Valdez. “In partnering with HBO, we’re excited about working together to get this film out into the world and make as huge an impact as possible.”
Kristen Johnson, director of Oscar shortlisted “Cameraperson,” attended the January 21 premiere “The Sentence,” where she stood up and saluted Valdez, saying that his work “felt like 10 years of grief” for Shank, who was imprisoned that long. Cinetic Media handled the domestic sale, and its founder, John Sloss, told IndieWire that he cried upon first viewing.
Producers include Sam Bisbee of Park Pictures, which premiered two additional films at Sundance this year: “An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn” and “Heart Beats Loud” (Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions bought the latter’s international rights, while Gunpower & Sky will handle its North American release). Valdez was once the kindergarten teacher to Bisbee’s children.
This is the second festival pick-up for HBO Films. Yesterday, the premium cable programmer announced that it would also broadcast “The Tale,” director Jennifer Fox’s semi-autobiographical account of her own teenage sexual abuse.
HBO will air “The Sentence” later this year.
Additional reporting by Anne Thompson.