Buyer: Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions
Price: $5 million
Bidding War: According to Deadline, a six-contestant auction lasted through the night of January 21 and into the following morning.
Section: NEXT. The father (John Cho) of a missing 16-year-old (Michelle La) scours her laptop for leads when she goes missing, while a detective (Debra Messing) conducts her own investigation. “Search” is the first feature directed by Aneesh Chaganty, 25, who penned the script with its producer, former Google staffer Sev Ohanian (his films “Fruitvale Station” (2013) and “The Intervention” were acquired out of past festivals). Shortly after the deal was announced, Ohanian learned that he had won the Sundance Institute/Amazon Studios Producers Award for Narrative Feature Producer.
Title: “America to Me”
Section: Indie Episodic. “In creating ‘America to Me,’ we were encouraged every day by the kids and their families, some truly dedicated teachers, and so many others featured in the series,” said 2018 Best Documentary Feature Oscar nominee Steve James (“Abacus: Small Enough to Jail”), who spent a year with a group of racially-diverse Chicago public school students for this 10-part effort. “Their passion and insights inspired us and we believe their stories will resonate with people everywhere.” Starz president of programming Carmi Zlotnik called James “truly one of the best,” and commended his latest work as a “real and honest portrait” that is “extremely socially relevant and timely.” Participant Media’s Jeff Skoll (“The Help,” “Lincoln”) and Diane Weyerman (“An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power,” “CITIZENFOUR”) produced the project. Weyerman, the company’s documentary film and television president, said that their first docuseries employs “extraordinary intimacy that shows the complexities and nuances of being a teenager in an American high school.” Fellow “America to Me” production company Kartemquin Films benefitted from a MacArthur Foundation grant to foot the bill. This is the first acquisition success story from the festival’s inaugural Indie Episodic program. STARZ has set a Fall 2018 release date.
Title: “Monsters and Men”
Buyer: NEON (domestic only)
Section: U.S. Dramatic Competition. In writer-director Reinaldo Marcus Green’s first feature, an unarmed African American man is murdered by police officers in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant. IndieWire’s Eric Kohn gave “Monsters and Men” a grade B, writing, “Though at times its message-oriented plot veers toward the obvious, Green’s measured screenplay manages to ask big questions without overstating them.” The cast includes John David Washington (“Ballers”) and veterans of Broadway’s original “Hamilton” company. On January 19, three days before this acquisition, 30WEST announced that it had bought a majority stake in 21-month-old NEON. The companies partnered to distribute “I, Tonya,” a film they snagged for $5 million at the 2017 Toronto International Film (to the belated dismay of their competitors, as the film received a trio Oscar nominations).
Title: “The Guilty”
Buyer: Magnolia Pictures (North American only)
Section: World Dramatic Competition. “Gustav Möller has devised an ingeniously executed thriller,” said Magnolia Pictures president Eamonn Bowles of the Danish film. “This is an incredibly accomplished feature debut, and Magnolia is excited to introduce him to American audiences.” TrustNordisk’s director of international sales and marketing, Susan Wendt, who negotiated the deal on behalf of Möller and his collaborators, added, “This feels like the perfect match.” In “The Guilty,” cop-turned-emergency dispatcher Asger Holm (Jakob Cedergren) receives a call from a kidnapped and woman, then tries to save her himself. Variety likens the single-location, 85-minute feature to “Tom Hardy in ‘Locke’ meets Halle Berry in ‘The Call.'”
Title: “Assassination Nation”
Price: $10 million-plus
Bidding War: Bidders worked through the night in their attempt to land the film.
Section: Midnight. Sam Levinson’s second feature as a director scored the festival’s first eight-figure deal, per Deadline (he also wrote the screenplay). “Sam Levinson delivers a stunningly beautiful and haunting film that’s sure to stay with you,” said NEON CEO and founder Tom Quinn. The Russo Brothers agreed: “We feel privileged to support [‘Assassination Nation’]. Giving agency to exceptional and unique voices is paramount in a time when those voices need to be heard. This is a film that everyone needs to see and discuss.” Set where the Salem witch trials occurred, in the present day, “Assassination Nation” watches a quartet of teenage girls go after an unidentified hacker that’s publishing everyone’s secrets. “I’m so proud of our cast and crew, and this somewhat wild and totally crazy film,” said Levinson. Described by Variety as a “furious fempowerment thriller” that “feels like a Molotov cocktail thrown at a hazy target,” ‘Assassination Nation’ includes cast members Odessa Young, Suki Waterhouse, Hari Nef, and Bella Thorne. Levinson co-wrote last year’s HBO Bernie Madoff biopic “The Wizard of Lies,” and won Sundance’s Waldo Salt Award seven years ago for “Another Happy Day.” Watch a teaser below.
Buyer: Shudder/NEON (North American only)
Section: Midnight. “We are thrilled to be partnering with NEON on ‘Revenge’ and cannot wait to get the film in front of American audiences,” said Aurelie de Troyer, the vice present of global acquisitions and co-productions for Shudder, the AMC Networks-operated streaming service. The first feature from French writer-director Coralie Fereat centers on a man (Kevin Janssens) and woman (Matilda Lutz)’s dreamy getaway, upended when crashed by his hunting posse. It picked up two prizes last year at the horror and fantasy-themed Sitges Film Festival in Catalonia, Spain. Shudder will broadcast “Revenge” following its theatrical/VOD release this spring.
Buyer: Magnolia Pictures/Participant Media (CNN Films retains U.S. TV rights)
Section: Documentary Premieres. “Great films are a proven means of raising awareness and galvanizing action, and the more often you can do it, the more positive impact you have on the world,” said Participant CEO David Linde. “When a beautiful film like ‘RBG’ comes around, and with such great partners, you jump on the chance to be involved.” Magnolia Pictures president Bowles said the directing-producing duo of Betsy West and Julia Cohen “have done a phenomenal job highlighting Justice Ginsburg’s tremendous effect on all of our lives. I cannot wait to show it to my daughters.” Amy Entelis, CNN Worldwide’s executive vice president for talent and content development, is especially excited about the film’s forthcoming theatrical, home video, SVOD, and television debuts “during this historic moment for women’s equality.” West and Cohen are grateful for “this dream combination of partners.” Besides delving into the discrimination Ginsburg faced early in her career and how she’s shapes American history, “RBG” highlights her 56-year marriage to the late lawyer Martin D. Ginsburg.
Title: “Three Identical Strangers”
Buyer: NEON (North American only; CNN Films has U.S. TV rights)
Section: U.S. Documentary Competition. In the early 60s, a Manhattan adoption agency separated triplet boys, failing to inform the adoptive families that they’d be parenting multiples. As part of a “child development study,” the agent spent several years tracking Eddy Galland, David Kellman, and Bobby Shafran, who discovered each other’s existence shortly before their shared 20th birthday. The Tim Wardle-directed documentary earned a B from IndieWire’s Eric Kohn, who called the film “both remarkable and repulsive in equal measures.” Watch a teaser below.