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Memo to Distributors: Buy These Sundance 2023 Films

This year's festival played home to plenty of big buys, but if we had our way, these 14 gems would get snapped up ASAP.

“Magazine Dreams”

courtesy of Sundance Institute

Big sales were hardly in short supply at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, with Netflix going wild for “Fair Play,” AppleTV+ shelling out for “Flora and Son,” and Searchlight Pictures snapping up “Theater Camp” (in addition to a number of other pick-ups, both pre-festival and on the ground in Park City), but that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of superior films still looking for homes.

Of the still-for-sale titles that premiered at this year’s festival, there’s plenty to intrigue all sorts of buyers, from those looking for films with excellent performances that could inspire major awards pushes (like the Jonathan Majors-starring “Magazine Dreams”), those in search of the next big director (like Sing J. Lee,  Alice Englert, Vuk Lungulov-Klotz, and Rachel Lambert), hungry genre hounds (see: “Divinity”), and even documentary lovers looking for films with incredible real world impact (“Justice,” “Beyond Utopia”).

And while it’s still early days (the festival did, after all, just officially wrap yesterday), given the incredible assortment of films still looking for homes, we can’t help but tout their allure to all interested buyers. These aren’t just the best available films from Sundance, they’re some of the very best of the fest, full stop, and wider audiences deserve to see them, too.

Ryan Lattanzio and Christian Blauvelt also contributed to this article.

“The Accidental Getaway Driver”

Director Sing J. Lee’s first feature manages to be a tense genre movie and a quiet character study all at once. The story of a Vietnamese driver in Los Angeles hijacked by a trio of escaped convicts stars 81-year-old actor Hiep Tran Nghia in his first lead role, and it’s a heartbreaking turn as the character contemplates his challenging circumstances in light of the earlier tragedies he’s faced in life.

Lee draws as much from the cinema of Edward Yang as he does Michael Mann in this immersive study of the Asian diaspora, which should turn out for a drama that captures the complex nature of their experiences in the U.S. —EK

Sales Contact: 2AM, Protagonist Pictures

Jennifer Connelly in Bad Behaviour

“Bad Behaviour”

courtesy of Sundance Institute

“Bad Behaviour”

We’ll dispatch with the sadly necessary disclaimer: first-time feature filmmaker Alice Englert is, as the Internet would love for us all to repeatedly yell about for mostly boring ends, a “nepo baby.” The daughter of Oscar-winning filmmaker Jane Campion and fellow director Colin Englert (and, hell, let’s do the full family tree: also the granddaughter of actress Edith Campion and theater director Richard Campion), Englert has long dedicated herself to her own artistic career. She’s an actress, writer, singer, and songwriter, and with “Bad Behaviour,” she ascends to feature filmmaker status (she’s got two short films under her belt already).

Perhaps it’s the talent in her genes, perhaps it’s her unique life experience, perhaps some combo of that and more, but Englert is already a formidable, fully formed filmmaker. Dumb labels be damned: She’s the real deal, and “Bad Behaviour” is proof positive of that.

Not just a banger of a first film, “Bad Behaviour” also boasts an incredible performance from Jennifer Connelly, who plays Englert’s character’s mother, a former child star who goes a little crazy. A savvy distributor would do well for themselves to a) get on board the Englert train early and b) pick up a film that might just have awards legs for Connelly in the coming months. A two-for-one, and more! —KE

Sales Contact: CAA, Protagonist Pictures

“Beyond Utopia”

What does it take to escape North Korea? This bracing documentary from director Madeleine Gavin will tell you. The movie follows the harrowing efforts by a family of defectors to cross the border into China and eventually resettle in Seoul, risking their lives in the process. It also documents the horrible nature of life under dictatorship, with footage from inside the Kim Jong-un regime as proof, and makes it clear that the only way to fix the country is to win the information war.

Elevating the efforts of several defectors to help North Koreans escape the country, “Beyond Utopia” is a newsy, eye-opening exposé that should help the media revise its approach to the North Korea problem for good. —EK

Sales Contact: Submarine



Courtesy of PR


Steven Soderbergh’s investment in the future of filmmaking was evident throughout this year’s Sundance, during which his production company Extension 765 and Decentralized Pictures gave a financing award to Miguel Faus to finish his film “Calladita.” But he also brought a movie to Park City by executive-producing the heady, black-and-white Midnight title “Divinity,” directed by Eddie Alcazar.

The director’s second feature stars Stephen Dorff as a mogul thirsting for mortality whose longevity elixir becomes the most coveted item on a barren planet — so much so that, in the film’s wild opening sequence, he’s kidnapped by a pair of mysterious brothers, played by Moises Arias and Jason Genao. “Divinity” is a midnight movie in the truest sense, both deliberately and not-so-deliberately campy and excessive. The Soderbergh imprimatur alone should have made this a buzzier acquisition title in Utah, as Alcazar’s premise and the eclectic cast (Dorff is always a warmly welcomed familiar face) should draw interest toward this otherworldly sci-fi. —RL

Sales Contact: divinitythefilm@gmail.com

“5 Seasons of a Revolution”

Documentarian Lina doesn’t reveal her full name in “5 Seasons of a Revolution,” and similarly obscures the identities of her colleagues, for good reason: The movie chronicles the efforts of these secretive Syrian journalists as they attempt to follow the destructive effects of the country’s Civil War. Employing deepfake technology to cover their identities, the subjects of the documentary map out their strategies for pushing past the propaganda and covering civil unrest despite the life-threatening challenges at hand.

An intimate microcosm of Syria’s tragic downfall, “5 Seasons of a Revolution” should excite buyers eager for awards-friendly documentaries about timely matters; likewise, anyone keen on learning more about the human cost of the Syrian war will find much to glean from this absorbing half-decade chronicle. —EK

Sales Contact: Anonymous Content, No Nation Films

Anaita Wali Zada appears in Fremont by Babak Jalali, an official selection of the NEXT section at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | Photo by Laura Valladao. All photos are copyrighted and may be used by the press only for the purpose of news or editorial coverage of Sundance Institute programs. Photos must be accompanied by a credit to the photographer and/or 'Courtesy of Sundance Institute.' Unauthorized use, alteration, reproduction or sale of logos and/or photos is strictly prohibited.


Laura Valladao


Babak Jalali’s deadpan comedy is a black-and-white charmer reminiscent of early Jim Jarmusch and Aki Kaurismaki (think “Match Factory Girl”). Yet even as its bittersweet rhythms seem familiar, the same can’t be said for its protagonist, played by real-life Afghan refugee Anaita Wala Zada. The impressive newcomer plays a former translator who escapes her country to resettle in the California city that hosts the largest Afghan population in the U.S. It’s there that she settles into an oddball job at a fortune cookie factory, while attempting to unearth her emotional hardships with an eccentric therapist (Gregg Turkington, AKA Neil Hamburger, in a subdued turn).

“Fremont” makes the conundrum of its protagonist into a touching and accessible search for companionship, a quest that leads Zada’s character to an unexpected courtship with an awkward mechanic (“The Bear” breakout Jeremy Allen White). Buyers wary of black-and-white movies need to get past that hangup to recognize that a movie like “Fremont” can have long legs: It’s a critical darling and a poignant crowdpleaser, which makes it just as worthy of a commercial release as the festival’s biggest hits. —EK

Sales Contact: CAA (U.S. sales), Memento International (international sales)


There are a number of challenges to releasing “Justice” right now: The biggest is that Doug Liman is not finished with making it and is reviewing whether to incorporate additional elements based on tips he’s received since it was announced that the Brett Kavanaugh expose doc would screen at Sundance. It only screened one time at the festival, and was a secret until the day before – with every person involved with the project having signed NDAs — so that Kavanaugh could not seek an injunction to prevent the film from screening at all. Of course, he had to be aware of its existence to some degree as Liman and his filmmaking team did reach out to him for comment about the film’s interviewees’ allegations against him.

All of this, though, could make a distributor wary. Instead, they should look at how this is an extremely tightly told story (84 minutes, before whatever new material is added) told with the thriller verve that Liman brought to “The Bourne Identity.” It also has a built-in audience: the millions of Americans resentful about Kavanaugh being on the court and the rushed confirmation process that had him seated in the first place. That built-in audience also means “Justice” will preach to the choir, and it’s not hard to imagine “Justice” will ultimately go to, say, MSNBC, as the documentary about President Obama’s photographer, “The Way I See It,” did after a limited release from Focus Features in 2020. But if it goes to MSNBC, it may also do well on affiliated platform Peacock. —CB

Sales Contact: Amanda Lebow at CAA

A review of Brett Kavanaugh documentary "Justice" by Doug Liman.


“Magazine Dreams”

A lot of Sundance audiences who caught “Magazine Dreams,” which features Jonathan Majors as a troubled bodybuilder, called it a tough sit. But, at the same time, they couldn’t stop talking about it.

Writer/director Elijah Bynum’s sophomore effort is a sharp and involving psychological thriller equal parts “Pumping Iron” and “Taxi Driver,” as it tracks the downward spiral of isolated muscleman Killian in his efforts to become a successful athlete. Bynum’s operatic approach to the story and use of subjective storytelling means that nothing is certain about Killian’s trajectory, but the movie manages to generate empathy for his situation all the same. Needless to say, Majors delivers one of the great performances of this young century, and any bold distributor willing to embrace the movie’s dark trajectory would have an immediate Best Actor contender in their hands. —EK

Sales Contact: CAA


Director Vuk Lungulov-Klotz’s first feature about a twentysomething trans Latino (Lio Mehiel) who spends a day in New York sorting through various complications belongs to a great tradition of carefree, low-budget New York City adventure stories (think Adam Leon or early Safdie brothers). Mehiel gives a star-making performance as Feña, who juggles an awkward encounter with his ex-boyfriend, his uneasy relationship with his younger sister, and the imminent arrival of his estranged father as each thread of plot threatens to explode around him. With its representational value and crowdpleasing potential, “Mutt” is the kind of discovery that could have long legs on a streaming platform willing to invest in the talent on both sides of the camera. —EK

Sales Contact: CAA

A still from Rotting in the Sun

“Rotting in the Sun”

“Rotting in the Sun”

Sebastián Silva has suicide on the brain in “Rotting in the Sun,” his eighth directorial feature and one in which he also plays himself. Sebastián is living in Mexico City, running out of money, addicted to ketamine, and bereft of creative ideas. But he faces a new, potentially soul-eroding opportunity when flippant gay internet persona and content creator Jordan Firstman enters the frame.

Firstman also plays himself in a performance that interrogates his image as a contemporary queer icon while also mocking it — in ways self-aware and also not — in this raunchy, sexually explicit lambasting of gay male life. Its target audience will both revile and revere this deeply hilarious and uncomfortable movie, which could pop among fans of Firstman (he has over 800,000 Instagram followers). —RL

Sales Contact: Range Media Partners


Boasting a story that unfolds like a winsome mash-up between “Aftersun” and “Big Daddy,” a tone that’s caught in a well-balanced tug-of-war between Mike Leigh and Wes Anderson, and a pair of fiercely self-possessed lead characters who owe nothing to anyone but themselves (least of all each other), Charlotte Regan’s award-winning “Scrapper” is a vintage Sundance movie done right. Plucky newcomer Lola Campbell plays Georgie, a seemingly orphaned miscreant who struggles to uphold her reputation as the baddest 12-year-old on the block after her beloved mother dies of cancer. But as word of Georgie’s loss begins to travel beyond the London-outskirts council where she lives, a wiry thirtysomething club promoter named Jason (Harris Dickinson, typically sullen but then revealingly heartfelt) shows up claiming to be her long-lost father.

Children of different sizes — one who was forced to grow up too fast, the other who’s done everything in his power not to grow up at all — Regan’s odd couple become perfect foils for each other as they each begin to recognize that self-sufficiency is a coping mechanism, not a strength. That process is sometimes funny, often movingly bittersweet, and always charming as hell. Audiences will be falling in love with this movie for a long time to come, and a boutique distributor would do well to snap it up, give it a lengthy platform release over the summer, and let word-of-mouth take care of the rest. They might even get some awards traction for Dickinson out of it as a bonus. —DE

Sales Contact: Charades

Daisy Ridley appears in a still from Sometimes I Think About Dying by Rachel Lambert, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Dustin Lane

“Sometimes I Think About Dying”

Dustin Lane

“Sometimes I Think About Dying”

Sometimes Fran pictures herself lying in a quiet forest, dead. Sometimes, Fran imagines herself being lifted, probably by the neck, by a massive crane, dying. Sometimes, there’s a big snake or a desolate beach. Sometimes, yes, Fran thinks about dying. And that’s OK because Rachel Lambert’s whimsical “Sometimes I Think About Dying” and the complicated woman at its center also think about other things, good things. Like, well, not dying. Maybe even, perhaps, living. For a film about the pull of death, there sure is a lot of life in this low-key charmer.

Lambert’s initially mannered style suits the film’s wonderfully funny first act, as we’re introduced to Fran (Daisy Ridley, getting a chance to show off the kind of nuanced acting that didn’t have a place in her “Star Wars” turns), her dreams of dying, and the spectacularly boring life that might make anyone ponder the great beyond. Fran’s days are mostly spent in the distant company of her sweet, if banal co-workers (really, aren’t the people you work with the people you spend the most time with? and how horrifying is that?). An office drone at the port authority of a tiny Oregon sea town, no one seems to notice Fran much, just the way she’d like it. Or does she?

A gentle and often very funny slice of life dramedy, the film offers both a wonderful look at Ridley’s range and Lambert’s obvious directing skill. This is a special film, and we’re surprised no one has snapped it up yet. That should change soon, though. —KE

Sales Contact: CAA

“The Starling Girl”

“The Starling Girl” tells a tale as old as time — the broad strokes of its story about the affair between a naïve teenage girl and a married older man who swears that he’ll leave his wife adhere to convention from start to finish — but the power of this sensitive and devilishly detailed coming-of-age drama is rooted in the friction that it finds between biblical paternalism and modern personhood. While young women have always been taught to be ashamed of their desires (hot take!), Parmet’s self-possessed debut about an evangelical Christian named Jem Starling (Eliza Scanlen) who’s seduced to commit sinful acts with her hunky youth pastor (Lewis Pullman) is uncommonly well-attuned to how garbled that gospel might sound to a God-loving girl who’s been raised amid the echoes of a secular culture in the internet age.

Parmet’s decision to firmly anchor this story from Jem’s POV allows “The Starling Girl” to pulse with its young heroine’s ecstasy and confusion, while the performances she elicits from her cast allow the film to embrace predictability without ever becoming trite. A confident indie with a clear hook, a handful of stellar performances (including Jimmi Simpson as Jem’s complicated father), and a rich sense of specificity that would allow it to shine in theaters and/or stand out from the interminable dross that would surround it on a streaming platform, “The Starling Girl” would be a solid buy for any distributor. —DE

Sales Contact: UTA

The Starling Girl

“The Starling Girl”

“A Still Small Voice”

Marketing a film that’s entirely about death, dying, and grief can understandably be hard. (Look at the difficulty Matt Heineman’s “The First Wave,” about the first days of COVID in the U.S., faced before being picked up by National Geographic.) But distributors will undeniably find themselves with a top awards contender if they pick up “A Still Small Voice.”

Rather than fear its gravity, they should embrace it and lean into this being one of the most profound experiences anyone will have with a recent movie. No, that doesn’t mean box office will follow, but prestige will. And perhaps some part of the millions of Americans who have lost loved ones during the COVID pandemic will find a reflection of, and catharsis for, their own ongoing grief in Lorentzen’s film. In that way, “A Still Small Voice” could give voice to America’s collective grief in a way that little else has. —CB

Sales Contact: Submarine/CAA

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