With a slimmer lineup and much of the action taking place online rather than in Park City, the 2021 Sundance Film Festival will be anything but normal. But if early sales activity is any indication, the hybrid virtual/in-person festival will still serve as a key acquisitions market for distributors.
News of the first deals broke on December 16, the day after Sundance revealed its full slate of 72 features. That’s when Bleecker Street announced it has acquired North American rights to Nikole Beckwith’s “Together Together” and Magnolia Pictures revealed it has nabbed Rodney Ascher’s Midnight section pick “A Glitch in the Matrix.”
While those two movies come from established filmmakers, over half of the festival lineup comes from first-time feature directors. Over 90 percent of the slate are world premieres.
That suggests there is plenty of opportunity for the discovery of hidden gems. But with streaming — coupled with satellite screenings at arthouses and drive-ins around the country — standing in for much of the usual on-the-ground activity in Park City, it remains to be seen how exactly word-of-mouth buzz will influence buyers’ decisions at the upcoming festival.
The festival runs January 28 through February 3.
Below find a constantly updated list of acquisitions as they’re announced, beginning with the most recently announced ones.
Title: “A Glitch in the Matrix”
Buyer: Magnolia Pictures
“Room 237” director Rodney Ascher explores the long-running question of whether our reality is, in fact, a mere simulation. Using cultural touchstones like “The Matrix,” Plato’s “Republic,” Elon Musk’s Twitter feed, and interviews with real people shrouded in avatars, Ascher constructs what Sundance calls “part sci-fi mind-scrambler, part horror story” that serves as a digital journey to the “limits of radical doubt.”
Magnolia plans to release the movie in theaters and on demand February 5.
Title: “Together Together”
Section: US Dramatic Competition
Buyer: Bleecker Street
After premiering her first feature, “Stockholm, Pennsylvania,” at Sundance in 2015, Nikole Beckwith is back at the festival a sophomore effort that stars Ed Helms, Patti Harrison, Tig Notaro, Julio Torres. It follows a young loner whom is hired as a surrogate for a single man in his 40s; they quickly realize the relationship is challenging their perceptions of connection, boundaries, and the particulars of love.
Madeleine Sims-Fewer and Dusty Mancinelli debuted this rape-revenge thriller, their first feature, at the 2020 Toronto International Film Festival, before it was added to Sundance 2021’s Midnight lineup. Sims-Fewer was even a recipient of the TIFF Rising Stars Award. The story concerns, according to the official description, “a troubled woman on the edge of divorce who returns home to her younger sister after years apart. But when her sister and brother-in-law betray her trust, she embarks on a vicious crusade of revenge.” In their B- review from TIFF, IndieWire critic Jude Dry said “Violation” was “a visually sumptuous but heavy-handed feminist thriller.”