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Sundance 2021 Deals: The Complete List of Festival Purchases

Many films arrived to the festival without distribution, meaning buyers have plenty of choices.

FILE - In this Jan. 18, 2017 file photo, the marquee at the Egyptian Theatre appears on the eve of the 2017 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. The 2018 Sundance Film Festival will run from Jan. 18 through Jan. 28. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP, File)

Sundance Film Festival

Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

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: “Mayday”
Section: U.S. Dramatic Competition
Buyer: Magnolia

Karen Cinorre’s directorial debut stars Grace Van Patten, Mia Goth, Havana Rose Liu, Soko, Théodore Pellerin and Juliette Lewis. The film tells the story of a woman (Van Patten) who is transported to a dreamlike and dangerous coastline where she joins a female army engaged in a never-ending war where women lure men to their deaths with radio signals.

Magnolia plans to release the film in the U.S. in the fall.

Title: “Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It”
Section: U.S. Documentary Competition
Buyer: Roadside Attractions

Mariem Pérez Riera’s documentary traces Rita Moreno’s life from a Puerto Rico farm to Hollywood stardom, featuring interviews with Gloria Estefan, Morgan Freeman, Whoopi Goldberg, Norman Lear, Eva Longoria, Lin-Manuel Miranda and more.

Roadside Attractions will release the film theatrically on June 18. PBS’ “American Masters” will later broadcast it.

Title: “El Planeta”
Section: World Cinema Dramatic Competition
Buyer: Utopia

“El Planeta” marks multimedia artist Amalia Ulman’s first feature, which she wrote, directed, and stars in. Set in post-crisis Spain, the film follows a mother and daughter who bluff and grift to keep up the lifestyle they think they deserve, bonding over their impending eviction.

Title: “Luzzu”
Section: World Cinema Dramatic Competition
Buyer: Kino Lorber

Alex Camilleri wrote, directed, and edited this film about a Maltese fisherman (Jesmark Scicluna) who, faced with diminishing catches and competition, gradually slips into an illicit black-market operation. The film stars both professional and non-professional actors; Scicluna won a Special Jury Award for Best Actor at Sundance.

Kino Lorber will release the film later this year.

Title: “All Light, Everywhere”
Section: US Documentary Competition
Buyer: Neon’s Super LTD

Theo Anthony’s film, which won a Special Jury Prize for Non-Fiction Experimentation, explores the shared histories of cameras, weapons, policing, and justice.

Title: “On the Count of Three”
Section: US Dramatic Competition
Buyer: Annapurna Pictures

Jerrod Carmichael’s directorial debut stars Carmichael and Christopher Abbott as two friends living out their final day before planning to end their lives together. Writers Ari Katcher and Ryan Welch won Sundance’s Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award. Annapurna plans to release the film alongside another company in a to-be-announced partnership.

Title: “Pleasure”
Section: World Cinema Dramatic Competition
Buyer: A24

Ninja Thyberg’s feature debut charts the journey of a young Swedish woman (Sofia Kappel, in her acting debut) who travels to Los Angeles to become a porn star. A24 is planning to release both the full, uncensored version as well as a new R-rated version later this year.

Title: “Passing”
Section: US Dramatic Competition
Buyer: Netflix

Rebecca Hall’s directorial debut tells the story of two Black women (Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga) who each “pass” as white but choose to live on opposite sides of the color line in 1929 New York.

Netflix reportedly paid over $15 million for worldwide rights to the film.

Title: “Cryptozoo”
Section: NEXT
Buyer: Magnolia

Dash Shaw’s follow to up “My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea” marks another exhibition of his unique hand-drawn style and psychedelic sensibility. Set in the counterculture of the 60s, the film follows cryptozookeepers struggling to capture a rare beast when they begin to consider the ethics of their task.

Title: “Playing with Sharks”
Section: World Documentary Competition
Buyer: National Geographic Documentary Films

Director Sally Aitken’s documentary follows the life of Australian conversationist and filmmaker Valerie Taylor, whose work has formed the basis of much of the knowledge of sharks.

Title: “Ailey”
Section: US Documentary Competition
Buyer: Neon

Neon’s second Sundance acquisition is another buzzy doc. Jamila Wignot’s film focuses on visionary choreographer Alvin Ailey and is told in his own words alongside a new commission inspired by his life. The Black, gay pioneer of racial integration in the arts is also the subject of an upcoming biopic from Searchlight directed by Barry Jenkins.

Title: “Jockey”
Section: U.S. Dramatic Competition
Buyer: Sony Pictures Classics

SPC picked up worldwide rights to Clint Bentley’s horse-racing drama starring Clifton Collins, Jr., Molly Parker, and Moises Arias. The film is about the emotional collision between a champion rider (Collins) with a rookie jockey (Arias) who says he’s his son.

Title: “CODA”
Section: U.S. Dramatic Competition
Buyer: Apple

“CODA” took the record for the biggest buy out of Sundance ever, with Apple scooping up Sian Heder’s crowdpleaser for a whopping $25 million. This acquisition broke the record last year when Neon and Hulu swept up “Palm Springs” for north of $20 million.

Title: “Flee”
Section: World Documentary Competition
Buyer: Neon

Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s animated documentary earned raves after its premiere on Day One, Neon announced it had acquired the film the next morning. The film tells the story of an Afghan refugee’s extraordinary journey to Denmark.

Title: “Prisoners of the Ghostland”
Section: Premieres
Buyer: RJLE Films

Nicolas Cage stars in Japanese director Sion Sono’s mash-up of Western, samurai, and post-apocalyptic thriller as a bank robber granted freedom from jail in exchange for retrieving a warlord’s runaway granddaughter. His mission is heightened by the fact that he’s strapped into a leather suit that will self-destruct within three days.

Title: “The Most Beautiful Boy in the World”
Section: World Documentary Competition
Buyer: Juno Films

Swedish actor Bjorn Andresen, who starred in Luchino Visconti’s 1971 “Death in Venice,” is the subject of this documentary from Kristina Lindstrom and Kristian Petri. Visconti’s described Andresen, then a teenager, as the “world’s most beautiful boy. The documentary explores that compliment, fame, and the curse of beauty.

Title: “A Glitch in the Matrix”
Section: Midnight
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: U.S. 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.

Title: “Violation”
Section: Midnight
Buyer: Shudder

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.”

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