The sales market at this year’s Sundance Film Festival was fairly robust, with at least two movies selling in the $20 million range — the erotically charged Alden Ehrenreich–Phoebe Dynevor thriller Fair Play to Netflix, and the charming musical dramedy Flora and Son from director John Carney to Apple.
I missed Fair Play here in Park City, but I was able to catch Flora and Son, and it’s worth every penny that Apple spent on it. For the past three years in a row, the streamer’s execs have left Sundance with a winner on their hands following CODA (which went on to win Best Picture) and last year’s Cha Cha Real Smooth.
Hailing from Carney, the director of the fantastic musicals Once and Sing Street, Flora and Son stars Eve Hewson as a young Irish mother so desperate to keep her teenage son (Orén Kinlan) out of trouble that she decides to take guitar lessons (from a dreamy Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and start a band with him. It’s funny, it’s heartfelt, and Hewson proves herself a genuine star here, as her performance reminded me of Jessie Buckley in Wild Rose, and we all know how her career has turned out since that film.
Elsewhere, A24 made its presence felt by nabbing the hot Midnight title Talk to Me from Australian directors Danny and Michael Philippou, who signed with WME during the festival. The film follows a group of teenagers who perform séances in an effort to speak to the dead, with terrifying results.
WME also brokered a deal for Sony Pictures Classics to acquire A Little Prayer, a family drama set in a small North Carolina town starring David Strathairn and Jane Levy.
Indie distributor MUBI, which released Park Chan-wook‘s Decision to Leave last year, picked up Ira Sachs‘ drama Passages, which follows a filmmaker (Franz Rogowski) who cheats on his husband (Ben Whishaw) with a woman (Adèle Exarchopoulos), only to become jealous when his husband pursues his own new relationship. MUBI acquired US, UK, Ireland, and Latin American rights to Passages and plans to release the film in theaters later this year. That deal was, once again, brokered by WME, which was also involved in the Flora and Son sale. That agency sure did earn its commission fees at this festival, and its lounge was also a popular destination on Main Street.
Another WME sale was the mockumentary Theater Camp to Searchlight Pictures, which outbid several streamers for the movie, with reports pegging the deal somewhere between $7 million and $9 million. Ben Platt (Dear Evan Hansen) stars alongside Jimmy Tatro, Patti Harrison, and Molly Gordon, the latter of whom co-directed the movie with Nick Lieberman. Searchlight plans to release the film in theaters later this year.
But let’s circle back to Fair Play since that marked the festival’s biggest sale thus far. Directed by Chloe Domont (Billions), the film follows a young couple who work at a cutthroat hedge fund, where they must keep their relationship secret. When one of them is promoted over the other, complications ensue. Numerous bidders lined up for this one, but none were willing to outspend Netflix, which may have had an inside track on the movie given that it was executive produced by Rian Johnson and Ram Bergman, who brought their Knives Out sequel to the streamer. MRC made the movie and handled the sale.
As noted across Twitter, it’s interesting that Netflix and Apple came away from Sundance with two of the most commercial movies at the festival, as those streaming acquisitions will likely keep those movies from enjoying a major theatrical run. It’s those kinds of indie sensations that we need in theaters to combat the glut of superhero movies and sequels.
Meanwhile, Netflix also nabbed the Midnight movie Run Rabbit Run, which stars Sarah Snook (Succession) as a fertility doctor who must confront a ghost from her past, while its streaming rival Amazon acquired In My Mother’s Skin for its Prime Video service. That title was the only international feature to play the Midnight section, as well as the only Filipino film at the festival, and it involves a flesh-eating fairy.
Among smaller acquisitions, the NEXT title Kokomo City sold to Magnolia, which also picked up theatrical rights to the documentary Little Richard: I Am Everything. Kokomo City follows four Black transgender sex workers in Atlanta and New York City, and Lena Waithe is among the executive producers of the film, which was shopped by CAA. As for the Little Richard doc, it’ll air on CNN following its theatrical run.
Keep in mind that numerous movies entered the week with distribution already lined up, such as Nicole Holofcener‘s You Hurt My Feelings (A24), Brandon Cronenberg‘s Infinity Pool (Neon), and Cory Finley‘s Landscape With Invisible Hand (MGM).
A24 also arrived in Park City with Past Lives, Earth Mama, and All Dirt Roads Lead to Salt, while Apple brought a pair of documentaries about Michael J. Fox and Steph Curry, and Amazon arrived with the Gael García Bernal movie Cassandro and a documentary about timeless YA author Judy Blume. Elsewhere, Searchlight brought the British rom-com Rye Lane, while rival specialty distributor Focus Features brought the martial arts midnight movie Polite Society (in theaters on April 28) and A.V. Rockwell‘s drama A Thousand and One (due March 31), which is said to feature a great performance from Teyana Taylor.
Not to be outdone, Netflix arrived with the documentaries Victim/Suspect and The Deepest Breath, while HBO and Showtime brought The Stroll and Murder at Big Horn, respectively. And a couple of Midnight titles also lined up distribution prior to the fest, as Paramount picked up the werewolf movie My Animal featuring Amandla Stenberg, and Shudder had already jumped on birth/rebirth, a new take on the classic Frankenstein story starring Marin Ireland, who also appears in the Anne Hathaway–Thomasin McKenzie thriller Eileen, which is still available.
All in all, it was a very healthy sales market at Sundance this year, and I expect at least one more big deal to come out of Park City, as Jonathan Majors‘ bodybuilding drama Magazine Dreams is all but certain to find a buyer. Majors gives the performance of the festival, and could very well be in the awards conversation this year, though the movie itself is intense and not exactly the easiest sell.
I also expect domestic deals to materialize for Susanna Fogel‘s buzzy Cat Person based on the viral New Yorker story, Randall Park‘s directorial debut Shortcomings, and Justin Chon‘s fantastic father-son drama Jamojaya, which prompted me to call my own father and tell him I love him. How’s that for a selling point?