As the Sundance Film Festival draws to a close, we’ve learned which films have been purchased by major studios. The festival has also begun to hand out awards. Here’s what we’ve learned:
Major Film Acquisitions
Amazon Studios has paid $13 million to acquire US-domestic rights to Nisha Ganatra’s “Late Night,” a film written, produced and starring Mindy Kaling (as well as Emma Thompson). The movie will be seen in theaters before being available on Amazon Prime Video.
Amazon Studios has also nabbed worldwide rights to two additional films: “Brittany Runs a Marathon,” written and directed by acclaimed playwright Paul Downs Colaizzo, in his feature film debut. Amazon also reportedly paid $14 million for “The Report,” a political drama by Scott Z. Burns, starring Adam Driver and Annette Bening.
Such large deals have been a regular staple for Amazon, which previously paid $10 million in 2016 to acquire “Manchester by the Sea” plus $12 million in 2017 for U.S. rights to “The Big Sick.” In addition, Ritesh Batra’s “Photograph” and Bert & Bertie’s “Troop Zero” are both screening at Sundance as part of Amazon Studio’s official festival line-up.
Meanwhile, Netflix has bought the well-received political documentary “Knock Down The House,” a compelling feature directed by Rachel Lears following four progressive women running against incumbents in the U.S. elections last fall, successfully bringing fresh blood into Congress. While Netflix has spent lavishly at past Sundance events, they remain quiet so far this year.
Hulu has also stepped into the festival fray, with a $2 million deal for “The Untitled Amazing Johnathan Documentary.” The Ben Berman-directed film premiered here last week, competing in the U.S. Documentary Competition with a film focused on a uniquely deranged magician that built a career out of shock and deception back in the 1980s.
Orchard Film Group also nabbed North American rights to Britt Poulton and Dan Madison Savage’s Appalachian thriller “Them That Follow,” where members of an isolated community of Pentecostal snake handlers led by Pastor Lemuel (Walton Goggins) risk their lives to attest themselves before God.
Also of note is the distribution company, Neon, nabbing a quartet of high-profile acquisitions: the horror creeper “The Lodge” for a reported $2 million; a mid-seven-figure deal in partnership with Hulu for “Little Monsters;” a zombie comedy, “Monos,” which is a survivalist saga of an American woman taken hostage by a dysfunctional group of teenage Colombian militants for an undisclosed price; and the dramatic thriller “Luce” starring Naomi Watts and Octavia Spencer.
A24 has sold and bought content this year: “Native Sun,” directed by visual artist turned filmmaker Rashid Johnson, and “Share,” the debut feature of Pippa Bianco that focuses on a 16-year-old girl (played by Rhianne Barreto), who discovers that a cell-phone video of her sexual assault has been circulating throughout her high school. A24 also nabbed American distribution rights for “The Farewell,” which follows a Chinese-American woman who travels to China to visit her dying grandmother, only to discover at a family reunion that everyone has shielded the old woman from her grim diagnosis.
Back in December, A24 also picked up the romantic drama “The Souvenir” featuring Tilda Swinton and her real-life daughter Honor Swinton-Byrne, who portrays a film student beginning on an affair with an older man (Tom Burke). In the film, Swinton-Byrne’s mother (in real life) plays her on-screen mother. Apple also purchased global rights to the Jada Pinkett-Smith–produced drama “Hala,” set to launch on its streaming service later this year.
Short Film Jury Award
On the awards side on the festival, Raed Alsemari’s short film “Dunya’s Day” has won the Short Film Jury Award in the International Fiction category. The first Saudi film selected at Sundance, “Dunya’s Day” is a dark comedy set in Saudi Arabia and follows Dunya (Sara Balghonaim) on the day of her graduation party. Hours before her esteemed guests arrive, all the domestic help take off, fed up with Dunya’s antics. Aided only by her two best friends, she fights to throw a flawless party and protect her hard-earned social status.
Written and directed by Raed Alsemari, this film marks his first directed short. “At its core, ‘Dunya’s Day’ is about a woman’s relentless pursuit of status,” says Alsemari. “Tired of seeing clichéd narratives of oppression that reduce Arab women to victims or saints, I set out to portray a flawed but fierce Arab woman who is neither. It was exciting to draw from the archetypes of classic comedies like ‘Heathers’ and ‘Mean Girls,’ and to re-imagine those personalities in my hometown. From Riyadh to Brooklyn, I’ve encountered women and men who share Dunya’s obsessive need for social validation.”