Now in its 27th year, the Sundance Film Festival is considered the mecca of independent film. The good news at Sundance 2011 was the return of acquisitions executives looking for the next indie blockbuster, because at last year’s festival, several films—Blue Valentine, The Kids Are All Right, Winter’s Bone and Exit Through the Gift Shop—generated decent box office returns and also nabbed coveted Oscar® nominations. At this year’s festival, an impressive 24 feature films were sold, including J.C. Chandor’s Margin Call to Roadside Attractions and Lionsgate, Matthew Chapman’s The Ledge to IFC Films and Gavin Wiesen’s Homework to FOX Searchlight. The biggest deal of the festival was Jesse Peretz’s My Idiot Brother, starring Paul Rudd, sold to The Weinstein Company for a minimum guarantee of $6 million to $7 million, and a $15 million P&A commitment for theatrical release.
“Indie film isn’t dead; it just grew up,” said Smith during the Q&A at his premiere. “It’s just Indie Film 2.0 now. In Indie Film 2.0, we don’t let them sell our movie; we sell our movie ourselves.”
A risky move, but I think it will become a common trend for indie filmmakers who are no longer interested in giving their distributors all the rights to their films, especially online distribution.
But since your average indie filmmaker doesn’t have 1.7 million Twitter followers, what’s the next path? Most are betting on the Internet, and Sundance has been making moves to broaden its presence on the web. Last year, the Sundance Institute and YouTube made 12 shorts from this year’s festival available, as well as eight shorts from earlier festivals. The shorts can be screened in the YouTube screening room (www.youtube.com/ytscreeningroom), which is a curated program and includes past Oscar®-winning shorts. Since the festival circuit is sometimes the best way for an independent film to be seen in different cities, the Sundance Institute has created Sundance Film Festival USA, which is a program that selects a few films from the 2011 program and then screens them in nine different cities.