Sundance was sneakily good

Cost-consciousness could not hamper diversity of films, buyers at fest

This go-round, the Sundance Film Festival, which wraps this weekend, looked a lot like the movies it screened: surprising, quality-filled and not as depressing as some expected.

There were new buyers who jumped into the fray and not-so-new ones who sat it out. There were much-hyped movies that sputtered and unheralded ones that took off. And there was cost-consciousness galore.

After the past few years saw at least one film purchase of $8 million or more, reasonableness returned this year. No movie went for more than $4 million, and four films went for $2 million- $4 million. Sometimes studios didn't even want to bid that high: Fox Searchlight offered $1 million for the coming-of-age tale "An Education." (The movie eventually sold to Sony Pictures Classics for $3 million-$4 million.)

Even the swag was, well, less swaggering.

Most refreshingly, new buyers shook up the market.

Two of the biggest sales went to new or newly restructured outfits as Sony Worldwide Acquisitions Group scooped up Scott Sanders' blaxploitation riff "Black Dynamite" and Senator Distribution nabbed Antoine Fuqua's "Brooklyn's Finest."

Upstart Oscilloscope, co-run by Beastie Boy Adam Yauch, also was in the mix on many pics.

Such traditional buyers as Focus and Miramax, on the other hand, had not picked up a film as of Wednesday afternoon.

Competition films weren't the only ones that got a look-see from potential buyers. The Park City at Midnight section, an out-of-competition collection of genre material, proved surprisingly fertile ground.

Among those films, "Dynamite" scored a $2 million home at Sony within hours of its end credits, IFC Films body-bagged the Norwegian horror comedy "Dead Snow," and "The Killing Room," Jonathan Liebesman's psychological horror film, is closing in on a deal.As for trends in filmmaking, a new type of youthful, romantic comedy emerged as such movies as "500 Days of Summer," "Adventureland" and "Adam" drew positive responses from audiences (with "Adam" selling to Searchlight). Among titles in the genre still in play, "Paper Heart," a Charlyne Yi-Michael Cera quasi-documentary about the nature of love, was in hot demand: Overture, Miramax and Searchlight were circling it as of Wednesday afternoon.There also were heavy-hitting docs from courageous filmmakers.

"You have to want it more than anything," Robert Redford said during the opening-day news conference. He was talking about making it as an indie filmmaker, but he could have been referring to the documentarians whose work was featured this year, many of whom risked their lives and reputations to make their movies.

From dolphin doc "The Cove" to the Asian activist pic "Burma VJ" to the Nicholas Kristof portrait "Reporter," filmmakers and subjects braved all sorts of threats to shine light on people and places buried in darkness.

Finally, even when movies weren't selling, the midfest inauguration of a president supported by many Sundance attendees helped keep things cheerful. There were inauguration viewing parties galore and shout-outs Tuesday in honor of President Obama — allowing, for once, a bit of the outside world into the fest bubble.
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