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The independent film business is again showing signs of rude health as the global film industry struggles to recover post-pandemic. Sundance is often taken as the pace-setter, and distribution deals were plentiful this year, with seven- and eight-figure sales for the likes of Theater Camp (to Searchlight for an estimated $8 million), Flora and Son (Apple TV+, $20 million) and Fair Play (Netflix, $20 million), just the biggest of around a dozen 2023 Park City pickups. But Berlin’s European Film Market will be the industry’s true acid test.
“Sundance is more U.S.-focused in general,” says Alice Laffillé, vp sales at FilmNation, which did the Apple TV+ deal for Flora and Son. “There are always some big, splashy deals with streamers and U.S. buyers like Neon, A24 or Magnolia. Berlin is the first real international market, where we see where things stand.”
Berlin deals, which often involve the entire world, typically dwarf those done in Sundance — see the $60 million Sony paid for Tom Hanks starrer A Man Called Otto at EFM last year — but sellers are banking on the trend away from issue-driven drama in favor of high-concept sci-fi fare, thrillers and comedies — less She Said, more Everything Everywhere All at Once.
“Buyers want something that feels fresh and original,” says Mark Gooder, co-president of sales group Cornerstone Films. “With thousands of hours of great storytelling available on all these platforms, what audiences really want is to be surprised.”
There are certainly plenty of star-studded surprises on THR‘s annual hot list of EFM market titles, including a high-concept sci-fi comedy with Octavia Spencer, an opera-themed revenge thriller, and a new Korean dark comedy from the producer and star of Parasite.
DIRECTOR Chris Jenkins
STARS Bill Nighy, Mo Gilligan, Zayn Malik, Sophie Okonedo, Dylan Llewellyn
BUZZ Family-friendly animation often flies below the radar at the Berlin market, but the global box office performance of Jenkins’ Duck Duck Goose ($20 million plus) alongside promising ancillaries and British all-star voice cast (including Oscar-contender Nighy and pop star Malik) should guarantee strong pick-up for his new feature, about a selfish cat who gets a second chance at being a good kitty.
SALES GFM Animation
DIRECTOR Alex Winter
STARS Evan Rachel Wood, Josh Gad, Anthony Carrigan
BUZZ Berlin buyers will be checking out this murder-mystery feature, starring Wood and Gad as a brother-and-sister team of amateur sleuths, hoping for Knives Out-style franchise potential.
SALES Rocket Science, CAA Media Finance
DIRECTOR Gabriel Abrantes
STARS Carloto Cotta, Brigette Lundy-Paine, Alba Baptista
BUZZ Robert Eggers, Ti West, and Ari Aster have shown the box office potential for high-concept indie horror, and this feature, the English-language debut of Portuguese director Abrantes (2018’s Diamantino), promises genre with a twist. Diamantino star Cotta plays a man whose search for his long-lost biological mother and twin brother leads him to discover a monstrous secret hidden in his DNA.
SALES Wild Bunch International
DIRECTOR Vicky Jewson
STARS Lena Headey, Yara Shahidi, Isabela Merced, Lana Condor, Millicent Simmonds, Iris Apatow
BUZZ The 355 and Gunpowder Milkshake showed the global sales potential of female-focused action-thrillers, which will be given a new twist with this feature, which follows a ballerina troupe forced to fight for survival after their bus breaks down on the way to a dance competition.
SALES The Veterans, CAA Media Finance
DIRECTOR Matt Johnson
STARS Jay Baruchel, Glenn Howerton, Matt Johnson, Cary Elwes, Saul Rubinek
BUZZ The rise and fall of the Canadian smartphone pioneer, told through the cracked lens of Operation Avalanche director Matt Johnson, promises a mixed tape of alternative comedy and early 2000s tech nostalgia for boutique buyers.
SALES XYZ Films
DIRECTOR Amr Gamal
STARS Khaled Hamdan, Abeer Mohammed, Samah Alamrani
BUZZ A rare feature set in Yemen, this family drama, which frames the ordinary struggles of a couple trying to raise their three young children against the backdrop of the country’s civil war and economic collapse, could appeal to arthouse buyers with a political bent
SALES Films Boutique
DIRECTOR Kim Jee-woon
STARS Song Kang-ho, Im Soo-jung, Oh Jung-se
BUZZ The latest dark dramedy from Parasite producer Barunson is certain to draw bids from art house buyers and streamers alike. Parasite star Song plays an obsessive director trying, over two days, to reshoot the ending of his failed film and create a masterpiece.
SALES Barunson E&A
Coup de Chance
DIRECTOR Woody Allen
STARS Lou De Laâge, Valérie Lemercier, Melvil Poupaud, Niels Schneider
BUZZ Despite his persona non grata status among many in the U.S., Allen remains a solid box office draw internationally, so expect buyers to jump on this, his 50th film, and the first-ever French-language effort.
SALES WestEnd Films
DIRECTOR Andrew Durham
STARS Scoot McNairy, Emilia Jones, Geena Davis, Adam Lambert, Maria Bakalova
BUZZ Coming off the momentum of its strong Sundance bow, this biographical drama, based on Alysia Abbott’s memoirs about growing up in San Francisco in the ’70s and ’80s with her gay dad, should score some international support in Berlin.
SALES Arclight Films, UTA Independent Film Group, Gersh
Four Letters of Love
DIRECTOR Polly Steele
STARS Pierce Brosnan, Helena Bonham Carter, Gabriel Bryne, Fionn O’Shea, Ann Skelly
BUZZ With The Banshees of Inisherin and The Quiet Girl in Oscar contention this year, Irish cinema is having a bit of a moment, and this feel-good drama, adapted from Niall Williams’ international bestseller, looks certain to cut through the blarney for buyers looking for a romance tale with a Gaelic brouge.
DIRECTOR Rowan Athale
STARS Paddy Considine, Mena Massoud
BUZZ Packing a one-two punch of the celebrity biopic and sports underdog story, this real-life tale of 90s Brit boxing legend Prince Naseem “Naz” Hamed, with Aladdin star Massoud as Naz and House of the Dragon’s Considine as his trainer Brendan Ingle, looks a strong contender for mainstream buyers and streamers alike.
SALES AGC Studios
Girl From the North Country
DIRECTOR Conor McPherson
STARS Olivia Colman, Woody Harrelson, Chlöe Bailey, Tosin Cole
BUZZ McPherson’s adaptation of his Tony Award-winning musical, inspired by the songs of Bob Dylan, should tick multiple boxes for buyers looking for adult-skewing entertainment with a musical twist.
SALES Rocket Science, CAA Media Finance
Ingeborg Bachmann — Journey Into the Desert
DIRECTOR Margarethe von Trotta
STARS Vicky Krieps, Ronald Zehrfeld
BUZZ With a string of crossover successes, Krieps (Bergman Island, Corsage) has become something of an art house superstar, and indie distributors are sue to be curious about this Berlinale competition entry from Hannah Arendt director von Trotta, starring Krieps as groundbreaking Austrian writer Bachmann.
SALES The Match Factory
It Lives Inside
DIRECTOR Bishal Dutta
STARS Megan Suri, Neeru Bajwa, Mohana Krishnan, Vik Sahay, Betty Gabriel
BUZZ As with its global hit Get Out, producers QC Entertainment are betting on a combo of horror with a social message in this high-concept chiller about a first-generation Indian immigrant teen (Never Have I Ever actress Suri) confronted with her heritage in the form of a mythological demon who possesses her best friend.
SALES Protagonist Pictures
Kiss the Future
DIRECTOR Nenad Cicin-Sain
STARS U2, Alma Catal Hurem, Bill Carter, Christiane Amanpour, Vesna Andree Zaimović, Senad Zaimović, Enes Zlatar
BUZZ This combination of music and political documentary — a look at the efforts to rally artist support for the victims of the 1990s Siege of Sarajevo, and U2’s epic post-war concert — makes this an appealing title for streamers and niche distributors alike.
SALES Fifth Season
DIRECTOR David Yarovesky
STARS Anthony Hopkins, Glen Powell
BUZZ This remake of Argentinian action thriller 4X4, in which an unsuspecting car thief gets trapped inside a luxury SUV and becomes part of a deadly game, offers indie buyers the appeal of such contained thrillers as Buried or The Guilty, with an A-list cast providing theatrical potential and strong ancillary play all but guaranteed.
SALES CAA Media Finance
DIRECTOR John Trengove
STARS Jesse Eisenberg, Adrien Brody
BUZZ With remarkably poignancy given recent headlines, The Wound director Trengove dives into the world of toxic masculinity with this nihilistic thriller. Eisenberg plays a troubled, gym-obsessed Uber driver and father-to-be whose anger at the world around him spills out into violent rage after he joins an incel cult (led by Brody).
DIRECTOR Nick Cassavetes
STARS Chase Stokes, Sydney Taylor
BUZZ Following the global success of the After and its sequels, Voltage is returning to the very deep and profitable well of YA romance with this adaptation of Jay Crownover’s bestseller Rule, the first in her Marked Men series. For indie buyers worldwide, few things are sexier than a teen-targeted indie with franchise potential.
SALES Voltage Pictures
DIRECTOR Hirokazu Kore-eda
STARS Ando Sakura, Nagayama Eita, Kurokawa Soya
BUZZ The film’s plot is being kept under wraps, but art house buyers worldwide will be clamoring for a look at the new feature from Broker and Shoplifters director Kore-eda, which is now in post.
SALES Gaga/Wild Bunch International
Moss & Freud
DIRECTOR James Lucas
STARS Ellie Bamber, Derek Jacobi
BUZZ A based-on-a-true story drama for discerning arthouse distributors, this feature will see Bamber playing supermodel Kate Moss in a dramatized account of her sitting for famed British painter Lucian Freud (Jacobi).
SALES Cornerstone Films
Nobody Nothing Nowhere
DIRECTORS Rachel Wolther, Alex H. Fischer
STARS Octavia Spencer, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Lucy Liu
BUZZ This out-there sci-fi comedy could appeal to buyers looking for another Everything Everywhere All at Once. Gordon-Levitt stars as Dave, the only person left on Earth, who is surrounded by human-looking beings called “non-people.”
SALES The Exchange, CAA Film Finances, WME Independent
DIRECTOR Simon West
STARS Christoph Waltz
BUZZ The growing strength of VOD and streaming revenues have helped revive star-driven action movies, and this entry from Con Air director West, featuring Django actor Waltz as an aging contract killer brought back from retirement to train his Gen Z successor, can be expected to draw bids from home-entertainment-friendly buyers worldwide.
SALES Highland Film Group
DIRECTOR Jessica Hobbs
STARS Helena Bonham Carter
BUZZ This big-screen adaptation of Benjamin Myers’ post-War-set bestseller combines Brit period drama with Carter’s box office cache, a combination arthouse buyers can’t seem to get enough of.
SALES Beta Cinema
On the Adamant
DIRECTOR Nicolas Philibert
BUZZ Streamers and art house distributors alike remain hungry for feature documentaries with a strong directorial perspective, a description that nicely fits this competition entry from To Be and to Have helmer Philibert, which examines a Parisian psychiatric center built on a float in the middle of the Seine river.
SALES Les Films du Losange
DIRECTOR Justin Kurzel
STARS Jude Law, Nicholas Hoult
BUZZ This true-crime thriller penned by King Richard scribe Zach Baylin, about bank-robbing white supremacists, is likely to sell out quickly, with a global streamer sale a strong possibility.
SALES AGC Studios
DIRECTOR Celine Song
STARS Greta Lee, Teo Yoo, John Magaro
BUZZ One of the best-reviewed films out of Sundance, Song’s directorial debut has shot to the top of the list of must-sees for international art house distributors in Berlin. The romantic drama stars Lee and Yoo as two childhood friends who reunite in New York decades later.
The Penguin Lessons
DIRECTOR Peter Cattaneo
STARS Steve Coogan
BUZZ Disillusioned Brit (Coogan) working at a school in Argentina gets unexpected life lessons from a penguin he rescues from an oil spill in this adaptation of the Tom Michell nonfiction bestseller, which The Full Monty director Cattaneo will be hoping will land with fans of family-friendly feel-good films.
SALES Rocket Science, CAA Media Finance
The Prima Donna
DIRECTOR Nathan Silver
STARS Toni Collette, Odessa Young
BUZZ The Staircase stars Collette and Young reteam on this revenge thriller that should appeal to mainstream buyers looking for a high-end genre play. Collette plays an opera diva caught in a battle of wills with her aspiring singer daughter (Young).
SALES Cornerstone, CAA Media Finance, Anonymous Content
DIRECTOR Tina Satter
STARS Josh Hamilton, Marchánt Davis, Sydney Sweeney
BUZZ A former American intelligence specialist was given the longest sentence for the unauthorized release of government information to the media about Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections via an email operation.
SALES MK2, UTA Independent Film Group, WME Independent
DIRECTOR David O. Russell
STARS Sacha Baron Cohen, Keke Palmer
BUZZ Despite his recent box office flop Amsterdam, Russell’s latest star-studded dramedy, featuring Cohen and Nope star Palmer as married, 70s-era toy sales reps on the road in Middle America, should appeal to the indie market.
SALES FilmNation, CAA Media Finance
The Riker’s Ghost
DIRECTOR Neil Jordan
STARS Liam Neeson
BUZZ This package sells itself: a Liam Neeson action movie, directed by The Crying Game‘s Neil Jordan and described as a “bare-knuckled prison break” thriller.
SALES Capstone, CAA Media Finance
She Came to Me
DIRECTOR Rebecca Miller
STARS Peter Dinklage, Anne Hathaway, Marisa Tomei
BUZZ Upscale drama can be a tough sell in today’s indie market, but the Berlinale opening slot and appealing cast for this feature —in which Dinklage plays a composer suffering from writer’s block who rediscovers his passion after an adventurous one-night stand —should elevate the project among interested distributors.
SALES Protagonist Pictures
DIRECTOR Thomas Bidegain
STARS Gilles Lellouche, Mélanie Thierry
BUZZ A very French thriller, from the writer of Rust and Bone and The Sisters Brothers, this feature about a couple (Lellouche and Thierry), stranded on an uninhabited island teeming with danger, has arthouse cross-over written all over it.
DIRECTORS Sean Penn, Aaron Kaufman
BUZZ Penn and Kaufman’s of-the-moment documentary about the war in Ukraine — shot during and just after Russia’s Feb. 24, 2022, invasion and featuring exclusive interviews with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky — is already the most talked-about movie at this year’s Berlinale, and given the red-hot market for theatrical docs, it looks like a guaranteed sale.
SALES Fifth Season
The Survival of Kindness
DIRECTOR Rolf de Heer
STARS Mwajemi Hussein
BUZZ The latest from Australian auteur de Heer, director of Charlie’s Country and Ten Canoes, should appeal to hard-core arthouse distributors. The powerfully cinematic modern-day fable follows a Black woman who escapes imprisonment to journey across the desert towards the city and supposed civilization.
SALES Fandango Sales
DIRECTOR Anton Corbijn
STARS Helen Mirren
BUZZ Combining the popular biopic and real-life thriller genres, this appealing take on the life of The Talented Mr. Ripley author Patricia Highsmith (Mirren), adapted from the play by Joanna Murray-Smith, structures the plot in a way that mirrors one of Highsmith’s fictional thrillers.
Talk To Me
DIRECTOR Danny and Michael Philippou
STARS Sophie Wilde, Miranda Otto, Otis Dhanji
BUZZ Horror continues to be the only truly reliable theatrical genre for indie distributors and this chiller, about a teen séance gone wrong, which A24 snatched up for the U.S. at Sundance, has high-concept arthouse written all over it.
SALES Bankside Films
DIRECTOR Guy Nattiv, Zar Amir Ebrahimi
STARS Zar Amir Ebrahimi, Adrienne Mandi
BUZZ Besides making history as the first-ever film co-directed by an Israeli (Golda helmer Nattiv) and an Iranian (Holy Spider actress Ebrahimi), this female-focused political thriller with a sports twist, about an Iranian female judoka (Mandi) who faces pressure from Tehran to throw the World Judo Championships, should attract attention from upscale distributors worldwide.
DIRECTOR Timothy Scott Bogart
STARS Clara Rugaard, Jamie Ward, Rebel Wilson, Rupert Everett, Jason Isaacs, Derek Jacobi
BUZZ Music, like love, is famously the universal language, which bodes well for this original pop musical inspired by the real-life story that inspired Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Planned as the first film in a trilogy, Verona should appeal both to studio and regional theatrical buyers.
SALES Voltage Pictures
Wicked Little Letters
DIRECTOR Thea Sharrock
STARS Olivia Colman, Jessie Buckley, Timothy Spall
BUZZ From Living to Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris, the Brit period dramedy is one of the few genres that has proven able to reliably reach elusive adult audiences, adding to the appeal of this 1920s-set feature. Colman and Buckley star as two very different neighbors in a picturesque English town beset by scandal when a series of anonymous, obscene letters begin dropping through their mailboxes.
You Hurt My Feelings
DIRECTOR Nicole Holocener
STARS Julia Louis-Dreyfus, David Cross, Amber Tamblyn, Tobias Menzies
BUZZ Rave reviews out of Sundance should encourage indie buyers to check out Holocener’s latest grown-up relationship rom-com, though uncertainty around the theatrical viability of older-skewing features might make this film a better fit for streamers.
SALE FilmNation Entertainment
This story first appeared in the Feb. 8 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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