Note from Orly: This blog post was researched and written by Bryan Glick, a new addition to the TFC family.  Forthcoming will be an analysis of the actual releases out of the festival from past fests and this year’s.  This will be a group effort on the part of all of us and we welcome any and all info.  And now let us begin…

With SXSW just around the corner, now is the perfect time to look at the world of deal making at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Over 100 films had their world premiere at the festival. Almost half of them now have some form of distribution in place but the numbers vary greatly based on what section the film screened in. On the high end is the Premiere section. With over 80% of the films getting acquired. Unfortunately things aren’t as rosy for films that were part of the World Dramatic section. Only one film has been bought thus far. The (#/#) below indicates how many films per section were “bought”.

WORLD DRAMATIC- (1/14) Only the film “Wish You Were Here” was bought by a North American distributor (Entertainment One). It also is in English with a somewhat-name cast.

WORLD DOCUMENTARY- (6/12) “Payback” (Zeitgeist) and “Putin’s Kiss” (Kino Lorber) were both bought before the festival. The latter, after playing IDFA.  “5 Broken Cameras” was also bought Kino Lorber. Indomina couldn’t resist “The Imposter” and SPC got “Searching for Sugar Man”.  “Indie Game: The Movie” was bought by HBO to be remade as a television series. They opted to reject other offers that would have included a theatrical run but they are doing their own DIY theatrical.

US DOCUMENTARY- (7/16) “Marina Abromovic: The Artist is Present” was an HBO DOC coming in and HBO also bought “Me @ The Zoo” prior to Sundance starting.  Sundance Selects snagged both “Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry” and “How to Survive a Plague”, Magnolia opened the gates to “The Queen of Versailles” and unsurprisingly National Geographic went for “Chasing Ice”.  Most recently, The Film Collaborative sold this year’s audience award winner, “The Invisible War” (the deal is being announced in a couple of days).

US DRAMATIC- (7/16) “Beasts of the Southern Wild” and “The Surrogate” were both bought by Fox Searchlight. “Safety Not Guaranteed” is the first Sundance film to be acquired by Film District. AFFRM, run by Ava Duverney the director of “Middle of Nowhere” will be releasing the film in partnership with Participant.  “Nobody Walk” was one of the many Magnolia acquisitions at the fest, and not to be outdone IFC took “Simon Killer”. “LUV” was the only film from the section to score a television deal, which it was able to do as part of its theatrical deal with Indomina. It will premiere on BET. It is worth noting that 5 of the 7 films that have sold were award winners. The only award winning film from this section not to sell yet is “Smashed”.

NEXT- (3/9) These films are all relatively low budget and tend to fly more under the radar than the US Dramatic films. Since they were cheaper to make they are also far more likely to get their investment back. “28 Hotel Rooms” wooed over Oscilloscope, while Magnolia added “Compliance” to their buying spree. The Film “Mosquita Y Mari” was acquired by Wolfe Releasing. The Film Collaborative negotiated the low 6-figure deal and will do the theatrical release.

MIDNIGHT- (5/8) Magnet already had “Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie” going into the festival. “V/H/S” was also bought Magnet, which is the genre arm of Magnolia. LD Entertainment won the bidding war for “Black Rock”, “The Pact” will be released by IFC Midnight, and “Excision” made the cut for Anchor Bay.

PREMIERE- (13/16) Not surprisingly, this is the section that produced the most deals and also some of the largest deals of the festival. The Weinstein Company’s new Radius VOD Label acquired “Lay The Favorite” And “Bachelorette”.  Samuel Goldwyn and Sony partnered to get “Robot and Frank”. “Arbitrage” was acquired by Roadside Attractions and will utilize the same day and date VOD approach that was done with “Margin Call”. IFC added “Predisposed” and Liberal Arts” to their packed slate. Meanwhile Imagine took “GOATS”, Focus nabbed “For a Good Time Call”, SPC took “Celeste and Jesse Forever”, CBS Films opted for “The Words, Millenium went with “Red Lights”, Magnolia snatched up “2 Days in New York” and ATO got in the game with “Shadow Dancer”

Notably absent from this list and still seeking distribution is “Red Hook Summer” which is the latest film from Spike Lee. The other two films (“Price Check” and “California Solo”) from the section yet to sell both did not premiere until the second half of the festival.

DOC PREMIERE- (5/8) “Ethel”, “The D Word”, and “About Face” all had HBO DOC deals going into the festival. “Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap” Was acquired by Indomina and “West of Memphis” wound up in the hands of SPC.  “Room 237” was also bought out of the New Frontier section which is known for more experimental film-making IFC will release it.


THE BIG PLAYERS this year were smaller and mid-level distributors. HBO Docs had the most films in the festival going in but IFC and Magnolia left with acquisitions from multiple programming sections and each got some of the most sought after films. Indomina acquired three films, all of which were in competition. Fox Searchlight also went big by acquiring two of the biggest films in competition. Compared to last year though, they were relatively tame. With the recent acquisition of “West of Memphis” SPC has rights to three films from the festival. Leaving empty handed were The Weinstein Company’s main label, Open Road Films, and Relativity. All of these companies went looking for films that they could take wide; given their absence it would seem unlikely that there are many “Little Miss Sunshine”s from Sundance 2012. Which might explain why

VOD is IN. Many of the deals include VOD as a central component. Whether or not any can duplicate the success of “Margin Call” remains to be seen. That said filmmakers and distributors alike were far more willing to embrace the opportunities that VOD enables. Rare exceptions were films such as “Black Rock” which opted to reject a number of VOD centered offers. They will instead have a traditional theatrical run.

BIGGER ISN’T NECESSARILY BETTER when it comes to making your money back. While several films in the premiere section were able to get seven figure deals, it was far from enough to cover their budgets. Meanwhile smaller films like “The Pact” and “Mosquita Y Mari” were able to recoup and then some.

FINALLY, If your favorite film hasn’t been bought yet, that doesn’t mean it won’t get bought in the future or follow a solid DIY approach. “Being Elmo” was not bought until several months after Sundance last year but has gone on to gross over $250,000 theatrically. And films are still getting bought from the 2011 festival. “Restless City” was just acquired by AFFRM.

South By Southwest, here we come!

More Sundance deal analysis to come too…

March 2nd, 2012

Posted In: Digital Distribution, Distribution, Film Festivals, Theatrical

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