While some fest holdovers in the Sundance line-up have distributors, such as juror Susanne Bier's Golden Globe-winning Oscar submission In a Better World (Sony Pictures Classics), about 100 titles are looking for homes. The most commercial ones are being sold by the likes of UTA, CAA, WME, Cinetic, Submarine et al. Some deals have already gone down ahead of time, signaling the fact that with so many titles going into the fray, it may be better to leak screeners to distribs in advance.
Two titles head to Sundance with the Fox Searchlight machine already behind them: Tom McCarthy's Win Win, starring Golden Globe winner Paul Giamatti, and Miguel (Good Girl) Arteta's midwest comedy of manners Cedar Rapids, starring my favorite actor in The Hangover, Ed Helms, as well as John C. Reilly, Anne Heche and a juicy supporting cast. Some time back a gaggle of press got a peek and it's hilarious. Searchlight sent around this Sundance promo today.
Right after Sundance announced the 2011 lineup, IFC Films acquired worldwide rights to Joe Swanberg’s Uncle Kent (Spotlight). Sony Pictures Classics picked up Take Shelter, starring Michael Shannon, and Morgan Spurlock doc The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, before they hit the fest (Spurlock is celebrating already). And as advance buzz attended James Marsh's Project Nim, HBO snapped it up before it hit the fest. Every critic in town was headed to the screening Thursday night.
The highbrow cable channel, which threw the hottest party at the Golden Globes, is where most producers, filmmakers and stars are pointing their noses. HBO's execs have an appetite for risk and originality and deeper pockets than most indies now. With Project Nim, Marsh (Oscar-winning Man on Wire) follows the heart-breaking cautionary tale of a chimp taught to sign by various Manhattan academic linguists and primate-care specialists in the 70s, who then passed the unfortunate creature from one home, and cage, to another.
HBO's doc czar Sheila Nevins will be in Sundance, along with surviving usual suspects Sony Worldwide Acquisitions and SPC, Searchlight, Focus Features, Lionsgate/Roadside, Weinstein Co., Summit, Magnolia (which may be for sale), CBS Films, IFC, Strand, Oscilloscope, Music Box, Phase 4, Wrekin Hill, and Zeitgeist plus Paramount Insurge, the studio's new indie division that exists alongside collapsed specialty label Vantage. Newcomers include FilmDistrict, the new home of Peter Schlessel and Bob Berney, as well as Ryan Kavanaugh's Relativity, which hired ex-Paramount exec Joe Matukewicz to head its acquisitions operation.
Some surprising first-time attendees checking out the tribal rituals of the industry's annual meeting place are Disney chairman Rich Ross and his production chief Sean Bailey. Isn't this the studio that dumped Miramax? It makes more sense in the right context: they want to scout talent, as Disney casting head Marcia Ross has been doing for years. Also, chairman Ross knows juror Raj Roy (they bonded during the Tim Burton MOMA exhibition).
Along with Project Nim, a lot of advance heat surrounds the doc selection. Another hot ticket (repped by CAA) is Irish doc Knuckle, which covers ten years of bare-fist grudge matches between Irish clans who keep rechallenging each other over time until the original nugget that set off the whole thing is lost. Also worth checking out is the story of the real Horse Whisperer behind the Robert Redford movie, Buck (click the link for the exclusive poster and trailer).
Also expected to make an early sale is the New York Times doc Page One, which focuses on the beleaguered Grey Lady as it struggles to make sense of a changing journalistic landscape. By looking at one department that covers that story--Media--you see how the old world and the new meet. Star media columnist David Carr is an admirable embodiment of smart chops and dignity under fire--as he covers the bankruptcy of The Chicago Tribune. I'll be moderating a panel on this subject with filmmaker Andrew Rossi and Carr on Monday at 2 PM.
The NYT's scene-setter focuses on six movies from the Sundance labs including Little Birds, directed by ex-gang member Elgin James, now a hot commodity as a director. I'll have to check it out. Here's a NYT slideshow and one from The Wrap.
Other hot titles include Martha Macy May Marlene, from Sean Durkin, starring Elizabeth OIsen (yes, younger sister of Kate and Mary Kay), pegged as this year's it-girl. My money is on Brit Marling, a cannily charming refugee from Wall Street who ditched investment banking for filmmaking because it was so much fun. After enjoying co-producing and co-directing the 2004 documentary Boxers and Ballerina, she produced, co-wrote and co-stars with Tom Cruise's cousin William Mapother (In the Bedroom, Lost) in sci-fi adventure Another Earth, directed by her ex-boyfriend Mike Cahill, in his debut. I met them at a pre-Sundance party thrown by sales agent Kevin Iwashina. She has not one but two films at the fest; she also produced, co-wrote and stars in cult drama Sound of My Voice (NEXT), co-written and directed by Zal Batmanglij; UTA is repping the film.
At Iwashina's party, I talked to Christine Vachon about HBO's Mildred Pierce and her foray into management, as well as her Digital Artists/Hulu talk show with old pal/producer Ted Hope, which I intend to check out. These two have not only seen it all, but they are tenaciously hanging tough, as is producer Lynnette Howell (Blue Valentine), who is also back in competition at Sundance with Alaska thriller On the Ice, directed by Inuit filmmaker Andrew Okpeaha MacLean. Howell doesn't profit from most of her labors of love: the hits pay for the smaller films.
Typically, Sundance opening weekend is packed with back-to-back screenings, from Irish opening nighter The Guard, starring Brendan Gleeson, to Wall Street thriller Margin Call, starring Kevin Spacey and Zachary Quinto and The Ledge, starring Liv Tyler, and a mass of movies that have yet to coalesce in the collective consciousness. All in good time.