Sundance Film Festival was notable for the number of women directors,
particularly in the U.S. Dramatic and Documentary Competitions -- where half
were female filmmakers. As Sundance 2014 gets underway, here's a look at what
happened to the 16 features, 19 documentaries and one miniseries over the last
year. Domestic grosses and theater counts (when available) are courtesy of Box
Office Mojo. Distributors do not provide video on demand numbers, although this
is an increasingly important part of the financial viability of independent
U.S. Dramatic Competition
Afternoon Delight (Jill Soloway)
Television writer and producer (Six Feet Under) Jill Soloway won the directing award for her racy debut film. It was picked up in May by The Film Arcade, and Soloway trimmed some scenes of female sexuality to receive the MPAA's R rating. Afternoon Delight got a traditional platform release, opening on August 30 at 2 theaters (then expanding to 39), and grossed $174,496. Soloway was nominated for a best first screenplay Spirit Award and her film was included in a number of best-of lists, including Quentin Tarantino's. Afternoon Delight arrives on DVD, Blu-ray and VOD on February 18.
Austenland (Jerusha Hess)
Sony Pictures Classics acquired the romantic comedy mid-way through the festival for a reported $4.5 million. Jerusha Hess had co-written three films with her husband Jared (including 2004 Sundance favorite Napoleon Dynamite), but Austenland is her directorial debut, which she adapted with author Shannon Hale. SPC eschews new VOD models and prefers to slowly roll their films out theatrically, so Austenland opened at 4 theaters on August 16 and expanded to 274, with a total gross of $2,159,041. Twilight author Stephanie Meyer is the film's brand-name producer, but in 2013, that was not an asset: the $40 million adaptation of her novel The Host only brought in $26 million. Austenland arrives on DVD and Blu-ray on February 11.
Concussion (Stacie Passon)
Stacie Passon's much-discussed debut was picked up mid-fest by Radius-TWC for $600,000. This division of The Weinstein Company is a "boutique" label for multi-platform day-and-date releases, and Concussion arrived in theaters as well as VOD on October 10. After expanding from two theaters to 25, Concussion grossed $42,606. It received a Spirit Award nomination for Best First Feature, and the DVD will be released on January 28.
The Truth About Emanuel (Previously Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes) (Francesca Gregorini)
Tribeca Film and Well Go USA Entertainment jointly acquired Francesca Gregorini's psychological thriller in May. After co-directing Tanner Hall (2009) with Tatiana von Furstenberg, this is the first solo directing credit for Gregorini (daughter of actress Barbara Bach). The film got a VOD release on November 26 and arrived in 11 theaters on January 10. In her much-debated "Appeal for Sanity" in The New York Times, Manohla Dargis dismissed The Truth About Emanuel as an indie unworthy of theatrical release (based on VOD availability and a wan reception at Sundance).
In a World... (Lake Bell)
In a World was picked up by Roadside Attractions in February, after Lake Bell took home the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award for her debut film (she also stars). Their platform theatrical release began on August 9 with three theaters, and the comedy expanded to 144 theaters and earned $2,963,902, making it the top-grossing film by a Sundance 2013 female director. Lake Bell received a Spirit Award nomination for Best First Screenplay. In a World is currently available as a digital download, and the DVD and Blu-ray will be released on January 21.
The Lifeguard (Liz W. Garcia)
Focus World (the VOD label of Focus Features) and Screen Media Films acquired the debut film from television producer Liz W. Garcia (Cold Case, Memphis Beat) in March. The drama was heavily promoted by star Kristen Bell, who was making news with the Kickstarter-funded Veronica Mars movie). It arrived on various VOD platforms on July 30, followed by a small theatrical release on August 30. The DVD hit stores in October and The Lifeguard can be seen on Netflix Instant.
May in the Summer (Cherien Dabis)
Her debut film Amreeka was in the Sundance 2009 dramatic competition and Cherien Dabis's follow-up, May in the Summer, opened the 2013 festival. In addition to writing and directing, Dabis also stars as the title character in this culture-clash comedy. Cohen Media Group acquired May in the Summer in February 2013 and will release the film in 2014.
Touchy Feely (Lynn Shelton)
Lynn Shelton's last four films have been selected for Sundance: Humpday, Your Sister's Sister, Touchy Feely and Laggies in 2014. Magnolia Pictures picked up the Seattle-based comedy-drama in March, reuniting Shelton with the distributor of her breakout film, Humpday. Touchy Feely was released on VOD and in theaters on September 6, eventually playing at five theaters and grossing $36,128. The DVD and Blu-ray were released on December 10 and Touchy Feely is available on Netflix Instant.
U.S. Documentary Competition
After Tiller (Martha Shane and Lana Wilson)
After Tiller profiles the handful of third-trimester abortion doctors in the United States and was acquired by Oscilloscope Laboratories in February. It's the documentary debut of Lana Wilson and the second film from Martha Shane (Bi the Way). The filmmakers and their subjects were featured in numerous news programs and publications throughout the year. Opening on September 20, and rolling out to six theaters, After Tiller grossed $67,414. Nominated for a Spirit Award as best documentary, After Tiller has screenings at independent theaters and universities scheduled through February. It will be released on VOD and DVD in late spring.
American Promise (Joe Brewster and Michele Stephenson)
American Promise is based on the long-term commitment of married filmmakers Joe Brewster and Michele Stephenson (a psychiatrist and attorney, respectively), who followed their son and his friend through the 12 years of their education. It won the U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Achievement in Filmmaking and was released theatrically by their production company Rada Film Group. Starting with two theaters on October 18, it expanded to eight theaters and grossed $138,471. American Promise airs February 3 on PBS stations as part of the P.O.V. series and is available for theatrical screenings through Tugg. Brewster and Stephenson have also written a tie-in book (with Hilary Beard) called Promises Kept: Raising Black Boys to Succeed in School and in Life, available as a paperback and e-book.
Blackfish (Gabriela Cowperthwaite)
Gabriela Cowperthaite's incendiary documentary unleashed a torrent of trouble for SeaWorld, which encountered protesters even at the Rose Bowl Parade. Blackfish attracted a lot of buyer interest at Sundance, and a deal closed mid-fest with Magnolia Pictures and CNN Films (for a reported low seven figures). Magnolia began their rollout on July 19, expanding to 99 theaters for a gross of $2,073,582. Blackfish was the highest-grossing documentary by a female director in 2013 and was included in the Oscar short list. But the biggest impact came when it aired on CNN, becoming the cable news channel's highest-ranking film of the year. The DVD and Blu-ray were released in November, and Blackfish spent the rest of the year as a top-seller at iTunes. It is also available on Netflix Instant.
Citizen Koch (Carl Deal and Tia Lessin)
After its Sundance premiere, the hot-button documentary Citizen Koch (as in David and Charles) became the focus of its own controversy when the Independent Television Service (funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting) withdrew finishing funds. Carl Deal and Tia Lessin (Trouble the Water) turned to Kickstarter and more than doubled their goal, raising $169,522. Variance Films acquired Citizen Koch last week and will release it in April.
Gideon's Army (Dawn Porter)
Dawn Porter's look at public defenders won the U.S. Documentary editing award (Matthew Hamachek is the editor) and has been nominated for a Spirit Award for best documentary. Porter is a film and television producer making her directorial debut. Gideon's Army received an Oscar-qualifying theatrical run just before it aired on HBO in July. No DVD date has been announced, but Gideon's Army is available for theatrical screenings through Tugg.
Life According to Sam (Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine)
Life According to Sam follows the only child of two physicians who has a rare genetic disease that causes rapid aging. The married filmmakers Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine won an Academy Award for their 2012 short documentary Inocente, and enjoyed a brief theatrical run before its October premiere on HBO got Life According to Sam on the Oscar short list. The documentary's ebullient subject Sam Berns, who was 17, passed away on January 10, 2014 of complications from progeria.
Valentine Road (Marta Cunningham)
Marta Cunningham has been a professional ballet dancer as well as an actress and singer. (She is married to actor James Frain.) Valentine Road, about the aftermath of a hate crime, is her directorial debut. It has won juried awards for best documentary at gay and lesbian film festivals in Atlanta, Dublin, Madrid, Miami, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Tel Aviv as well as the audience award at NewFest. Valentine Road had a small theatrical release in New York and Los Angeles before premiering on HBO in October.
99% - The Occupy Wall Street Collaborative Film (Audrey Ewell, Aaron Aites, Lucian Read and Nina Krstic)
This Occupy Wall Street film employs the same collaborative philosophy as the movement it documents: there are four directors listed, an additional five credited as co-directors, and nearly 100 filmmakers across the United States providing footage. After the film's world premiere, Participant Media acquired 99% during the last days of Sundance. The Occupy Wall Street Collaborative Film opened in New York and Los Angeles on September 6, then premiered on the new PIVOT Network, launched by Participant to engage socially conscious millennials. The documentary has played at film festivals around the world (especially those focusing on human rights) and is available on iTunes.