This year’s Sundance Film Festival is already shaping up to be a stronger acquisition market than last year’s, with several films already having been sold, including Mindy Kaling’s “Late Night” for a whopping $13 million.
The buzzy Richard Wright adaptation “Native Son” was sold to HBO films before it even premiered on Thursday night. Several movies were sold ahead of the festival as well, including Tilda Swinton’s “The Souvenir” and Ryan White’s documentary “Ask Dr. Ruth.”
Several sales agents and buyers predicted a healthy and stable marketplace this year after last year’s somewhat slower festival.
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Several buzzy films are still up for sale, including Awkwafina’s “The Farewell,” Shia LaBeouf’s “Honey Boy” and Julianne Moore’s “After the Wedding.”
Bidding wars have been scarce so far this year. “Buyers are savvy and generally are paying what they think is necessary to make a deal happen while also fitting their individual business model,” one insider said. “I don’t expect there will be more than one or two legitimate bidding wars but I do expect it will be an active market given the number of players in the space looking for content.”
Here are the Sundance entries that have signed new distribution deals so far in Park City:
The first big festival acquisition was Mindy Kaling’s “Late Night,” which sold to Amazon Studios for $13 million just shortly after its premiere on Friday night. The film received loud claps and laughs, and many audience members had called it the first commercial hit of this year’s festival.
Nisha Ganatra directed the film that also stars Emma Thompson and John Lithgow. Kaling wrote, produced and starred in the film that follows a legendary late night talk show host (Thompson).
Ahead of the Thursday night premiere of “Native Son,” HBO Films bought the rights to Rashid Johnson’s modern re-imagining of Richard Wright’s seminal novel, about a young African-American man named Bigger Thomas (Ashton Sanders) who takes a job working for a highly influential Chicago family, a decision that will change the course of his life forever.
Margaret Qualley, Nick Robinson, KiKi Layne, Elizabeth Marvel, David Alan Grier, Sanaa Lathan and Bill Camp also star.
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“Ask Dr. Ruth”
Hulu picked up the rights to the “Ask Dr. Ruth” documentary well ahead of the festival.
Directed by Ryan White (“The Keepers,” “The Case Against 8”), “Ask Dr. Ruth” chronicles the life of Dr. Ruth Westheimer, a Holocaust survivor who became America’s most famous sex therapist. With her diminutive frame, thick German accent and uninhibited approach to sex therapy and education, Dr. Ruth transformed the conversation around sexuality. As she approaches her 90th birthday and shows no signs of slowing down, the documentary follows Dr. Ruth as she revisits her painful past and unlikely path to a career at the forefront of the sexual revolution.
“The Tomorrow Man”
Bleecker Street acquired the North American rights to Noble Jones’ debut feature “The Tomorrow Man” a week before the festival.
John Lithgow and Blythe Danner star in the romantic film, which is slated for release on May 19 after its Sundance premiere on Jan. 30.
The film follows Ed (Lithgow), who spends his life preparing for a disaster that might never come, while Ronnie (Danner) shops for things she might not need. The two try to find love while trying not to get lost.
In January, IFC Films acquired the U.S. rights to “The Nightingale,” the latest film from Jennifer Kent, the Australian director of “The Babadook.”
IFC Films is re-teaming with Kent after distributing “The Babadook” in 2014. That horror film made $10.3 million worldwide. IFC is planning a summer release for “The Nightingale,” which first premiered at the 2018 Venice International Film Festival and won the Special Jury Prize, as well as the Marcello Mastroianni Award for Best New Young Performer for Baykali Ganambarr.
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In December, Tilda Swinton’s “The Souvenir” was picked up by A24. Martin Scorsese executive produces the film that also stars Honor Swinton-Byrne and Tom Burke. A24 will release the film theatrically in 2019 and acquired it from Protagonist Pictures and 30WEST.
“The Souvenir” follows a quiet film student (Swinton Byrne) who begins to find her voice as an artist while navigating a turbulent courtship with a charismatic but untrustworthy man (Burke). She defies her protective mother (Swinton) and concerned friends as she slips deeper and deeper into an intense, emotionally fraught relationship that comes dangerously close to destroying her dreams.
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