Yes, there were tech glitches, traffic delays and lines to get into parties that snaked through Main Street in the snow, but by and large this year’s Sundance festival went off without a hitch, and this included a return to in-person dealmaking.
There were several sales announcements prior to the fest, including Netflix acquiring the drama Run Rabbit Run, starring Sarah Snook, and doc The Deepest Breath, but the majority of the narrative films heading into the fest did not prescreen for buyers, in hopes of creating a greater sense of urgency on the ground. Limiting that urgency was the hybrid nature of the festival, which meant that competition titles hit the online platform 24 hours after their in-person premieres. (An earlier iteration of the hybrid plan laid out by the fest to sales agents and filmmakers had some features heading online only an hour after in-person debuts before receiving pushback.)
While starrier vehicles like the Anne Hathaway movie Eileen and Jonathan Majors feature Magazine Dreams garnered pre-fest buzz, Sundance’s buzziest title proved to be the erotic thriller Fair Play, led by up-and-comer Phoebe Dynevor. Filmmakers were fielding multiple offers by the time the cast and crew sat down for the post-premiere dinner. Neon, Searchlight and Lionsgate were in the running, but the project landed at Netflix in a $20 million worldwide deal.
Apple kept up its Sundance streak, taking Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Eve Hewson starrer Flora and Son for a deal pegged above $20 million, beating out Amazon Studios for the John Carney-directed charmer. While it’s unclear if this will be the biggest sale of the 2023 festival, it does continue the tech giant’s year-over-year trend of nabbing the festival’s most anticipated (and usually most commercial) title, having bought Cha Cha Real Smooth for $15 million in 2022 and eventual best picture winner CODA for $25 million in 2021.
With adult dramas struggling at the box office, the Sundance sales that include theatrical have been reserved for feel-good titles, like Searchlight Pictures landing worldwide rights for Theater Camp, the music-focused mockumentary, for $8 million. Interestingly, docs, which are usually among the hottest properties at Sundance, had yet to make a serious sale until the final days of the festival, but distributors are said to be actively watching all available titles, fishing for a possible 2024 Oscar contender — three of the five films nominated for this year’s top feature doc prize were acquired out of Sundance in 2022. On Friday, ahead of the fest’s awards announcement, MTV Doc Films, headed by Shiela Nevins, landed The Eternal Memory, the follow-up from the director behind the Oscar-nominated The Mole Agent, as a possible awards play.
After two days of sales announcements, festivalgoers started to head back to Los Angeles with only a handful of titles spoken for, but this was expected as sales continue to draw out longer and longer after the festival close. So, if you want to know how to Sundance sale market panned out, says a sales agent, “Talk to me in six months.”
A version of this story first appeared in the Jan. 27 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe