Sundance Film Festival

Chicken Little and the State of Sundance

Park City returned to normal today—or so I assume, having returned to NYC—as media outlets around the country concluded their Sundance coverage with the obligatory wrap-ups, run-downs and (generally gloomy) analysis. During the festival, there was much talk of the “buyer’s market.” The usual feeding frenzy was little more than a whisper this year, reported the Times, while the Boston Globe proclaimed the festival as good as dead.

Such hyperbole was inevitable. For all this talk of hope in American politics, the reality remains that the economy is in worse shape than Mickey Rourke at the end of THE WRESTLER. And yet, the notion that market forces and antiquated distribution models spell the death of independent film is going a bit far, don’t you think? Yes, it was a relatively slow, quiet year at Sundance. No one debates that. But we should all take a collective deep breath. The economy will rebound eventually, and new distribution models—video-on-demand for now, possibly online viewing in the future—will replace the old ones.

Lost amidst the sky-is-falling scenarios are the films themselves—their evaluation as works of art rather than commodities. The consensus seems to be that the overall quality of this year’s movies—from the Premieres category to Spectrum, Frontier, and Midnight—was exceptionally high. Heading into awards night, no film was an obvious lock for a prize, and worthy entries like BIG FAN and BOY INTERRUPTED went home empty-handed. I saw several strong films, and yet only one of them, ADAM, won a prize. From a moviegoer’s perspective, it was a very good year indeed.

Charlyne Yi, after winning the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award along with co-writer Nicholas Jasenovec, said on Saturday night, “Who knows what will happen to our films, but at least they were seen!” It’s a nice, and true, sentiment. But of course the films need to sell if filmmakers like Yi and Jasenovec, whose PAPER HEART remains homeless (as does three-time winner PUSH), want their work to be seen by a wider audience. To that end, here’s a very unofficial list of the Sundance films that landed deals (and for how much, if reported):

YOU WON’T MISS ME (Visit Films)
TYSON (Sony Classics)
AMREEKA (Entertainment One)
RUDO Y CURSI (Sony Classics)
BURMA VJ (HBO TV; Film Forum in NY)
BROTHERS AT WAR (Samuel Goldwyn)
WILLIAM KUNSTLER: DISTURBING THE UNIVERSE (P.O.V. (PBS) TV)
EL GENERAL (P.O.V. (PBS) TV )
COLD SOULS (E1 Films)
BROOKLYN’S FINEST (Senator Distribution) — $3 million
KIMJONGILIA (Visit Films)
THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION OF LITTLE DIZZLE (Visit Films)
HUMPDAY (Magnolia VOD) — $100,000
BLACK DYNAMITE (Sony Worldwide Acquisitions Group) — $2 million
ADAM (Fox Searchlight) — $1.5 million
THE WINNING SEASON (Lionsgate) $2 million
AN EDUCATION (Sony Classics) — $3-$4 million
DEAD SNOW (IFC Films)
IN THE LOOP (IFC Films)
SPREAD (Anchor Bay) — $3.5-4 million
MOON (Sony Classics)
ART & COPY (Arthouse Films)

Lastly, although I haven’t seen any reports about the deal, director Cary Fukunaga told me on Saturday night that his film SIN NOMBRE was picked up by Focus Features. That’s great news to me, as it’s one of the many movies I wanted to see this year but missed—an annual regret that was particularly deep this year, further proving that Sundance is far from dead.