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2018 Sundance Film Festival

A flurry of deals in Sundance's final days

Until Thursday, Sundance Film Festival watchers from afar could have been forgiven for concluding that the increased emphasis on art, rather than on commerce, in the festival offerings this year may have worked all too well. Many of the films making their debuts were wowing critics, but the money people appeared to be unimpressed, or at least not impressed enough to open their wallets. Or at least to open them too often.

On opening day, Paramount Pictures announced that it had acquired Davis Guggenheim’s tough look at America’s failing school system, WAITING FOR SUPERMAN, for an undisclosed sum. Given that Paramount had scored big with a previous Guggenheim film, the Oscar-winning AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH, which grossed almost $50 million globally, the purchase didn’t seem that risky. In fact, the deal was inked before the film had even hit the Sundance screens.

A few days later, Rodrigo Cortes’ BURIED — an intense, high-concept thriller in which Ryan Reynolds plays an American truck driver kidnapped in Iraq, buried alive in a coffin with only a cell phone and a lighter, pleading for his ransom before the oxygen runs out — was picked up by Lionsgate for somewhere between $3 million and $4 million. At a Q&A, Reynolds alluded to the grueling process of shooting the claustrophobic film, saying, “I hope you love the movie as much as I hated making it.” Lionsgate’s head of acquisitions, Jason Constantine, apparently did. “BURIED is one of the tightest, most intense thrillers we’ve ever seen, and we were absolutely determined to bring it home to Lionsgate,” he said in a statement announcing the buy.

But then, despite audience buzz surrounding various films, the wallets stayed closed until these last few days, when three films got snapped up in a flurry. Lisa Cholodenko’s THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT — a comedic heart-warmer starring Annette Bening and Julianne Moore as a lesbian couple whose teenage children seek out the sperm donor who fathered them — touched off a bidding war, and ultimately went to Focus Features for a reported $4.8 million. Newmarket Films snagged Spencer Susser’s HESHER, a provocative drama starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Natalie Portman, for $1 million.

And the video arm of the publisher Hannover House acquired Joel Schumacher’s TWELVE, a saga about a drug-peddling Upper East Side rich kid starring Chace Crawford, Ellen Barkin and Kiefer Sutherland, for around $2 million. That film will close the festival this weekend.