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Sundance 2015: A New Era for Independent Film?

Written by: Laura Santoro
Edited by: Diana Joves



In the midst of the 39 movies sold at Sundance Film Festival this past month, many of them involve new veins of genre mixing-specifically, documentary-based dramas, novel-based thrillers and coming-of-age-based comedies–and heftier purchase prices. Starting in the low millions, movie acquisitions were interdependent on the presence of actor-celebrities, awards received, narrative accessibility and innovative production strategies. With so many movies being bought, this year has been one of the richest festivals of the decade. Over 25 distributors acquired both competition and out of competition films and it leaves viewers wondering: which films will become box-office hits and which will become merely digital VOD bait?
While the question is a big one, here are a few films that stand-out.


1. Tangerine



Acquired by Magnolia Pictures, Director Sean Baker’s feature film is one of the most talked-about films of the festival. A story about two transgender women on a Christmas Eve odyssey, the film explores many scandalous themes; however, the scandals don’t just stop at the screen. Filmed entirely with an iPhone 5s, Baker’s film deconstructs what it means to produce high-end cinema, and demonstrates how traditional film making may soon be a thing of the past.


2. Me, and Earl and the Dying Girl

me, and earl


One of the most expensive movie acquisitions in the history of Sundance, Me, and Earl and the Dying Girl sparked a bidding war between Focus, CBS Films, Lionsgate, A24 and Miramax, but was ultimately purchased for $12 million by Fox Searchlight. Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s second feature film pursues a touching coming-of-age tale showered with comedic graphics and genuine performances. Additionally, the film won the U.S. Grand Jury Prize for the Dramatic Competition and is stated to be a festival favorite.


3. Dope



Another coming-of-age comedy, Dope generated enormous hype and was purchased for $7 million by Open Road and Sony. In addition, the film earned a $20 million marketing deal to be shared by the distributors. Winning the U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Excellence in Editing, Director Rick Famuyiwa explores the post hip-hop generation of African-American Malcom who aspires to attend Harvard.


4. Don Verdean




One of the first-sold films of the festival, Don Verdean was purchased for an undisclosed amount by Lionsgate. Starring Sam Rockwell, Jemaine Clement and Danny McBride, the comedy follows a biblical archeologist who is hired to find faith-promoting relics. Director Jared Hess (Napoleon Dynamite, Nacho Libre) returns with another stunning comedy that’s sure to turn over domestic gross profits.


5. Dark Horse




Winning the Audience Award in the World Cinema Documentary category, Dark Horse corrals the documentary-drama of thoroughbred pride and hardship. Purchased for an undisclosed amount, the film was purchased by Sony Picture Classics. It is expected for wide theatrical release. Among these, star-studded comedy Sleeping With Other People, 35mm Digging for Fire, documentary-drama The Wolfpack, and novel-turned-film Ten Thousand Saints created buzz and are expected to be top competitors. Ultimately, not only has Sundance 2015 brought light to some mesmerizing new films, but it also has rung-in an innovative new group of directors. It will be interesting to see if next year’s festival can uphold the same level of ambition, commitment, and intensity.


What are your Sundance 2015 favorites? Leave a comment and let us know!