PARK CITY — After 10 days, the Sundance Film Festival is coming to a close.
All in all, it was a strong year for a festival that continues to have a significant impact on the movie industry. The festival featured 121 films, many of which brokered large acquisition deals with major distributors and made headlines for their thoughtful and provocative content.
On Saturday evening at Park City's Basin Recreation Fieldhouse, filmmaker and actress Marianna Palka hosted the festival's annual awards ceremony where a number of this year's film were recognized. Top prizes went to the films “Clemency” (U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic), “The Souvenir” (World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic), “One Child Nation” (U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Documentary) and “Honeyland” (World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Documentary).
Audience-voted awards were also announced, and included “Brittany Runs a Marathon” (U.S. Dramatic), “Queen of Hearts” (World Cinema Dramatic), “Knock Down the House” (U.S. Documentary) and “Sea of Shadows” (World Cinema Documentary).
“Aziza” took home the top prize in the short film category.
“These past 10 days have been extraordinary," said John Cooper, the festival’s director, at the ceremony. "It’s been an honor to stand with these artists and to see their work challenge, enlighten and charm its first audiences.”
This year’s festival brought a number of large acquisitions, although it was not a year of record-breakers. Collectively, the acquisitions indicated a shifting movie market, with newer purchasers winning bidding wars and other more established distributors taking a back seat. “Blinded by the Light,” a feature about a Bruce Springsteen-obsessed 16-year-old British Pakistani boy in 1980s England, was purchased by New Line Cinema for $15 million, making it this year’s most expensive Sundance acquisition to date.
Of all the companies purchasing film rights at the festival, Amazon spent the most money. “Brittany Runs a Marathon,” which stars comedic actress Jillian Bell (“22 Jump Street,” “Workaholics”) as a 20-something getting her life together through marathon training, was purchased by Amazon for $14 million. Amazon also paid $13 million for the U.S. distribution rights to Mindy Kaling’s comedy “Late Night,” making it the festival’s most expensive U.S. distribution purchase ever. “The Report” was also purchased by Amazon for $14 million. The feature examines the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program, and stars Jon Hamm, Adam Driver and Annette Bening.
Netflix and Fox Searchlight, who in recent years were major winners in Sundance’s bidding wars, were relatively quiet this year. Netflix purchased the true crime series “Delhi Crime Story,” which is scheduled to premiere March 22 on the streaming service. Fox Searchlight purchased “Lavender,” a feature about a young gay man who becomes involved in an older couple’s marriage.
Beyond the acquisitions, other Sundance films dominated headlines for their subject matter, including the Ted Bundy feature film “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile.” It stars Zac Efron as the infamous serial killer, and focuses on the perspective of Bundy’s longtime girlfriend, Elizabeth Kloepfer.
“We want to think that serial killing is some separate aberrant thing in some far dark corner of human behavior,” director Joe Berlinger told the Deseret News during an interview in Park City earlier this week. “But I think psychopathic or sociopathic behavior is on one long continuum.”
Documentaries, which comprise half of the festival’s programming, also generated significant buzz. “Leaving Neverland,” an HBO documentary series about sexual abuse allegations against pop singer Michael Jackson, drew a small handful of protesters to its Sundance premiere. Some of Jackson’s family and fans asked the festival to pull “Leaving Neverland” from its lineup, but Sundance reps released a statement saying the screenings would move forward as planned.
“We look forward to audiences at the Festival seeing these films and judging the work for themselves, and discussing it afterwards,” the statement read.
The documentary “Hail Satan?” showcased the religious freedom debates swirling around the Satanic Temple. Based in Salem, Massachusetts, the Satanic Temple positions itself as a religion, and doggedly advocates for greater religious inclusion in the public square. Given the religion’s moniker, its advocacy has become a lightning rod for controversy.2 comments on this story
In a previous interview with the Deseret News, Jesper Aagaard Petersen, a religious studies scholar with a speciality in Satanism at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, said, “The Satanic Temple satisfies most substantive or functional definitions of religion, even though they don’t worship or even believe in a deity.”
One last hurrah
Though the festival's premiere screenings have wrapped up, organizers are giving attendees one more chance to see the films. On Monday, a selection of the festival’s award-winning films will screen for free at Park City's Eccles Theatre, Salt Lake City's Rose Wagner Center and the Sundance Mountain Resort's screening room. Info on these screenings can be found at sundance.org/schedule.