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How will the pandemic affect the sales market at Sundance this year? Virtual or not, experts who have spoken with TheWrap agree that the market will be “robust” at the 2021 festival. Although many films’ theatrical plans remain uncertain, streamers and indie distributors alike are in the hunt for content, and we’ve already seen a record-breaking sale that trounced last year’s record. The good news is that there are still plenty of buzzy titles looking for homes, and a few even pre-sold before the festival began.

Courtesy of Sundance Institute

  • “Summer of Soul…Or When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised” – Searchlight Pictures and Hulu •

    Searchlight Pictures and Hulu acquired the worldwide rights to Questlove’s documentary “Summer of Soul,” with plans to release it theatrically before streaming exclusively on Hulu and on Star and Star+ overseas. The film combs through never-before-seen footage of the Harlem Cultural Festival, which drew massive crowds for legendary soul artists but received no media attention. The film is as much a concert doc as it is a political portrait of race in ’60s New York.

    Mass Distraction Media/Sundance Institute

  • “Passing” – Netflix •

    Netflix made a big play for Rebecca Hall’s directorial debut “Passing,” with the streamer nearing a $16 million deal for the racial drama that nears what was once the Sundance record of $17.5 million (before “CODA” this year was bought for $25 million). Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga star in the film about two women in 1920s New York who with light skin can “pass” as white.

    Edu Grau/Sundance Institute

  • “Playing With Sharks” – Nat Geo •

    National Geographic Documentary Films picked up the worldwide rights to “Playing With Sharks,” which documents the life of Australian conservationist and filmmaker Valerie Taylor and her decades long work searching for sharks in a male dominated field. In the process she became the first woman to photograph a great white shark underwater. The film is directed by a two-time Emmy winner, Sally Aitken. 

    Courtesy of Sundance Institute

  • “Cryptozoo” – Magnolia •

    Dash Shaw’s animated fantasy film “Cryptozoo” that plays like a mix between “Yellow Submarine” and “Jurassic Park” premiered in the NEXT section at Sundance. And Magnolia picked up the North American rights with plans to release it later this year. Jane Samborski directed the animated sequences.

    Johnny Dell'Angelo/Sundance Institute

  • “Ailey” – Neon

    In the distributor’s second acquisition of the festival, Neon picked up the rights to “Ailey,” the dance documentary about African American and dance choreographer Alvin Ailey. Jamila Wignot directed the film that premiered on Saturday.

    Courtesy of Sundance Institute

  • “CODA” – Apple  •  Sian Heder’s “CODA” about a hearing girl in a deaf family who joins the school choir was an instant crowdpleaser. The film sparked a heavy bidding war that resulted in Apple coming away with the film for a whopping $25 million, way more than the $17.5 million that set a record last year for “Palm Springs” from both Hulu and Neon.

    Courtesy of Sundance Institute

  • “Jockey” – Sony Pictures Classics  •  Sony Pictures Classics picked up “Jockey” ahead of the film premiering at the festival. The drama stars Clifton Collins Jr. as an aging racehorse jockey, and the film features a supporting cast of real-life jockey athletes.

    Courtesy of Sundance Institute

  • Prisoners of the Ghostland” – RLJE Films  •  RLJE Films previously released Nicolas Cage’s other art house, cult action films “Mandy” and “Color Out of Space,” and the distributor teamed up with Cage again for Sion Sono’s “Prisoners of the Ghostland,” which is a mashup between Westerns, samurai films, action movies and post-apocalyptic thrillers.

    Courtesy of Sundance Institute

  • “Together Together” – Bleecker Street  •  Ed Helms and Patti Harrison star in this comedy about a straight, single man who hires a young, single woman to be a surrogate mother for his child, only for the two of them to form an unexpected friendship. Bleecker Street picked up North American rights to this film shortly after the lineup was unveiled, and the film is playing in the U.S. Dramatic competition.

    Courtesy of Sundance Institute

  • “Flee” – Neon  •  Neon picked up this film playing in the World Documentary competition that is part archival footage and part animated in its tracing of a teen fleeing from multiple countries. “Flee” is directed by Jonas Poher Rasmussen and is executive produced by Riz Ahmed and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, and it finally made its debut at Sundance after being a selection of Cannes 2020. Neon picked it up for an undisclosed seven-figure sum.

    Courtesy of Sundance Institute

  • “The Most Beautiful Boy in the World” – Juno Films  •  Juno Films acquired the U.S. and Canadian rights to this documentary about Swedish child star Bjorn Andresen, who became a sex symbol after he was discovered by Italian director Luchino Visconti and dubbed “The Most Beautiful Boy in the World.” The film picks up with Andresen now in his elderly years, as he tries to put his life back together. The movie is playing in the World Documentary competition and will open in theaters in May.

    Courtesy of Sundance Institute

  • “A Glitch in the Matrix” – Magnolia Pictures  •  Magnolia announced it had the worldwide rights to Rodney Ascher’s documentary “A Glitch in the Matrix” shortly after the Sundance lineup was revealed and has plans to release it on Feb. 5 shortly after it premieres. The documentary explores the idea popularized in “The Matrix” that we might all be living inside a computer simulation and speaks with individuals, who wholly embrace this ideology and the film itself as though it’s a religion.

    Courtesy of Sundance Institute

  • Other big deals were made for films such as “Passing,” “Cryptozoo” and “Ailey”

    How will the pandemic affect the sales market at Sundance this year? Virtual or not, experts who have spoken with TheWrap agree that the market will be “robust” at the 2021 festival. Although many films’ theatrical plans remain uncertain, streamers and indie distributors alike are in the hunt for content, and we’ve already seen a record-breaking sale that trounced last year’s record. The good news is that there are still plenty of buzzy titles looking for homes, and a few even pre-sold before the festival began.

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