Sundance Film Festival Ends With Plenty of Sales, Despite Slow Start

Talk of the demise of the Sundance Film Festival as an incubator for audience-friendly independent films appears to have been greatly exaggerated.

When titles from this year’s 40th anniversary festival weren’t flying off the shelves by the third day of screenings, some observers saw it as yet another sign that Hollywood was in dire straits. The festival was no longer featuring independent films that could go on to be commercially viable, the thinking went.

Yet when the festival concluded over the weekend, it appeared that studios had found a number of films that they were willing to bet would connect with moviegoers.

As has been the case in recent years, streaming services made the flashiest deals. Netflix paid a reported $17 million for the horror film “It’s What’s Inside” and Amazon/MGM bought “My Old Ass,” starring Aubrey Plaza, for $15 million. “Skywalkers: A Love Story,” a documentary about a Russian couple who save their marriage by scaling skyscrapers, was acquired by Netflix, while Warner Bros. Discovery, which owns the Max streaming service, is negotiating a $15 million sale for “Super/Man: The Christopher Reeve story,” a documentary about the “fall and rise” of the actor best known for his big-screen portrayal of Superman.

In addition, Netflix is in exclusive negotiations for worldwide rights to the documentary “Will and Harper,” which tracks the road trip taken by the longtime friends Will Ferrell and Harper Steele, who transitioned to a woman at the age of 61.

The traditional studios got in on the act, too. Reminiscent of the headiest days of Sundance, an all-night bidding war ended with Searchlight Pictures’ acquiring Jesse Eisenberg’s film “A Real Pain,” in which he stars opposite Kieran Culkin, for $10 million. The independent distributor Neon bought Steven Soderbergh’s ghost story “Presence” for $5 million.

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