In the wake of the dual Hollywood strikes, the 2024 theatrical release schedule is in a bind, even streamers are desperate for product. Sundance, save us.
Eighty percent of this year’s film lineup is for sale, some even made on SAG-AFTRA interim agreements during the actors strike. That means there’s a lot up for grabs, and Sundance Film Festival Director and Head of Public Programming Eugene Hernandez anticipates a frenzy.
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“There’s an enthusiasm (among buyers), everyone is showing up to connect with and consider films for distribution,” he said at Thursday morning’s opening news conference.
“We have assembled a program that includes movies that deserve to be and to find their audiences. Films are ready for their audiences,” added Hernandez.
“We have a slate that is ready to meet its audience,” he said.
“I think Sundance is a vital part of the entertainment ecosystem. I think it’s undervalued,” said Blumhouse CEO Jason Blum, kicking off the opening presser. With Sundance founder Robert Redford an emeritus, the festival is arguably in need of an industry face. Blum provided that today, a producer who has harnessed indie films early in his career by acquiring them and turning them into critical and commercial hits. He’s on the fest board and said he’s been coming here since 1992.
“The release schedule is decimated. The theatrical market should be healthy. … I hope Sundance movies wind up in theaters in the next six months,” said Blum.
“Without Sundance, the United States wouldn’t be where it is in terms of entertainment,” said Blum, the producer who launched Get Out in a secret screening in Park City in 2017, and who was also behind the 2014 movie Whiplash that went from festival-acquisition title to a three-time Oscar winner in 2015.
“I first came when Reality Bites was screening and Ethan and I got stuck in a snowbank and almost didn’t make it to the screening. It holds a very important place in my heart,” said Blum.
“My business wouldn’t be what it is without Sundance,” he added.
“So many people come to Sundance for the element of discovery, that is really present in this year’s program: 95% of our program are world premieres, 80% of programming is for sale, (we’re) hoping for healthy film sales,” said Sundance Film Festival Director of Programming Kim Yutani.
“It establishes us as the place to come, for industry film fans, [and] other programmers from film festivals to see what we have to offer,” she added.
The Hollywood strikes didn’t hurt submissions: There were thousands, including a few films that got SAG-AFTRA interim agreements to get made – Didi and Ghostlight. “We are happy to be showing their films,” said Yutani.
“Films that persisted and preserved and were able to get those interim agreements, so we could get to screen them,” Sundance Institute CEO Joana Vincente said.
Earlier in the presser, Blum shared his high points and low points (buying Happy, Texas) here at Park City with Whiplash and Get Out, which wound up being festivalgoers’ two favorite movies out of Sundance at the festival hits 40 years. “Two very different experiences,” he said
Following the premiere of Whiplash, Blum was so bullish he invited all the buyers to a local bar and in an email said “we’ll be waiting for you and taking offers. One company showed up! Lionsgate! But that’s what’s fun about the festival.”
Still, thanks to Sundance, Blum says, “it’s good at drawing attention to movies that wouldn’t get attention.”
Get Out was an opposite story, the secret screening a wick that lit Jordan Peele’s filmmaking career. The social horror movie morphed into a $255 million-plus grossing hit.
“All of us didn’t know what we had, we knew it was special. First ever screening with a public audience was here at the Library. Obama’s daughter was in the audience. That’s what started the whole thing and gave us all, including Universal, confidence,” Blum recalled.
The fest, which runs 11 days, features 91 projects across films, episodic and the New Frontier lineup, plus the addition of The Greatest Night in Pop — a documentary about the whirlwind creation of global mega-hit “We Are the World.” They were selected from a record number of 17,435 submissions from 153 countries/territories.
Non-film programming includes alumni returning to mark the 40th festival: Miguel Arteta, Richard Linklater, Dawn Porter and Christine Vachon will headline panel Power of Story: Four Decades of Taking Chances about the legacy of independent storytelling.
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