Niche pic pacts keep Sundance humming

Fest sees bigger players leave empty-handed

Sundance deals scorecard

Deals were plentiful at Sundance this year for smaller distribs and minimajors adept at platform releases. Hot titles that got snapped up include dark comedy “The Details” (the Weinstein Co.), Irish laffer “The Guard” (Sony Classics) and sci-fi romance “Another Earth” (Fox Searchlight), and those were among a swath of deals for niche distribs looking to fill pipelines.

But pics that inked distribution deals came with elements that make them a marketing challenge. Sony Classics will re-loop “The Guard,” due to its characters speaking with a strong Irish brogue. The reception for “The Details” was mixed, and the black relationship comedy may make for a hard sell, while “Another Earth,” despite its mix of genres, at least earned praise from festgoers.

But “niche” is the key here — like every Sundance, most of the films sold turn on less-than-commercial themes, and a chunk of well-recieved pics dealt with the hot-button topic of religion.

The Park City fest has never been known for screening overtly commerical fare, yet industryites were still surprised when the indie biz’s newest heavyweights, Relativity and FilmNation, remained quiet as few fest titles were able to fulfill their business models based on wide releases.

Still, a couple films did generate interest from bigger distribs. “Like Crazy,” toplining Anton Yelchin and Felicity Jones, found a home at Paramount; and “The Devil’s Double” was picked up by Lionsgate with Relativity and Summit hot for the pic.

For those out scouting talent, Park City has always been a great place to catch future stars and rising helmers — such as Elizabeth Olsen, Brit Marling and director Sean Durkin — and discovering new faces and filmmakers may be why Disney topper Rich Ross made an appearance early on in the fest.

But it was a good year for distribs that were patient and able to offer more than a straight theatrical deal, sweetening the pot with attractive P&A commitments or touting a hybrid theatrical/VOD distribution model.

Sundance films will screen for buyers in New York and L.A. in the coming weeks, and with Berlin and Cannes on the horizon, Relativity’s Ryan Kavanaugh and FilmDistrict’s Peter Schlessel and Bob Berney may yet write some checks.