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Sundance Opens With Hot Titles Selling Fast

Sundance Film Festival The Witch

Before a single film had officially been shown at Sundance, the market was already heating up with five high-profile titles already off the table or in a position to sell.

Variety has confirmed that A24 is in pursuit of “End of the Tour,” starring Jason Segel as David Foster Wallace and Jesse Eisenberg as a Rolling Stone journalist interviewing him. Two weeks ago, Fox Searchlight picked up Noah Baumbach’s “Mistress America.” Magnolia landed “Results,” a comedy starring Guy Pearce as a personal trainer. Lionsgate bought “Don Verdean,” a comedy that mixes archaeology and religion from the creators of “Napoleon Dynamite,” and Relativity Sports scooped the documentary “In Football We Trust,” which focuses on football in Salt Lake City’s Polynesian community.

Sundance doesn’t officially start until Thursday evening, when three films start to screen. But an already robust market could grow even stronger on opening night if “The Bronze,” a raunchy comedy about washed-up gymnasts, lives up to its pre-festival hype. Several prominent distributors have already expressed interest in the picture, and their acquisitions teams will be amply represented in the packed crowd at the Eccles Theatre on Thursday night. The film has been so closely guarded that some of its cast will see it for the first time at Sundance.

There’s also been considerable heat around “The Witch,” which is hosting an early Thursday evening screening for potential buyers. The gory drama, set in 1630 New England, has the makings of a cult pic for horror fans.

Buyers are also enthusiastic about “The D-Train,” which premieres on Friday and is considered one of the more commercial projects. The film stars Jack Black and centers on a high school reunion gone wrong.

All this activity is in marked contrast to last year’s festival, when the biggest sale — Roadside Attraction’s acquisition of “The Skeleton Twins” — netted only $3.5 million. It also comes on the heels of a fairly tepid Toronto Film Festival market (where one of the biggest selling titles, “She’s Funny That Way,” wasn’t even an official selection).

It seems that modest results for recent top-selling festival titles like “Top Five” and “Begin Again” have done nothing to dissuade would-be buyers.

Some hotly anticipated titles already have distribution via television or streaming outlets. Netflix is unveiling its Nina Simone doc, “What Happened, Miss Simone,” on opening night. And “Going Clear,” Alex Gibney’s controversial dive into the world of Scientology, will be broadcast on HBO.