Sundance Autism Doc ‘Life, Animated’ Sells to The Orchard (EXCLUSIVE)

Life Animated Sundance 2016
Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival

Life, Animated,” one of the most buzzed about documentaries to premiere at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, has sold its North American rights to The Orchard, Variety has learned.

The project, which is produced by A&E IndieFilms, follows a young man with autism named Owen Suskind (the son of best-selling author Ron Suskind), who finds meaning in life through Disney movies such as “Aladdin” and “Alice in Wonderland.” Although the documentary was not produced by Disney, the studio allowed director Roger Ross Williams to access their animated catalogue for footage. The film and its crowd-pleasing premise had many studio buyers interested, with some describing it as more commercial than most non-fiction films tend to be. “Life, Animated” won the directing award in the U.S. documentary competition, and has already been talked about as a contender for next year’s Oscars ceremony. The Orchard will give it a theatrical release later this year.

“Life, Animated” was produced by Julie Goldman and Williams, and executive producers include Molly Thompson, Robert DeBitetto, Robert Sharenow and Ron Suskind. The Orchard, a subsidiary of Sony Music Entertainment, has moved aggressively into the film space over the last year, nabbing the sex comedy “The Overnight” and picking up an Oscar nomination for the drug-war documentary “Cartel Land” (also produced by A&E). Both of those film’s screened at last year’s Sundance Film Festival. This year, they’ve once again been an active buyer, landing rights the coming-of-age dramatic comedy “The Hunt For Wilderpeople.”

“’Life, Animated is a deeply inspiring and emotional film that hooked us from the outset,” said Paul Davidson, SVP of Film and TV at The Orchard. “Not only are we thrilled to be working with Roger and Julie to share Owen’s story with audiences, but ecstatic to be partnering once again with our friends at A&E Indie Films.”

Williams won the 2010 Academy Award for his documentary short subject film “Music by Prudence.” His latest feature film “God Loves Uganda” premiered at Sundance and was short-listed for a 2014 Academy Award.

The deal was negotiated by Danielle DiGiacomo, vice president of acquisitions for The Orchard, and Josh Braun of Submarine.