Amazon Nabs Rights to ‘Manchester by the Sea’ at Sundance

Manchester by the Sea Sundance 2016
Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival/Fox Searchlight/A24

UPDATE: Amazon has closed a deal for domestic rights to Kenneth Lonergan’s acclaimed “Manchester by the Sea.” Bidding reached $10 million and Amazon will have to find a theatrical distributor. It’s committed to an awards season campaign, as Oscar buzz is already following the pic. Variety first reported Amazon’s bid.

Fox Searchlight and Focus Features were also in the mix for the drama about a grief-stricken Boston handyman (Casey Affleck). WME handled sales. Other distributors, such as the Weinstein Co. and Broad Green, did not bid. The film also drew early interest from Tri-Star, but no offer. Foreign rights to the film are still available.

“Manchester by the Sea” is the much anticipated return of Kenneth Lonergan, the writer and director of “You Can Count on Me.” The release of Lonergan’s most recent effort “Margaret” was delayed for years as the filmmaker struggled to turn his story of a teenager in crisis into a manageable length. When it finally debuted in theaters in 2011 via Fox Searchlight it received strong reviews, with some critics labeling it a “masterpiece,” but sank at the box office and failed to generate awards attention.

Not so “Manchester by the Sea.” Although the 2017 Oscars are still 13 months away, awards prognosticators were already predicting that the film could be a best picture candidate and that Affleck’s tortured central performance had a strong chance of being recognized by the Academy. In his review, Variety critic Justin Chang called the film a “superbly grounded and acted third effort” for Lonergan.

The deal provides a welcome spark to a Sundance market that has been proceeding at a glacial pace. High-profile pictures such as “Swiss Army Man” with Daniel Radcliffe have been derided as aggressively uncommercial, and digital players such as Amazon and Netflix have injected most of the energy into the market by snapping up streaming rights to films.