Winter storms weren’t the only things causing headaches during the first week of the Sundance Film Festival. Buyers were griping that the movies being screened at this year’s gathering were aggressively uncommercial and that agents were pushing for wide releases and big paydays for films that will appeal only to small audiences.
Then there were the political issues. The inauguration overshadowed what was intended to be a celebration of artists, and inspired protestors to storm Main Street for the Women’s March. The events over the past few days also pointed to a political divide that has left many filmmakers feeling out of touch with the people who elected a president seen as being hostile to diversity, the environment, and free speech — touchstones for the Sundance faithful.
“Welcome to the bubble,” festival director John Cooper quipped at one film premiere.
But there is another kind of bubble in the mountains. Prices for movies continue to rise, fueled by Netflix, Amazon Studios, Apple, and other digital players who can pay top dollar without worrying about the need to make money at the box office. Even PepsiCo was at this year’s festival looking for content to help it sell soft drinks. That has left more traditional companies like Sony Pictures Classics and Fox Searchlight struggling to offer competitive bids while still trying to make a profit.
On screen, the gems are getting harder to find. One studio executive griped that there are too many films about eating disorders, unstable war veterans, and terrorism — topics that don’t exactly scream a fun night at the movies. “Nobody is going to see this stuff,” the exec said.
Here are the winners and losers from Sundance 2017 so far.
‘The Big Sick’
This romantic comedy co-written by Kumail
Nanjiani of “Silicon Valley,” about a Pakistani-American who tends to his sick girlfriend (Zoe Kazan), scored big laughs and sold in a
massive $12 million deal to Amazon Studios.
‘The Yellow Birds’
Heading into Sundance, this Iraq War drama was on most buyers’ must-see lists. Then it screened. Critics shrugged, audiences were indifferent, and most of the cast — including Jennifer Aniston, Toni Collette, and Alden Ehrenreich — didn’t bother to show up.
‘Call Me by Your Name’
This gay love story, starring Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer, was rapturously received. Sony Pictures Classics owns the rights to the film that drew comparisons to “Carol” and boasts stunning shots of the Italian countryside.
Buyers are underwhelmed by this year’s batch of films so far, calling it one of the weakest festivals in recent memory. There is no “Manchester by the Sea” or “Brooklyn” in sight.
The goliath continued to loom large at Sundance, arriving here with eight finished projects, including the opening night comedy “I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore,” and picking up several more, such as the documentary “Chasing Coral” and “Fun Mom Dinner.”
A torrent of snow left festivalgoers frustrated, Uber prices surging, and the roadways nearly impassable, causing scheduling headaches and lots of shivering, sniffling A-listers.