As Sundance 2018 kicks into high gear, it comes at a pivotal time for the movie industry. Independent films, for the most part, aren’t the box office darlings they used to be. Only a small handful of titles are able to break through at the box office each year (like “The Big Sick” or “Lady Bird”). There’s also a cultural shift taking place for women in Hollywood, following the public exposure of men like Harvey Weinstein, who allegedly sexually harassed and assaulted dozens.
Sundance has always celebrated diverse voices, and the 2018 edition of the festival is no different. This year, 38% of movies here are directed by women and 32% of movies are from non-white directors. Here are the five biggest questions facing studios and filmmakers as the festival launches.
1. Will Amazon and Netflix Continue to Dominate the Market?
The past two Sundances have been tales of two streaming giants. Flush with cash, Amazon and Netflix have nabbed most of the festival’s hottest titles, paying high seven figures and eight figures for the likes of “Mudbound,” “The Big Sick,” “Manchester by the Sea,” and “Icarus,” while leaving more traditional studios to fight for scraps. That may be changing, however. Amazon is producing more movies and buying fewer completed films, and Netflix has faced some pushback from filmmakers who don’t want their work to debut on the streaming platform with only a nominal theatrical run. If Amazon and Netflix stop writing checks, will a new player enter the fray promising big paydays? And after months of throat clearing about producing original content, could Apple or Facebook finally make a splash? The time may be ripe for a new digital goliath to emerge.
2. Will Fox Searchlight Splurge Again?
The indie label has been a force at past Sundances, but a looming sale of its parent studio, 20th Century Fox, to Disney could make the company wary of breaking out the checkbook. That might be a good thing. Searchlight has made several bad deals at recent Sundances, splurging millions on “Patti Cake$,” “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” and “The Birth of a Nation” only to see them bomb at the box office. Recent Searchlight hits such as “The Shape of Water” and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” were all developed internally, which may be a safer way to go.
3. Will Sundance Kick off the 2019 Oscars?
Last year’s Sundance unveiled a record number of awards contenders, including “Call Me by Your Name,” “Get Out,” “Mudbound,” and “The Big Sick.” And recent editions of the festival have seen the debuts of such Oscars best picture contenders as “Boyhood,” “Whiplash,” “Manchester by the Sea,” and “Brooklyn.” It’s not just that the movies playing at Sundance have gotten better. It’s that, in the last decade or so, the Oscars have gone decidedly more independent. Among the buzzier titles that could be among next year’s awards darlings: “Juliet, Naked,” a comedy adapted from a Nick Hornby novel, starring Ethan Hawke; “Monsters and Men,” a drama about the justice system; and “The Miseducation of Cameron Post,” a gay conversion therapy drama starring Chloe Grace Moretz.
4. How Political Will Sundance Be?
Donald Trump, and the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements will likely loom large at this year’s festival. It’s been quite a year for Hollywood. The Weinstein scandal has exposed a series of sexual harassers and abusers, and galvanized women in the industry who are sick of being under-paid, under-represented, and subjected to hostile work environments. There’s already a women’s march planned for Saturday morning, and it stands to reason that there will be a lot of fiery speeches when filmmakers and festival organizers take the stage to premiere new films.
5. Who Will be the Sundance Breakout Stars?
Twelve months ago, a mention of Timothee Chalamet’s name drew blank stares. Now, he’s a certified Oscar contender thanks to “Call Me by Your Name.” Throughout its history, Sundance has been a launching pad for promising talent. Directors such as Quentin Tarantino, Ryan Coogler, and Dee Rees all got their starts at the mountainside festival, while actors such as Jennifer Lawrence, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Michael B. Jordan have all emerged as performers to watch following buzzy turns in Sundance favorites. Who will join their ranks this time?