You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

IFF Panama: Sundance Institute Reinforces its Global Reach

PANAMA CITY — Paul Federbush, international director, Sundance Feature Film Program, andLaura Michalchyshyn, at Sundance Productions, delivered a presentation at IFF Panama, moderated by Diana Sanchez, focusing on how the changing media landscape has created new opportunities for filmmakers, in particular in regions such as Latin America.

“I’m very interested in this part of the world and the talent here,” said Michalchyshyn.

The rise of streaming platforms such as Netflix, Amazon and Hulu, and new entrants such as Disney Plus and WarnerMedia has radically transformed the business, with a shift of the center of gravity from movies to TV series and with increasing potential for non-U.S. content to circulate internationally.

Federbush explained that this new environment was one of the factors that stimulated the Sundance Institute to reinforce its international strategy.

Both Federbush and Michalchyshyn underlined the potential of the Latin American market and Spanish-language films and series in particular, citing the fact that there are currently 44 Spanish-language series on Netflix.

The Sundance Institute recently organized a screenwriting lab during the Havana Film Festival, which had three-to-four projects, each with its own script consultant. A bigger story lab has also been organized since the 1990s in the Morelia Film Festival in Mexico, with a 50/50 split between scripted and documentary projects.

“Latin America is such a huge region, we probably need to establish a couple of hubs here,” suggested Federbush. “We don’t have a hub in Panama right now, but filmmakers from here can attend our labs in Morelia, for example.”

The Sundance Institute has also reinforced its digital initiatives, including an online learning platform with episodic master classes, that are open to filmmakers around the world.

“We don’t just organize a lab and then forget you,” said Federbush. “If you attend the  screenwriting lab, you have subsequent online support and can go to directing, music or producing labs. We don’t give production grants, but we give momentum grants. You can come back to see us, cut after cut. We connect you with editing advisers.”

Latin American filmmakers who have attended Sundance labs include Mexican-El Salvador director Tatiana Huezo (“Tempestad”) and Chilean directors Marcela Said (“Los Perros”) and Francesca Alegria (“And the Whole Sky Fits in the Dead Cow’s Eye” – which won the Sundance 2017 Short Film Jury Award: International Fiction).

Michalchyshyn talked about her experience with platforms – such as Netflix, for her recent series “Bobby Kennedy for President,” and with HBO, for “Momentum Generation.”

“It’s one of the best times to be a creative. But it’s also terrifyingly difficult. The entry points aren’t easy,” she said, “Who do you phone at Netflix or Amazon? Even for me, it’s hard. The executives are changing every six months. It’s very difficult to keep track.”

Michalchyshyn underlined the importance of identifying executives responsible for specific regions in a platform such as Netflix – rather than trying to contact LA.

She also emphasized the importance of packaging, with A list talent in key positions or as executive producers. “Platforms like Netflix or Amazon don’t have the bandwidth in their teams to develop projects. They won’t spend money on developing scripts. You need to put together a complete package that they can greenlight.”

She explained that to pitch the $4 million “Bobby Kennedy” series to Netflix, she put together a five-minute trailer, a 35 page treatment and a detailed bible for a six hour series including the subject list and interviews. Netflix said it preferred a four-hour series, and then approved it, but with a 12-month deadline to complete everything, to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Bobby Kennedy’s assassination.

“Netflix is a completely different mindset from the studios or cable channels. They need 150 hours of original programming every quarter. It’s a machine. They take all rights worldwide, no negotiation. They have buyers in the main territories for features and docs.”

The Sundance Institute has recently launched a TV series lab, sponsored by players such as HBO, Showtime, Netflix and Amazon and a Web series lab sponsored by YouTube.

“Movies have lost their prominence,” admitted Federbush. “Series are guiding the streamers. Movies are an afterthought. That’s disturbing for me, as a film snob. But I think for talent it can offer great opportunities.”

Notwithstanding the rise in importance of series, both executives emphasized the importance of using film festivals to create visibility.

Federbush nonetheless suggested that it can still be difficult for festival films to reach a broader audience, citing the example of Chilean 2018 foreign-language Oscar winner “A Fantastic Woman” which had a narrow arthouse release.

Budgeting for festivals and marketing is nonetheless vital. Michalchyshyn said that an independent feature should reserve at least $5,000 and that for “Bobby Kennedy” she had a $50,000 festival and PR spend.

At the extreme end of the spectrum, she cited the example of Netflix’s promotional spend on “Roma” during the Academy Awards. She estimated that the production budget was $15 million but the full promotional spend was around $75 million.

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez star

    Jennifer Lopez's 'Criminal' Striptease: How 'Hustlers' Landed the Fiona Apple Hit

    Contrary to what you might be expecting, the number of songs by Jennifer Lopez, Lizzo and Cardi B in “Hustlers,” their newly released acting vehicle, adds up to … zero. Meanwhile, the standout music sync in a movie that’s full of them belongs to no less likely a choice than Fiona Apple. The scene in [...]

  • Game of Thrones Season 8

    'Game of Thrones,' 'Avengers' Win Big at 45th Annual Saturn Awards

    As Jamie Lee Curtis picked up her first trophy ever at the 45th Annual Saturn Awards Friday night, she had a good luck charm on her arm: former manager Chuck Binder, whom she said was the reason she became an actor. “I was in college and had no thought of being an actor,” Curtis told [...]

  • Jennifer Lopez and Constance Wu star

    Box Office: 'Hustlers' Dances Toward $32 Million Opening Weekend

    “Hustlers” is eyeing the biggest opening weekend ever for STXFilms, following a Friday domestic ticket haul of $13.1 million from 3,250 theaters. If estimates hold, the stripper saga could take home around $32 million come Sunday, marking the best live-action opening of Jennifer Lopez’s career. “Hustlers” follows a group of former strip club dancers, led [...]

  • Hustlers intimacy coordinator

    Meet the Stripper Consultant Who Gave 'Hustlers' Authenticity, Dignity and Sexual Freedom

    At last week’s Toronto Film Festival premiere of “Hustlers,” an audience of Hollywood heavyweights and Canadian locals applauded as a statuesque woman strutted on stage, rocking six-inch platform heels and a pastel tie-dye bodysuit. This adoration was not for stars Jennifer Lopez, Constance Wu or Keke Palmer, nor was it for the film’s acclaimed writer-director [...]

  • Kristen Stewart

    French Director Olivier Assayas Pays Tribute to Kristen Stewart at Deauville

    French director Olivier Assayas paid tribute to Kristen Stewart, whom he directed in “Clouds of Sils Maria” and “Personal Shopper,” at the Deauville American Film Festival on Friday evening. Stewart received a honorary award in Deauville before the French premiere of Benedict Andrews’s “Seberg” in which the actress stars as Jean Seberg, a French New [...]

  • Liam Gallagher: As It Was

    Film Review: 'Liam Gallagher: As It Was'

    Liam Gallagher is nearly as fascinating a rock ‘n’ roll figure as he thinks he is … which is saying a lot. After the breakup of Oasis, one of the most self-avowedly arrogant stars in pop culture found himself severely humbled, fighting to become relevant again without the help of Noel, his ex-bandmate and, for [...]

  • The Vast of Night

    Toronto Film Review: 'The Vast of Night'

    It’s the first high school basketball game of the season and all of Cayuga, N.M., population 492, is cheering on the Statesmen at the gym. Except for the town’s two brightest kids, Everett (Jake Horowitz) and Fay (Sierra McCormick), who are strolling through the empty darkness to their respective jobs as a radio DJ and [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content