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5 Key Takeaways From the 2019 Sundance Film Festival

Studios hit Sundance with their checkbooks firmly in hand. It was a weekend of frenzied dealmaking, with Hollywood players showing an unexpected willingness to shell out big money for the chance to find the next indie film breakout. Here are five takeaways after five days in Park City.

1. Era of the Mega-Deal Returns
It’s a seller’s market again. Mindy Kaling’s comedy “Late Night” scored a $13 million pact for U.S. rights, Adam Driver’s political thriller “The Report” earned a $14 million global deal, and “Blinded by the Light,” a love letter to Bruce Springsteen, racked up a $15 million worldwide payday. The eye-popping deals are surprising, because studios had been more conservative in recent years, having been burned by the likes of “The Birth of a Nation” and “Patti Cake$,” which took Sundance by storm only to crash on the shoals of public indifference when they hit theaters.

2. Amazon Is Back
The streaming giant scored with its statement-making purchases of “Late Night” and “The Report,” two films it believes can deliver with critics and at the box office. It was also in the mix for “Blinded by the Light” and the Awkwafina comedy “The Farewell,” showing a fresh aggressiveness on the acquisitions front
after largely sitting out the all-night bidding wars in Toronto and Cannes.

When Jennifer Salke, a former NBC Entertainment president, took over as head of Amazon Studios, industry observers suspected she would put most of her attention on television. After all the activity at Sundance, it looks like they may have been wrong.

3. Female Directors Soar
It’s the year of the woman at Sundance.

Most of the festival’s buzziest releases, a group that includes Nisha Ganatra’s “Late Night,” Gurinder Chadha’s “Blinded by the Light” and Lulu Wang’s “The Farewell,” all hail from female filmmakers. Moreover, at a time when women directed just four of the top 100 grossing movies in 2018, 45% of this year’s Sundance entries had female directors. Hollywood take note.

4. Robert Redford Takes a Back Seat
Sundance’s opening day press conference is usually an opportunity for Redford to hold forth on the state of the movie business. Instead, the festival founder made only brief opening remarks before ceding the stage to his programming team. “I think we’re at a point where I can move on to a different place,” he said. Having announced his retirement from film acting, the 82-year-old Redford appears to be dialing down his Sundance duties too.

5. Docs Sizzle
“Late Night” and “Blinded by the Light” may have scored the richest deals, but it was explosive documentaries about political fixers (“Where’s My Roy Cohn?”), sex therapists (“Ask Dr. Ruth”), and Michael Jackson (“Leaving Neverland”) that made the biggest waves.

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