You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

A Changing Film Market Raises the Pressure for Sundance Indies to Succeed (Column)

Regretfully, I never go to the Sundance Film Festival anymore because I need to mind the editorial store back home, knowing that our crack team of reporters and critics will be filing great scoops and reviews while freezing their butts off (sorry!).

I have lots of fond memories from the days when I frequented Park City, including the year (1989) I met and chatted up Steven Soderbergh when he premiered his directorial debut, “sex, lies, and videotape,” at the festival. Starring James Spader and Andie MacDowell, the film won the Audience Award and went on to score the Palme d’Or at Cannes, and then an Oscar nomination.

As important as all the critical acclaim, the film became a big box office hit relative to its low cost, with some $25 million in ticket sales. Why that was so vitally important was that the movie’s financial success sent a strong message to the bean counters in Hollywood that, hell, independent films can be very profitable.

Unfortunately, today, the theatrical market for indie fare is so challenged. That just kills me because we need these pictures to flourish in a world where we are barraged weekend after weekend by one mindless superhero movie after the next.

What’s happened is that streaming giants Netflix and Amazon have swooped in and started paying big bucks for indie films, upsetting the ecosystem. They didn’t need these movies to be successful at the multiplex; their financial models are built on either adding subscribers or selling paper towels. In the process, indie distributors like Sony Pictures Classics, Neon and Bleecker Street are left to pick up the scraps. There are still films that break through — “The Favourite,” “Hereditary” and “Eighth Grade” — but most indie movies sort of vanish without a trace. Just look at the “big” sales from last year’s Sundance: “Blindspotting,” “Colette,” “Juliet, Naked” and “Wildlife” got solid reviews and landed sizable deals, but almost nobody went to see them in theaters. Consequently, indie distributors are struggling to decide which movies warrant theatrical releases these days, since so much streaming content is available.

Hopefully, this year’s festival will turn out creative gems that will also soar at the box office!

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • 1982 El Gouna Festival

    Egypt's El Gouna Film Festival Puts Arab Helmers at Center Stage

    The upbeat state of Arab cinema will be on the screen and in the balmy air at Egypt’s El Gouna Film Festival (Sept. 19-27), which is steadily gaining traction in its stated ambition to become a key platform and solid driver for Middle-East producers. “This year was one the best for Arab cinema,” says Intishal [...]

  • Star Skipper Paramount Animation

    Meet Star Skipper, Paramount Animation's Magical New Trademark Logo Character

    Studio logos are powerful signals to audiences.  Multiple generations of moviegoers flipping through channels or scanning streaming titles have frozen at the sight of a desk lamp hopping across the screen, because it means a Pixar movie is about to play. Likewise, when a young boy lounging inside a crescent moon casts his fishing line into [...]

  • Sybil

    Cannes Competition Movie 'Sibyl' Finds North American Home With Music Box (EXCLUSIVE)

    Music Box Films has acquired the U.S. and Canadian rights to Justine Triet’s darkly comic drama “Sibyl,” which competed at Cannes and had its North American premiere at Toronto in the Special Presentation section. Represented in international markets by mk2, the film follows the ambiguous relationship between Sibyl, a jaded psychotherapist (Virginie Efira, “An Impossible [...]

  • Kent Jones Directs 'Diane'

    Kent Jones to Exit New York Film Festival (EXCLUSIVE)

    In a surprise move, New York Film Festival’s director and selection committee chair of seven years Kent Jones will step down following this year’s 57th edition, which runs Sept. 27-Oct. 13. The departure comes as Jones’ feature filmmaking career is taking off. Issues of potential conflicts of interest have arisen as his work has moved [...]

  • Ava-Mark-Split

    Ava DuVernay, Mark Ruffalo Selected for SAG-AFTRA Foundation Honors

    Ava DuVernay and Mark Ruffalo have been selected by the SAG-AFTRA Foundation for its fourth Annual Patron of the Artists Awards. The awards will be presented on Nov. 7 at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills. The show benefits the nonprofit SAG-AFTRA Foundation and is not televised. Previous SAG-AFTRA Foundation Patron of the [...]

  • Wes Anderson

    Fox Searchlight Buys Wes Anderson's 'The French Dispatch'

    Fox Searchlight Pictures has acquired worldwide rights to Wes Anderson’s “The French Dispatch,” extending the indie studio’s long collaboration with the filmmaker. The company has released four of Anderson’s films, including his two most recent pictures, “Isle of Dogs” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” “The French Dispatch” is described as “a love letter to journalists” [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content