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‘CODA’ Sparking Sundance Bidding War Following Rapturous Premiere — How High Can It Go?

CODA
CODA/Courtesy of Sundance Institute

CODA,” a drama about a teenage girl who is the only hearing person in her family, is sparking an intense bidding war following its crowd-pleasing debut at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. The movie has been praised for featuring deaf performers in key roles, and saw emotionally-charged social media reactions. That will likely mean that the film will snag an eye-popping number when a deal is finally signed, although negotiations are ongoing with multiple parties expressing interest.

The film and its likely sale is a litmus test for how robust the market will be during a virtual version of Sundance after the festival made the decision to go largely digital due to COVID-19.

Traditional prestige labels like Disney’s Searchlight and Universal’s Focus Features made no formal offers after streaming giants like Netflix and Apple Studios entered the fray, insiders said. Amazon kicked the tires but has a jammed 2021 release calendar, and would likely not be able to accommodate a release and subsequent awards campaign this year, individuals familiar with the talks said. It’s possible that some studios that initially stepped away, put off by a price tag that could reach record heights, may reassess and re-enter the fight to land “CODA.”

The film, which kicked off the festival, may not have unspooled at the Eccles Theater, the main hub of moviegoing during Sundance, but it enjoyed a rapturous reception. On social media, film cognoscenti were quick to declare the film a hit, with the potential to break out into the mainstream, and reviewers followed up with overwhelmingly positive notices.

Variety’s Owen Gleiberman was effusive, calling the film a “gem.”

“In many ways, it’s a highly conventional film, with tailored story arcs that crest and resolve just so, and emotional peaks and valleys that touch big fat rounded chords of inspiration,” he wrote. “Yet the movie, written and directed by Siân Heder (it’s a remake of the 2014 French film ‘La Famille Bélier’), brings this all off with such sincerity and precision, and the film is so enthrallingly well-acted, that you may come away feeling grateful that this kind of mainstream dramatic craftsmanship still exists.”

Distributors seemed to agree, and there was a widespread belief that “CODA” has awards potential, with some insiders even predicting a date with the Oscars. To that end, the filmmakers are angling for some sort of theatrical release and contention in the 2021 awards season.

Heder directed the film and wrote the script. The cast includes Emilia Jones, Troy Kotsur, Marlee Matlin, Eugenio Derbez, Daniel Durant, Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Amy Forsyth, and Kevin Chapman.