Saturday, September 23

Everything You Need to Know from Sundance

As another Sundance Festival draws to a close, albeit one that looks a little different from the heady celebrity-packed buzz we are used to, what should you know about this year’s festival? Our Blake & Wang P.A entertainment lawyer, Brandon Blake, brings you some festival highlights

Digital Festival

Sundance has, of course, been the launch pad for many a film and career over its long history. For many, the decision to return to an all-digital screening was understandable, but disappointing, and it has sadly stripped a lot of the vibe and magic from the event, sensible as the decision was.

Luckily, we can assign no fault to Sundance itself. They went above and beyond to ensure critics, digital attendees, and the nominated teams and films got the very best possible treatment and showcase from the festival itself. It’s just a little bit of lost shine that can’t be helped. On the plus side, many critics and attendees consumed far more videos than they would at an in-person event, and at least that’s something.

Diversity and Technology Were Strong Themes

There can be little surprise that many entries in this year’s festival took themes of inclusion, diversity, and representation to heart, as it’s been an industry buzzword for the last few years. Not all delivered on the promise, however. Mars One was widely seen as a strong contender, but has suffered a little through clear signaling of every major plot moment long before you reach it. It’s still a solid film, but not quite as attention-grabbing as had been hoped. Likewise, We Met in Virtual Reality has failed to live up to its premise, for all it tackled an intriguing set of modern issues. It was shot entirely on the platform VR Chat, and frankly, the gimmick got a little old over time, too.

Horror Representing

On the flip side, You Won’t Be Alone merely advertised itself as a horror, yet contained interesting and human themes impeccably wrought throughout what turned into a very interesting film. While the Terrance Malik influence is clear, it’s still well worth the watch. While they didn’t have the unexpected depth, Fresh and Master both gained a lot of traction in the genre, too.

Award Winners and Buys

At the end of the day, however, who took home the prizes? It was no surprise to anyone to see Nanny take the dramatic grand prize, something we wouldn’t have seen from a self-described horror-thriller a few years ago, while The Exiles dominated the documentary side. A little more surprising was the audience award recipient, Cha Cha Real Smooth, which Apple has already jumped on and which we will doubtless see a lot more of later in the year. Navalny, following Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s life, took the corresponding documentary award.

Other key names to watch include Bolivia’s Utama, and Finland’s Girl Picture. Comedic thriller Emergency took the screenwriting award, and will doubtless get industry traction this year too. Meanwhile CODA, another property Apple eagerly ate up, continues to wow all comers.

While acquisitions were more difficult to gauge in the all-virtual environment this year, we did see a flurry of activity from Apple and Searchlight Picture’s pricey acquisition of Good Luck to You, Leo Grande. Sony shelled out for Living, a generally well-received Bill Nighy film.

With the first key festival of the year now at a close, where to from here? We enter the flurry of Awards season, and then on to new pastures. As always, we’ll be here, keeping you informed.