No one quite knows what to expect of the 40th edition of the Sundance Film Festival, the first major fest following the end of the dual Hollywood strikes.
The strikes, which stopped production during the months when many Sundance features normally film, have had some impact on the lineup of U.S.-produced titles, with insiders noting that many titles needed some more time, post-strikes, to finish production than the Sundance submissions deadlines allowed. A slimmed U.S. Dramatic Competition section is now 10 films, down from 13.
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As for sales, a top agent pegs this year’s market as landing “somewhere between last year’s Sundance and this year’s Toronto.” That is to say, there likely will be several big sellers like Chloe Domont’s Fair Play (Sundance) and Richard Linklater’s Hitman (Toronto), both of which landed at Netflix in big eight-figure deals, followed by a long tail of negotiations on smaller deals that will come together after the Utah snow has long melted from everyone’s boots.
The studios, meanwhile, are contending with more spartan 2024 release calendars, with insiders noting a greater need for “shoulder programming” to fill in the gaps around their still-shifting tentpoles.
Whatever form Sundance dealmaking takes, these are the titles most likely to entice buyers out of their post-strike malaise.
A Real Pain
DIRECTORS Jesse Eisenberg
STARS Jesse Eisenberg, Kieran Culkin, Will Sharpe
BUZZ The second directorial effort from Eisenberg is a family drama with hints of a road trip comedy. He and Culkin, fresh off multiple wins for the last season of Succession, play cousins who take a tour of their late grandmother’s native Poland.
SALES WME Independent, CAA Media Finance
DIRECTORS Angela Patton, Natalie Rae
BUZZ Centering on a unique, Washington, D.C.-based program that pairs incarcerated fathers with their daughters, this doc follows four girls and their dads as they take dancing lessons ahead of a prison Daddy Daughter Dance.
SALES Submarine, CAA Media Finance
DIRECTOR Sean Wang
STARS Izaac Wang, Joan Chen, Shirley Chen
BUZZ A small coming-of-age story with hints of Eighth Grade, this title from first-time feature filmmaker Wang is set in 2008 in Fremont, California, and revolves around a 13-year-old Taiwanese-American boy during the last week of summer ahead of starting high school. Blindspotting director Carlos López Estrada produces.
SALES UTA Independent Film Group, WME Independent
DIRECTOR Titus Kaphar
STARS André Holland, Andra Day
BUZZ Kaphar, a fine artist with work at MoMA, makes his directorial debut with this drama about a Black artist who is beginning to gain success when his estranged father reappears in his life.
SALES UTA Indie Film Group
DIRECTOR Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck
STARS Pedro Pascal, Jay Ellis
BUZZ A big, genre blending feature told in four chapters, the latest from Boden and Fleck is easily one of the highest concepts on the mountain. Set in 1987 Oakland, Freaky Tales follows a cast of characters, including punk rockers, a soon-to-be retired fixer, and the NBA All-Star Sleepy Floyd, as they fight back against the evil forces in the city.
SALES WME Independent
It’s What’s Inside
DIRECTOR Greg Jardin
STARS Brittany O’Grady, James Morosini
BUZZ This Gen Z horror thriller could be this year’s Talk to Me, the Aussie horror film that sparked a bidding war in Park City last year and is now being eyed as a franchise. This ensemble piece focuses on a pre-wedding party where an estranged friend makes an unexpected appearance.
SALES CAA Media Finance
DIRECTORS Sam and Andy Zuchero
STARS Kristen Stewart, Steven Yeun
BUZZ This dystopian relationship drama is nothing if not unique: Taking place after humanity’s collapse, the film follows a satellite and buoy (don’t ask) as they fall in love. If the premise isn’t enough to draw buyer interest, the presence of Stewart and Yeun will.
SALES WME Independent, 2AM
My Old Ass
DIRECTOR Megan Park
STARS Maisy Stella, Aubrey Plaza
BUZZ Hailing from the current production company du jour, Margot Robbie’s LuckyChap, this coming-of-age comedy centers on a teen who, after a mushroom trip, is able to speak with her older self and receives a warning about her first love.
SALES CAA Media Finance
DIRECTOR Steven Soderbergh
STARS Lucy Liu, Julia Fox, Chris Sullivan
BUZZ The veteran helmer’s latest, written by blockbuster Jurassic Park screenwriter David Koepp (who most recently teamed with Soderbergh on 2022’s Kimi), follows a family who moves to the suburbs, only to become convinced they’re not alone in their new home.
Super/Man: The Christopher Reeve Story
DIRECTOR Ian Bonhôte, Peter Ettedgui
BUZZ Bio-docs continue to be of major interest for distributors. And while this year’s line-up features fewer entries than years past, the title centering on the Superman actor, who became paralyzed after an accident in 1995, could be a major get. Ettedgui and Bonhôte, whose non-fiction work includes McQueen, had access to Reeve’s archives and the family’s home videos.
DIRECTOR Josh Margolin
STARS June Squibb, Fred Hechinger
BUZZ Easily one of the most commercial titles at the fest (it has been described as a nonagenarian Mission: Impossible), this action-comedy stars Squibb as a 90-something grandmother out for revenge after being scammed by someone claiming to be her grandson. It features Richard Roundtree in one of his final roles.
SALES CAA Media Finance
Will & Harper
DIRECTOR Josh Greenbaum
BUZZ A road trip doc about friends re-connecting after a major life event, and those friends just happen to be Will Ferrell and former SNL writer Harper Steele. Following Steele coming out as a trans woman, the duo comes together for a cross-country trip where they talk in-depth about their friendship and the experience of being trans in America.
SALES UTA Independent Film Group
This story first appeared in the Jan. 18 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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