Sundance returned to Park City, Utah, this year in the flesh (and blood). Thank In My Mother’s Skin, a cannibalistic fairy tale from Filipino director Kenneth Dagatan, for the latter. After a couple years of COVID-related virtual festivals and big-ticket deals made from a social distance, Hollywood-studio bigwigs, A24 execs, and the streamers are back at the festival and vying for rights to the hottest movies in the dead of January. Could the industry be rattled by the somewhat bleak 2022 — what with Omicron and half-empty theaters causing less public engagement and lower revenues — leading decision-makers to broker increasingly modest deals and avoid bidding wars? Could a particularly splashy hit (or two?) ride the wave of a successful premiere and get snatched up for tons of money? Will multiple movies make a wave, setting themselves up for pricey distribution deals, theatrical or otherwise? Based on the pricey acquisitions, it looks like this year’s Sundance is a return to form.
Netflix scored the first big Sundance deal with Fair Play — a thriller set in the ruthless finance world starring Bridgerton’s Phoebe Dynevor and Alden Ehrenreich — for a whopping $20 million on January 23. That same day, Searchlight nabbed Ben Platt and Molly Gordon–led mockumentary Theater Camp for somewhere around $8 million. An all-night bidding battle between Apple TV+ and Amazon Prime Video resulted in the festival’s second-highest deal: The iPad purveyor landed Flora and Son for just under $20 million on January 24, the streamer’s biggest Sundance deal since it acquired CODA in 2021 for a festival-record $25 million. Though the festival came to a close on January 29, you can’t say the same about the deals. Here’s a list of all the movies sold at Sundance 2023 so far (and how much they went for).
The Persian Version (director: Maryam Keshavarz)
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
A family secret is uncovered when an Iranian American family reunites for the patriarch’s heart transplant. Moving across countries and decades, the movie explores an estranged mother-daughter relationship that is forever changed when past secrets come to light.
Nam June Paik: Moon Is the Oldest TV (director: Amanda Kim)
Distributor: Greenwich Entertainment
This documentary tracks the evolution of the artist Nam June Paik, also known as “The George Washington of Video Art.” Arguably the most famous Korean artist in modern history, Paik is followed from his education in Munich to his rise through the New York art scene and his prescient visions of a future where “everybody will have his own TV channel.”
The Eternal Memory (director: Maite Alberdi)
Distributor: MTV Documentary Films
After Augusto, a prominent Chilean journalist who reported on the Pinochet regime, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease eight years ago, his wife, Paulina, became his primary caretaker. The Oscar-nominated director splices footage of domestic struggles with clips of the country’s — and the couple’s — past.
Talk to Me (director: Danny and Michael Philippou)
A group of friends learns to conjure spirits using an ancient embalmed hand in this gory Australian horror. Their new pastime is all fun and games until one of them opens the door to the spirit world.
Price: A number in the high-seven-figure range
A Little Prayer (director: Angus MacLachlan)
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
A father tries to save his son’s marriage after he starts to suspect his son may be cheating on his wife. Starring David Strathairn, Will Pullen, Jane Levy, Celia Weston, and Anna Camp, the film explores the complexity of family dynamics, especially after a child becomes an adult.
Passages (director: Ira Sachs)
German filmmaker Tomas begins an extramarital affair with a young woman, causing his husband to have an affair of his own. While unraveling his own jealousy issues, Tomas must decide if his relationship is worth saving or if it is done for good.
Flora and Son (director: John Carney)
Distributor: Apple TV+
A mother, fed up with her teenage son’s petty theft, gifts him a guitar she found in the dumpster in a bid to get her son a more legal hobby. John Carney’s latest tale about the redemptive power of music stars Eve Hewson, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Orén Kinlan.
Price: Just under $20 million
Theater Camp (directors: Molly Gordon and Nick Lieberman)
Best friends return to their childhood theater camp only to find its founder in a coma after a strobe-light incident in this mockumentary. Her crypto-bro son is left with no choice but to begrudgingly take over the financially embattled summer camp and band together with the staff to save it.
Price: Roughly $8 million
Fair Play (director: Chloe Domont)
A couple engages in a consensual workplace relationship while working for a cutthroat hedge fund. After an unexpected promotion throws their romance into chaos, they stand to lose much more than their recent engagement. Alden Ehrenreich and Bridgerton’s Phoebe Dynevor star in the rousing thriller.
Price: $20 million
Little Richard: I Am Everything (director: Lisa Cortés)
Distributor: Magnolia/CNN Films
The celebratory documentary traces Little Richard’s early life and musical journey. Using archival and performance footage, the film is an attempt to lay bare the Black and queer origins of rock-and-roll music, together with the reality of industry exploitation.
Run Rabbit Run (director: Daina Reid)
When a fertility doctor’s young daughter begins acting strange, she has no choice but to confront the ghosts of her past and challenge her limited beliefs about life and death. Sarah Snook (Succession) stars in Reid’s psychological horror.
In My Mother’s Skin (director: Kenneth Dagatan)
Distributor: Amazon Prime Video
Stranded and alone with her dying mother in 1945, Japanese-occupied Philippines, a 14-year-old girl desperately seeks assistance from a mysterious flesh-eating fairy that swore to protect her. Her mother first finds relief in the fairy’s cure, only to later face increasingly horrific consequences.
Kokomo City (director: D. Smith)
Distributor: Magnolia Pictures
The feature directorial debut of two-time Grammy-nominated producer-singer-songwriter and first trans woman cast on a primetime unscripted show D. Smith. Four Black trans sex workers in Atlanta and New York (Daniella Carter, Koko Da Doll, Liyah Mitchell and Dominique Silver) explain the oldest profession.
This is a developing story.