By: Omar K. Elmore, senior writer
The first post-Weinstein Sundance Film Festival showed that the industry can move on—but is in need of other, powerful industry leaders to push the industry forward.
The films selected for the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, held in Park City, UT, were the usual mix of grounded narratives, ground-breaking documentaries and absurd b-side features (called “midnighters,” after the name of the Sundance category for the films typically shown last at each venue). Several female directors were featured at the festival, including Desiree Akhavan who directed the Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic winner, The Miseducation of Cameron Post.
However, news of acquisitions was noticeably slower than previous years. The 10 million-dollar acquisition of the Purge-like thriller Assassination Nation made a splash, but the industry reception of other films was rather lukewarm. For reference, the 2017 festival featured several now-Oscar nominated films including Get Out, Call Me by Your Name, Mudbound and The Big Sick, the latter being two of the biggest sells that year, garnering $12.5 million from Netflix and $12 million from Amazon Studios respectively.
The slower sales could be a reaction to Fox Searchlight’s box office flop Patti Cake$, which sold for $9.5 million last year but only grossed $1 million during its theatrical run. However, without the usual industry players Weinstein Co. (along with studio Broad Green, which closed its production division in August), other studios like Netflix and Amazon were expected to set the standard for acquisitions.
Instead, indie distributors A24 and Neon took bigger risks than the industry giants; the Assassination Nation deal was a joint venture between the two. A24 has become a major critical player as its slate has included successful investments in Ex Machina, Room and the Best Picture-winner Moonlight. Neon, coming off its Oscar hit I, Tonya, purchased police brutality drama Monsters and Men and documentary Three Identical Strangers about triplets that were separated at birth but reunite years later.
Sundance’s response to the #MeToo movement goes beyond just business as the festival highlighted female voices. Several panelists at the Sundance Cinema Café series, including Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, discussed the prevalence of sexual harassment. Ginsburg detailed her own experiences with sexual harassment by a professor while attending Cornell University.
When asked what has changed since then, Ginsburg said, “For so long women were silent, thinking there was nothing you could do about it. But now the law is on the side of women or men who encounter harassment. And that’s a good thing.”
On Jan. 20, thousands gathered for the Respect Rally in Park City. Several stars of Sundance films spoke at the rally, calling on change within the film industry and supporting the Time’s Up legal defense fund.
Women’s rights attorney Gloria Allred’s documentary Seeing Allred debuted at the festival after Netflix purchased distribution rights. Allred has represented women in several high-profile cases including 33 of Bill Cosby’s accusers and three of President Trump’s.
Allred addressed the crowd at the Respect Rally, saying, “We have reached the breaking point. We have reached the tipping point.”