Film buying market expands into Sundance premieres section

December 8
8:49 PM 2014

As the buyer's market widens into the Sundance Film Festival's premieres section, returning independent filmmakers and controversial documentary subjects will take the spotlight, organizers announced Monday.

The premieres, showcasing motion pictures outside the festival's categories of competition, will screen new films from Sundance stalwarts like director Noah Baumbach's "Mistress America" starring Greta Gerwig, Joe Swanberg's "Digging for Fire" and the comedy "Don Verdean" from filmmaker Jared Hess, of "Napoleon Dynamite" fame.

"This is their life, working in independent film. It's not the stepping stone to something else," said festival director John Cooper. "They are entertaining and they're edgy as well."

Going into its 31st year, Sundance Film Festival, backed by Robert Redford's Sundance Institute, is the top U.S. gathering of the independent film community and has developed an avid buyer's market. It takes place from Jan. 22 to Feb. 1, in the ski resort town of Park City, Utah.

From major studios to boutique film distributors, Sundance films have long been snapped up and marketed into Hollywood's film awards race, with Fox Searchlight most notably spending more than $10 million in 2006 to buy "Little Miss Sunshine," which went on to both Oscar and box office success.

Earlier this year, Sony Pictures Classics picked up jazz drumming drama "Whiplash" for $3 million, with its star J.K. Simmons now a frontrunner for the best supporting actor Oscar.

Cooper said the festival's premieres section in the past generally saw entries from films already with distributors. This year, most of the films are up for sale and likely to draw big interest from buyers.

The festival will also see the premiere of anticipated documentaries exploring hot button topics. Highlights from filmmakers include Oscar-winner Alex Gibney's "Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief" and Kirby Dick's "The Hunting Ground," a deep dive into rape on U.S. college campuses.

Much like Dick's previous documentary "The Invisible War" influenced government policy to reduce rape in the armed forces, Cooper said, "The Hunting Ground" could do the same for campus rape, an issue gaining a larger spotlight in the last year.

HBO Films' "Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck," the first authorized documentary on the late Nirvana frontman, will also have its premiere, along with "Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon," an insight into the 1970s satirical magazine, and the comedy it brought to film and media.

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