By all accounts this year’s Sundance sparked relatively modest activity from buyers, although acquisitions teams still found plenty to enjoy.
Several movies stuck out from the crowd, led by Whiplash, arguably the buzziest selection of the lot that ended up taking home the grand jury and audience dramatic awards.
Festival-goers and critics alike responded to Damien Chazelle’s tale of a talented jazz drummer at a music academy, pushed to the limit by a brutal instructor.
It’s been dubbed ‘Full Metal Julliard’ (although the revered New York conservatory is not the setting) and plenty of Park City regulars will attest to the intensity of the experience that Miles Teller’s protagonist goes through at the hands of JK Simmons.
It offers a trip down memory lane for Chazelle too, although the writer-director points out his experience in a high school jazz ensemble was never like what we see on screen.
Chazelle is a Sundance blue-blood: his feature directorial debut stems from his Sundance 2013 jury prize-winning short of the same name. This man has never left Park City without an award.
What is so refreshing about Chazelle is his genuine modesty. When I spoke to the 29-year-old Harvard graduate before the festival, he seemed embarrassed by Screen’s interest in him, as if the movie were not really his and this was all some big mix-up.
It’s rare that you see such humility and lack of affectedness in a gifted artist, much less from a man whose champions include Jason Blum and Jason Reitman (Blumhouse Productions and Right Of Way Films are among Whiplash’s production companies).
It has also been a pleasure ot watch a reinvigorated Bold Films return to the limelight. This is a company with taste and guts – they backed Drive and Only God Forgives – and came on to finance Whiplash before it was cast.
Chazelle is an artist to be cherished. Those who skipped Sundance can judge for themselves when Sony Pictures Classics releases the movie later this year in North America.
Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions will funnel the film through the studio’s international pipeline for the territories it acquired, which include the UK, Spain, Italy, Scandinavia and Latin America.
Sales company Sierra/Affinity holds the balance of markets and will not be short of suitors at the EFM in Berlin.
Whiplish is one of several Sundance movies set to cross the Atlantic to Germany next week. Dean Devlin’s Electric Entertainment arrives with Mad Men star John Slattery’s directorial debut God’s Pocket, while The Exchange has the much-fancied Obvious Child.
On top of that there is eOne’s Australian hit The Babadook, Kinology’s Iranian vampire Western A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night and XYZ Films’ Life After Beth.
Most of the above have found US homes, which should provide added incentive for international distributors.
Acclaimed independent cinema from Sundance, one of the great taste-makers, is a good fit for the EMF. The market is less aggressive than Cannes and the AFM. The lack of juggernauts means smaller movies with compelling stories are less likely to be lost in the crowd.
Talents such as Chazelle, Gilian Robespierre (Obvious Child) and Jennifer Kent (The Babadook) deserve wide exposure. Sundance unearthed them. Now Berlin can continue the process of turning them into bankable filmmakers with global appeal.
Jeremy Kay is Screen International’s US Editor