This year’s Sundance Film Festival is a crucial bellwether for the independent film business.
Even asend-of-year hits such as Slumdog Millionaire, The Wrestler, The Reader and Milk pack theatres acrossNorth America, the domestic acquisitions business has been sluggish to say the least.
Very rarely, these days, do distributors thrash it out through the night for a film - Hamlet 2 and The Wrestler were last year’s chief big-money examples at Sundance and Toronto respectively - and most wait for better terms in later weeks or months.
And of course this Sundance, Warner Independent Pictures, Picturehouse and ThinkFilm are out of the game, Paramount Vantage is restructuring into a genre company, Bob Yari’s releasing division has filed for bankruptcy and former acquisitions giant The Weinstein Company is cash-strapped.
High-profile films from Venice and Toronto remain unsold or at least in play four months after their world premieres - The Burning Plain, The Other Man, Fifty Dead Men Walking, The Loss Of A Teardrop Diamond, Is There Anybody There’, Me And Orson Welles - while producers Ehud Bleiberg and Arthur Cohn decided to self-release their films Adam Resurrected and The Yellow Handkerchief respectively for Oscar-qualifying runs in the absence of distribution deals. To say it is a bleak time in the business is an understatement.
That said, the glut of films produced as a result of too much equity is coming to an end and perhaps a new era of indie sobriety is on the horizon.
Film-makers and sellers will also have new offers on the table from online, digital or video-on-demand platforms which might be the alternative to the increasingly expensive theatrical distribution route.
The Sundance programmers have lined up 89 world premieres, including new work from some of the most intriguing film-makers in the US and Europe, such as Pete Travis, Oliver Hirschbiegel, Lone Scherfig, Oskar Roehler, Greg Mottola, the Polish brothers, Oren Moverman, David Mackenzie and Sandra Nettelbeck.
If the deals at Park City do not come with the same urgency as before, there are still buyers enough to guarantee a steady flow of deals. After all, there is always a demand for good product, isn’t there’