After a disappointing 2014, this year the films in Sundance were better and the sales far stronger, in part due the new and varied ways in which films are financed and distributed. It was the first year that a Netflix film, What Happened, Miss Simone? a revealing documentary about the troubled US singer Nina Simone, had opened the program, while two of the other prominent documentaries, Alex Gibney’s Going Clear and Amy Berg’s Prophet’s Prey (scored and partially narrated by Nick Cave) were financed by US cable giants, HBO and Showtime respectively. This doesn’t mean the films won’t make it to Australian cinemas, though; buyers have been circling Gibney’s hot ticket Scientology critique, for instance. We'll let you know if someone confirms a deal to snap it up.
In the meantime, here is a list of Sundance films that you will get to see - probably within the next 12 months. (The list will be updated as more deals and specifics come to hand).
A Walk in the Woods
Widely applauded, this story follows a pair of old codgers played by Sundance founder Robert Redford and Nick Nolte venturing to hike the 3380 kilometre Appalachian Trail and finding out as much about themselves as the scenery. The film was acquired by eOne before the festival and will release later in the year.
The more I talk to critics and filmgoers the more I realize how Kim Farrant’s complex Australian drama focusing on female sexuality has resonated with international audiences. The film’s impressive performances—by Nicole Kidman in particular – and spectacular vistas have helped propel the film to be acquired for US$1million by US newcomer and multi-platform distributor Alchemy. Transmission has the movie in Australia.
The US-set western with international characters won the World Cinema Grand Jury prize. John Maclean’s highly original mix of abrasive humour and sudden unbridled violence should appeal to a wide crowd, including geeks and women who can relate to a strong female character (played by stunning Melbourne newcomer Caren Pistorius from Offspring) and of course Michael Fassbender. Kodi-Smit McPhee is impressive in the lead role of a teenager searching the American frontier for the woman he loves. Ben Mendelsohn is reliably terrific as the bad guy on his tail. This one is also a Transmission release.
Everyone loved this Nick Hornby-scripted, John Crowley directed Irish romance, which is based on the novel by Colm Toibin and is already being touted for Oscars in 2016. It stars two of Ireland’s finest, Saoirse Ronan and Domnhall Gleeson and follows Ronan’s immigrant who arrives in New York in 1952. In one of the festival’s biggest deals, US rights to the film were acquired by Fox Searchlight for US$ 9 million, but Transmission has it for Australia.
Original and sparse in its storytelling the Australian film marks an auspicious feature directing debut by Melbourne filmmaker Ariel Kleiman, who gave Sundance audiences an eerie thrill. France’s Vincent Cassel stars as a cult leader cum Pied Piper who raises an unorthodox extended family away from the rest of the world and has the eldest of his brood (the outstanding French-born Sydneysider Jeremy Chabriel) work as an assassin to support them. It will release in Australia through Madman.
Sam Klemke’s Time Machine
Probably my big surprise of the festival has been Sam Klemke’s Time Machine, which screened in the eclectic New Frontiers program. South Australian documentary filmmaker Matthew Bate (Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Misadventure) makes a documentary using material shot by the American cartoonist who has chronicled his eccentric, lusty life since 1977. Once you get over the fact that you’re watching mostly VHS it’s quite a ride. Klemke, who attended the festival, admitted he was ahead of his time as a pioneer of the selfie. And yes he loves the new social media.
The film’s producer, Sophie Hyde (who won the 2014 Sundance best director prize for 52 Tuesdays) says they plan to distribute the film themselves.
Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck
This documentary was picked up for international distribution before coming to Sundance (and it will also go on to Berlin). It boasts the original songs and full blessing of the Nirvana singer’s family, who were more than pleased to allow director Brett Morgen to show the dark side of the iconic singer’s life. It releases in Australia on April 30 through Universal.
ALSO: The movies that 'might' be coming to Australia
The Diary of A Teenage Girl
Based on Phoebe Gloeckner’s graphic novel, Marielle Heller’s directorial debut follows lonely and artistic Millie (newcomer Bel Powley), a precocious San Francisco teenager growing up in the counterculture haze of the 1970s, who chronicles her sex life onto a tape recorder. It’s only a matter of time before her mother (Kristen Wiig) discovers she is sleeping with her boyfriend (Alexander Skarsgård)—and their life becomes even more unhinged. It was picked up by Sony for international release, though it’s yet to be confirmed whether the local arm of Sony will distribute it in Australia.
This coming-of-age high-school comedy in the tradition of John Hughes follows three geeks in a tough Los Angeles neighborhood who get smart about drug dealing. Narrated and co-produced by Forest Whitaker, the very funny film was picked up by Open Road (U.S.) and Sony (International) for US$7 million. Spike Lee was in town championing the film. This was also picked up by Sony International, so a local release it yet to be confirmed.
Paul Weitz (About a Boy, American Pie) came to Sundance for the first time with Grandma, a hilarious film starring Lily Tomlin in totally out-there mode (in every sense of the word) as a seventysomething lesbian poet who assists her pregnant granddaughter (Julie Garner) to obtain an abortion. Weitz wrote the film for Tomlin after they worked together on his previous movie Admission, which tanked – as he is the first to admit. Again, Sony International snapped it up, so an Australian release is likely but is currently TBC.
I'll See You In My Dreams
Like Tomlin, Blythe Danner (the talented mother of Gwyneth Paltrow) was another veteran performer receiving a standing ovation for this romantic dramedy where she plays a widow who is propelled into the dating world. Sam Elliott (who’s also Tomlin’s ex in Grandma) is her love interest. Bleecker Street picked this up for the US and expect an arthouse distributor to snap it up for Australia.
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
By far the best film of the festival and deserving of the Grand Jury and Audience awards (as was the now Oscar-nominated Whiplash last year). Far from being just a teen cancer drama about a geek and his mate who support a classmate diagnosed with leukemia, the film is also very funny and poignant. It’s directed by Texan Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, who was previously a television director and former assistant to Martin Scorsese. Scorsese’s cinematic influence is evident here in the hilarious pastiche movies the central characters create. In part because of the success of the 2014 romantic cancer drama, The Fault in Our Stars, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl sold for US$12 million, a Sundance record. Fox Searchlight picked it up for international release.
Real life couple writer-director Noah Baumbach and actress co-writer Greta Gerwig follow up Frances Ha with a screwball comedy about a lonely college freshman and the madcap relationship she forms with her adventurous stepsister. The US pricetag was US$6.5 million. Fox Searchlight picked it up for international release.