Report From Sundance Archives - TheWrap Your trusted source for breaking entertainment news, film reviews, TV updates and Hollywood insights. Stay informed with the latest entertainment headlines and analysis from TheWrap. Sat, 27 Jan 2024 00:05:46 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Report From Sundance Archives - TheWrap 32 32 Steven Spielberg Almost Cast ‘Back to the Future’ With Devo Frontman Mark Mothersbaugh as Doc Brown | Video Tue, 23 Jan 2024 22:00:12 +0000 Sundance 2024: "I don't want to act in a movie," the musician and composer recalls telling the filmmaker

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While at the Sundance Film Festival promoting the fantastic new documentary “Devo” (from “Tiger King” and “American Movie” director Chris Smith), founding Devo member Mark Mothersbaugh told TheWrap a truly bonkers story about nearly getting cast in Robert Zemeckis’ classic “Back to the Future.”

How we landed on “Back to the Future” in the first place is there is a moment in the documentary where a clip from the Steven Spielberg-produced film is played. In the sequence where Doc (Christopher Lloyd) and Marty (Michael J. Fox) are about to test the time machine in the mall parking lot, Marty looks at Doc’s contamination suit and asks, “What is this, Devo?” It’s a moment very easy to miss, even if you’ve seen the movie a thousand times, but bringing it up gave Motherbaugh the runway to tell the story of a fascinating what-if.

Apparently, Devo played a show at The Palace — a “sit-down show,” according to Mothersbaugh — and both Spielberg and Zemeckis were in the audience. As Mothersbaugh and the other band members were putting away their gear at the end of the night, Zemeckis and Spielberg approached and said, “Hey we want to talk to you about something. We have a film we’re working on and we wanted to talk to you about working on it with us.” Mothersbaugh was intrigued.

“I just remember for, like, two weeks, I kept thinking, ‘They’re going to hire me to score their film,‘” Mothersbaugh said. He then went to a meeting with Zemeckis and Spielberg, who told him, “We love what you do on stage. We love the way your band looks. We want you to be a crazy mad scientist in a film we’re doing.”

Mothersbaugh asked them: “What do you mean?” They replied: “There’s a part in the film with a guy who runs around in a lab coat and has a car that can go through time. We want you to play that part.”

Mothersbaugh’s response? “I don’t want to act in a movie.”

They pressed him on acting on stage, during his musical sets with Devo, to which he replied, “Well, we make that stuff up on stage.” He wasn’t going to budge.

“I remember leaving Amblin and going, ‘They didn’t ask me to score the film. I cannot believe it. I thought that’s what was going to happen here,'” Mothersbaugh said.

Of course, if he had said yes to the role he would have made untold millions and starred in two other movies and a popular theme park attraction.

“Well, there you go,” Mothersbaugh said with a shrug. He today figures that the Devo reference that wound up in the movie was a nod to his almost-was casting choice.

Watch the “Devo” interview with Mothersbaugh in the video above.

Check out all our Sundance coverage here.

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Netflix Acquires Sundance Horror Film ‘It’s What’s Inside’ for $17 Million Mon, 22 Jan 2024 21:14:29 +0000 Sundance 2024: The film is written and directed by Greg Jardin

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Sundance deal making has resumed as Netflix acquired worldwide rights to horror film “It’s What’s Inside” for $17 million on Monday, the streamer announced.

The film is written and directed by Greg Jardin.

The official logline for the indie reads, “A pre-wedding party descends into an existential nightmare when an estranged friend shows up with a mysterious suitcase.”

“It’s What’s Inside” stars Brittany O’Grady, James Morosini, Alycia Debnam-Carey, Devon Terrell, Gavin Leatherwood, Reina Hardesty, Nina Bloomgarden and David Thompson.

William Rosenfeld, Kate Andrews, Jason Baum and Raúl Domingo produced the film. Colman Domingo, Ulf Ek and Robert Kapp executive produce.

The film is the second major eight-figure sale after “A Real Pain” sold to Searchlight for $10 million over the weekend.

CAA Media Finance brokered the deal.

“It’s What’s Inside” premiered in the Midnight Section on Jan. 19 at the Ray Theatre.

Reaction on social media for the horror film is very positive.

“‘It’s What’s Inside’ is a total blast. It lit me up like a pinball machine, it’s so maximally entertaining,” one Twitter user wrote. “Destined to be the next indie thriller gem that smashes the box office, or so I hope. If you want an adrenaline shot of original, inventive storytelling, this is for you.”

“‘It’s What’s Inside’ is one of my favorite films of Sundance 2024. I am obsessed with this concept, the acting gymnastics required to pull it off, and the extremely clever visual techniques Greg Jardin uses to make the premise soar,” Collider’s Perri Nemiroff said.

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‘I Saw the TV Glow’ Director Explains How ‘Buffy’ Fandom Inspired Personal Tale of Queer Experience | Video Sun, 21 Jan 2024 16:27:11 +0000 Sundance 2024: “It’s much more about feeling so in love with a television show because you’re not able to be present and be yourself in the real world," Jane Schoenbrun tells TheWrap

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“I Saw the TV Glow” writer and director Jane Schoenbrun pulled from their own obsession with the TV series “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” for their second feature, but the “We’re All Going to the World’s Fair” filmmaker told TheWrap at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival that this new film is about much more than being an obsessive fan. It’s a personal tale of their own queer experience.

The trippy original feature stars Justice Smith and Bridgette Lundy-Paine as two kids who become obsessed with a very “Buffy”-esque show, but their fandom is driven as much by their love of the show as it is their desire to escape their personal lives.

Schoenbrun, who uses they/them pronouns, said the film was born out of their own deep love for “Buffy.”

“I was recently proving my muster to my partner by telling her how for years when I had insomnia and couldn’t sleep, I would just say the names of each ‘Buffy’ episode in order in my head to fall asleep, and then I did this for her and she was like, ‘Alright, what the film is about is real.’ Yeah I was obsessed with ‘Buffy’,” Schoenbrun told TheWrap’s Drew Taylor at TheWrap’s Sundance Interview and Portrait Studio, presented by NFP.

But Schoenbrun, who is a trans and non-binary filmmaker, cautioned that fandom is only one aspect of the movie.

“I mean the movie is about something other than ‘Buffy’,” they continued. “It’s much more about feeling so in love with television and a television show because you’re not able to be present and be yourself in the real world. So it’s about fandom in a way, but I think it’s about much more about – at least for me – a queer experience of kind of looking for glimmers of a magic that I thought couldn’t exist in real life in art and in entertainment. And it’s about how that can be a really loving exchange, but also how that can trap you in the ways that we all, I think, culturally dissociate.”

A24 will distribute “I Saw the TV Glow” this year.

For all of TheWrap’s Sundance 2024 coverage, click here.

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‘Freaky Tales’ Review: Pedro Pascal Anchors a Campy, Bloody Love Letter to the ’80s Fri, 19 Jan 2024 07:18:14 +0000 Sundance 2024: Oakland underdogs are the centerpiece of Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck’s anthology film

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Underdog stories are beloved for a reason. And “Freaky Tales,” the latest movie from directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, gives us a host of underdogs to root for, along with a bloody, fun, very ‘80s time on the weirder side of Oakland, California.

Based on imaginary ideas and memories from Fleck, Freaky Tales is imbued with love for its underdogs, the Bay Area, and movies in general, split into several chapters that chronicle punks, musicians, and people looking for redemption.

Taking its time setting up its characters’ worlds and showing how they are all connected in the end, the stories unfold in the Bay Area in 1987, where everyday life plays out and people live with a mysterious green hue that colors their lives. It’s a time and place that anchors the movie in an affectionate specificity, giving it a deep warmth. Clearly made by and for folks with a connection to Oakland, the film even incorporates real-life Bay Area legends, both as characters and in cameos, underscoring the deep affection for the city.

First, in “The Gilman Strikes Back,” we meet a group of punks defending their local venue from a hoard of Nazis that terrorize them regularly. After one punishing incident, they realize they have to fight back. Two of these punks are Tina (Ji-young Yoo) and Lucid (Jack Champion). We follow Tina and Lucid as they gear up and train for the biggest fight of their lives, but we also follow their tender, sweet romance. To the film’s testament, their romance never feels forced or takes away from the point of the first chapter: that love and resistance can go hand in hand.

“Don’t Fight the Feeling,” the second chapter, tells the story of Barbie (Dominique Thorne) and Entice (Normani), friends who have dreams of making their rap duo Danger Zone go big. We catch a glimpse of what the pair has to endure every day as Black women: they get harassed by an awful cop and aren’t taken seriously by their artistic peers. Thankfully, though, Danger Zone can more than hold their own, and the pair proves themselves to be not only capable but incredible. The performances here are worth noting, especially Normani in her film acting debut, bringing a self-assured, determined sensibility that anchors Entice. Thorne is also great here as Barbie, underscoring the pair’s badassery. This is also one of the chapters that depict real-life Bay Area legends — Danger Zone and Too Short.

Redemption makes up a good chunk of chapter 3, “Born to Mack,” the story of Clint, a grieving hitman (Pedro Pascal) who’s just lost everything. We follow Clint as he tries to follow through on his last job before going straight, but things take a turn for the worst. “Born to Mack” revels in the pathos of 1980s tough guy cinema, and it works. This is largely thanks to Pascal’s reliable, committed performance — in Clint, he finds a way to deepen the character beyond what is on the page. Clint can fit in comfortably among the array of characters Pascal has played, from Joel in “The Last of Us” to “The Mandalorian,” but thanks to his choices (a carefully placed pause here, a clever retort there), Clint becomes his own person and moves beyond an archetype.

Finally, in “The Legend of Sleepy Floyd,” we get to spend time with another Bay Area legend, former Warriors All-Star Eric Augustus “Sleepy” Floyd (Jay Ellis). This chapter takes the former basketball player and elevates him to the status of superhuman. Earlier in the film, we see Sleepy Floyd promoting a way to harness energy, and eventually, we see him use this skill in full force. The former Warriors player takes revenge after a heist gone wrong at his home, and what ensues is a Bruce Lee-style bloodbath. Ellis does a phenomenal job here, working through intense fight choreography and delivering iconic, gory blows to his enemies. The final shades of the revenge sequence fly by and deliver delightfully unhinged amounts of blood and splatter that any fan of 1980s schlock would appreciate.

“Freaky Tales” is a great time that knows how to channel its many loves (of the Bay Area, of movies) into an infectious force. Come for the campy, bloody fun but stay for the clear love for the mediums it’s working in: Movies and memory.

“Freaky Tales” is a sales title at Sundance.

Check out all our Sundance coverage here.

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‘Eno’ Review: ‘Generative’ Documentary Rummages Through Brian Eno’s Brain Thu, 18 Jan 2024 21:15:38 +0000 Sundance Film Festival 2024: Director Gary Hustwit takes his cues from the pioneering musician in a film that changes with every screening

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Almost 50 years ago, musician Brian Eno and artist Peter Schmidt came up with a set of cards called “Oblique Strategies,” each of which offered some kind of suggestion that could be used in almost any situation. So now that director Gary Hustwit has made a movie about Eno, which is appropriately called “Eno,” it might be instructive to randomly pull a few Oblique Strategies cards and use them to write a review of the movie that premiered on Thursday at the Sundance Film Festival.

To do that, I used an online Oblique Strategies generator, which gave me these prompts. (Full disclosure: I left out two cards that were specific to the creation of music.)

Card 1: “You are an engineer.”
A little engineering is helpful in explaining “Eno” – which, in keeping with Eno’s own work, is partly a piece of art, partly an experiment in technology.

First, the facts about Brian Peter George St. John le Baptiste de a Salle Eno. Age 75. Born in Suffolk, England. First came to public attention as a member of the pioneering glam-rock group Roxy Music in the early 1970s, though he left the group after two albums. Embarked on a solo career distinguished by jittery pop songs and languid instrumentals. Pioneered ambient music (and coined the term) with minimalist works like “Discreet Music” and “Ambient 1: Music for Airports.” Served as produced on many of the essential works of the last half century, including albums from David Bowie, U2, the Talking Heads, Coldplay, Devo, Laurie Anderson, Grace Jones and many others.

You’ll hear about some of this in “Eno,” a mixture of contemporary interviews with its subject and clips from throughout his career. But don’t expect a clear chronology, because the film is a so-called “generative documentary” that takes its cue from the generative music that Eno has been experimenting with in recent years. Hustwit and digital artist Brendan Dawes developed a proprietary software system that changes scenes and their order every time the movie is shown while displaying code so the audience can watch the process of selection and organization as it takes place.


So a section on the collaborations between Eno and Bowie could end, the screen could scroll through options for what’s next, and Laurie Anderson could appear on camera pulling an Oblique Strategies card that tells her, “Do nothing for as long as possible.” When she’s finished doing nothing, another reset could take us to Eno explaining the connection between Nigerian musician Fela Kuti and the Talking Heads. Then to Eno talking about the “suspiciously acquired” video camera he bought from a roadie for the rock group Foreigner in 1980.

All that generative technology basically makes “Eno” a jumble that could take you anywhere at any moment. So it’s worth pointing out that this review is of the version of the film that screened in Sundance on Jan. 18. All subsequent screenings could include some different footage and a different order.

Card 2: “Consider different fading systems.”
Is the standard biographical documentary a fading form? It’s hard to say that in a time that has produced such strong biodocs as “Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie,” “Apolonia, Apolonia,” “Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project,” and such bracing music docs as “Moonage Daydream” and “The Velvet Underground.”     

But just as one of the themes in “Eno” is that its subject is always agitating to get musicians to rethink conventional methods, the film is defiantly unconventional even if it does provide enough of the usual beats to give its audience a solid footing. You can come for the footage of U2 and Eno working through the recording of “Pride (In the Name of Love),” and then be sucked in by the expected story of how Eno managed to pee into the famous urinal that Marcel Duchamp exhibited as art. (I’m assuming that the generative algorithm wouldn’t dare leave that out of the edit at any subsequent screenings.)

The film has a few more delicious stories like that one, but also lots of theorizing and philosophizing. Eno, after all, may be popular music’s foremost theoretician this side of Pete Townsend (who’s not heard from much anymore). Hustwit’s movie may be interested less in what Eno did than in what Eno thinks – but when “what Eno thinks” encompasses everything from the connection between frogs’ eyeballs and repetitive music to his determination to “rethink surrender as an active verb” to his love for the Silhouettes’ doo-wop classic “Get a Job,” it’s fun to spend 90 minutes rummaging around in Eno’s brain.

Card 3: “Emphasize the flaws.”
Uh-oh. I’m guessing that most filmmakers would NOT want a reviewer to use this particular strategy to write about their movie. That said, the deliberate randomness of “Eno” doesn’t always help the pacing. The Sundance premiere version of the film felt as if it were ignoring Eno’s seminal ambient work until late in the film, but it’d take a few more viewings of other versions to see if that’s a consistent problem.

And despite the use of more than 50 pieces of music, including a couple of fascinating scenes of Eno working on compositions in his home studio, the film seems to keep his work at a distance. Brett Morgen’s “Moonage Daydream” and Todd Haynes’ “The Velvet Underground,” to name a pair of recent music movies about artists who’ve crossed paths with Eno, were fearsomely and gloriously immersive trips into David Bowie and the Velvets’ music; “Eno” is about the musician rather than inside the music, which can’t help but be less involving.   

Card 4: “What wouldn’t you do?”
I wouldn’t write another review based on pulling cards from a deck (or from a website that generates them randomly), that’s what. But Brian Eno’s career is a testament to pushing people (and himself) to do things they normally wouldn’t do, so it makes perfect sense that a documentary about him should nudge a reviewer in that direction as well.

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Sony Pictures Classics Lands Sundance Audience Award Winner ‘The Persian Version’ Fri, 03 Feb 2023 15:44:29 +0000 The story follows an Iranian-American girl who visits New York City for her father's heart transplant

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Sundance hit “The Persian Version” is going to Sony Pictures Classics. The distributor has landed North American rights to the film in a competitive situation, SPC announced on Friday, adding the winner of the Audience Award in the U.S. Dramatic category to its slate. The film also picked up the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award (U.S. Dramatic Competition) at the 2023 festival.

Written, directed and produced by Maryam Keshavarz, “The Persian Version” follows an Iranian-American girl named Leila who struggles to balance her opposing cultures while visiting New York City for her father’s heart transplant.

“After two plus years of watching everything at home and in our PJs, I am excited to bring ‘The Persian Version’ to theaters where we can experience the joy and humor of this big rowdy immigrant American family together in a communal setting,” Keshavarz said in a statement. “Having grown up watching and loving SPC films, I’m stoked to partner with them to reach the widest possible audience for this crazy film.”

Keshavarz is the first director to have two films win the Sundance Audience Award in the Dramatic Competition category, with her film “Circumstance” taking the award in 2011.

“Maryam Keshavarz’s ‘The Persian Version’ is an eloquent film about family and freedom while at the same time grand entertainment,” Sony Pictures Classics said. “We are excited to bring the movie to audiences everywhere and to be working again with our colleagues at Stage 6 Films.”

“The Persian Version” was produced by Keshavarz for Marakesh Films, Anne Carey for Archer Gray Productions, Ben Howe and Luca Borghese for AGX, and Peter Block and Cory Neal for A Bigger Boat. It stars Layla Mohammadi, Niousha Noor, Kamand Shafieisabet, Bijan Daneshmand, Bella Warda, Chiara Stella, Tom Byrne, and Shervin Alenabi.

UTA Independent Film Group represented US rights with Stage 6 Films. Keshavarz is represented by UTA, Anne Damato, and Victoria Cook at Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz.

Sony Pictures Classics is releasing the film in partnership with Stage 6 Films. Sony Pictures Releasing International will release the film internationally.

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‘All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt’ Director Didn’t Believe Filmmaking Was in Her Future: ‘I Put That Limitation on Myself’ (Video) Sun, 29 Jan 2023 16:45:49 +0000 Sundance 2023: Star and first-time actress Charleen McClure felt similar self-imposed limitations: "I didn't have opportunities for that when I was younger."

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“All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt” is an emblematic, almost impressionistic portrait of a young Black woman living in the rural south. Inspired by Julie Dash’s “Daughters of the Dust” and produced by Barry Jenkins, poet and photographer Raven Jackson’s feature-length directorial debut offers little in the way of dialogue or conventional narrative.

It is a distinctly unique motion picture, one unburdened by many of the trappings and guardrails present in most conventional narrative features. It was that freedom, and concurrent challenge, that was on the mind of its makers when writer/director Raven Jackson, alongside cast members Charleen McClure, Sheila Atim and Chris Chalk, stopped by TheWrap’s Portrait and Video Studio at The Music Lodge during the 2023 Sundance Film Festival for a conversation with Steve Pond.

Pond began the chat by inquiring about Jackson’s past tense triumphs as a poet and a photographer, asking if filmmaking was something she had always wanted to pursue.

“[Filmmaking] was something I didn’t necessarily know was possible for myself for a long time,” noted Jackson. “It wasn’t until I was about to graduate from a writing program that I told myself, it’s now or never. Because I didn’t have that technical background, I kind of put that limitation on myself.”

Jackson was a first-time feature film director, and she hired someone for the lead role who had never before acted professionally. Charleen McClure, who had been friends with the filmmaker for a decade, stated that she too felt that such a goal was never really in the cards.

“I didn’t have opportunities for that when I was younger,” noted McClure, adding that she too placed such limitations on her own ambitions. “It was terrifying and exciting, and exhilarating and transformative.”

She further discussed how the role resonated so soon after the death of her mother. “There was a grief component, and I tried to explore grief already in my writing. Raven [Jackson] asked me if I would be interested in the role and [well], anything to support her in her artistic expressions.”

Atim, most recently seen in “The Woman King,” stated that she found the script to be both fresh and unlike anything she had read in a while.

“As an actor, you read lots of stuff that’s not fresh, and you’re trying to find the value in doing this job and you compromise with yourself. But with this one, it was a no-brainer.”

Chalk, recently of “Shining Girls,” knew that the project would be special and an experience.

“It would be something new, something that embraced a Black narrative that is similar to my history. That’s not anything that I’ve gotten to do which wasn’t [also] looking, almost pointing at Blackness and judging Blackness. This script just embraces, celebrates and offers everyone an opportunity to listen.”

The film’s final screenplay runs just 60 pages, with time jumps and a lack of a conventional or even episodic linear structure. As Pond noted, it’s full of imagery and little moments. When asked how she constructed the script, Jackson acknowledged that did not start with a plot.

“I just started writing things that would move me. The characters didn’t even have names for a long period of time. The script is 60 pages, but I wrote a lot more pages than that, which didn’t end up in the script. I needed to write to get to what those final 60 pages would be. It was an organic process.”

When asked whether the film was inspired by real-life events or real-life friends or family, Jackson replied that it was a fictional film, but that it had details and resonances from her life and her family.

“Even though it’s fiction, there are those very specific details poured into it. The art [on the walls] is from my family’s albums.”

Atim and Chalk both faced unique challenges in playing major characters who didn’t have much in the way of conventional plot beats or monologues. Atim argued that everything she needed was in the script.

“As an actor, you really want to imbue the words with layers,” Atim said. “When you have fewer words, sometimes it can feel that you need to do more, but you don’t, you kind of do need to do less. It’s in the breathing space that the detail comes.”

Chalk stated that the film, including his character and the incident-lite screenplay, was a “gift.”

“I’ve been challenging myself since COVID, to really evaluate how I want to continue acting and what pace is for me. Knowing that there is a safe space where a pace that is more in line with how I really function and allowed us to create is a little challenging. There’ll be moments when Jackson will let you figure it out. There’s that freedom can be a challenge.” Noting that he didn’t have to rush, he continued that “We were going against my almost breakneck pace while doing this doing television and [other projects]. To be given that space is a gift.”

Watch the full conversation about “All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt” in the video above.

TheWrap’s Portrait and Video Studio at The Music Lodge during the 2023 Sundance Film Festival is sponsored by NFP along with support from Sylvania and HigherDOSE

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Watch All of TheWrap’s Sundance Interviews With Jonathan Majors, Jason Momoa, Daisy Ridley and More (Video) Sat, 28 Jan 2023 18:12:52 +0000 Plus Alexander Skarsgard, Sofia Coppola, Nicholas Braun and Ben Platt

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The Sundance Film Festival roared back to life this year with the first in-person version of the event since 2020, and TheWrap was there with bells on to talk to some of the performers and filmmakers involved in this year’s pre-eminent films. With any luck, these films will go on to join the ranks of previous Sundance debut features like “CODA” or “Whiplash” or “Boyhood” once they hit audiences at large (and possibly even the Oscar stage).

Below, we’ve rounded up some of our interviews for you to watch along with links to every interview conducted at TheWrap’s Portrait and Video Studio at The Music Lodge during the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, sponsored by NFP along with support from Sylvania and HigherDOSE.

Actor Jonathan Majors and the team behind the challenging drama “Magazine Dreams” spoke about how the story of an obsessed bodybuilder is a “time capsule” for modern day America.

Alexander Skarsgard, director Brandon Cronenberg and the “Infinity Pool” team spoke about the film’s extreme storyline and, yes, the “nepo baby” debate.

Nicholas Braun, Emilia Jones and director Susanna Fogel spoke animatedly about how their feature “Cat Person” explores the grey areas of consent and sexual encounters.

Jason Momoa explained how he came to be a part of the deep-sea mining documentary “Deep Rising” (and also gave us an update on “Aquaman 2” and his future in the DC universe).

Daisy Ridley spoke about finding her introverted “Sometimes I Think About Dying” character through her American accent.

And childhood friends Ben Platt and Molly Gordon spoke about channeling their love of theater for their crowdpleasing comedy “Theater Camp.”

Watch some of our interviews below, followed by links to view the rest of the interviews and to check out portraits from TheWrap’s portrait studio.

Jonathan Majors Explains How ‘Magazine Dreams’ Is a ‘Time Capsule’ of Modern-Day America

Yes, ‘Infinity Pool’ Star Alexander Skarsgård Is Aware of Your Anti-Nepo-Baby Sentiment: ‘It’s Haunting Me’

Daisy Ridley Found Her Character in ‘Sometimes I Think About Dying’ Through the American Accent

‘Fairyland’: Scoot McNairy, Emilia Jones, Adam Lambert on LGBTQ Family Representation

‘Theater Camp’: How Childhood Friends Ben Platt and Molly Gordon Channeled Their Love of Theater for Sundance Crowdpleaser

‘Flora and Son’ Director John Carney Says Film Spotlights the Art of Music in Era When ‘We’ve Forgotten’ It

TheWrap’s Sundance Interviews

TheWrap’s Portrait Studio

Sundance 2023 Portrait Gallery: Jonathan Majors, Daisy Ridley, Sofia Coppola and More (Exclusive Photos)

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Sundance 2023: A Low-Sale Festival or a Wait-And-See Affair for Many Films Without Deals Fri, 27 Jan 2023 23:44:34 +0000 Even seemingly surefire contenders starring Anne Hathaway, Jonathan Majors and Emilia Clarke ended the festival without a buyer

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Concerns over theatrical viability and a public promise from streamers to avoid spending sprees left this year’s Sundance Film Festival light on big purchases and — for now — high on orphans.

While there were a few major acquisitions such as “Fair Play” and “Theater Camp,” there was a notable absence of lower-profile sales or smaller pickups, while several seemingly surefire titles were left waiting for a buyer. Titles like the Anne Hathaway/Thomasin McKenzie 1960s women’s prison melodrama “Eileen” and the Chiwetel Ejiofor/Emilia Clarke sci-fi drama “The Pod Generation” left the festival empty-handed.

Sources say that even Randall Parks’ well-reviewed directorial debut “Shortcomings” had trouble drumming up interest, partially because the film’s major screening reportedly conflicted with other big premieres. Jonathan Majors’ grim bodybuilder drama “Magazine Dreams” had its premiere undercut by controversy when jurors walked out over Marlee Matlin’s failed captioning device.

“One big question,” noted a high-ranking professional working both sides of the distribution and exhibition table, “is whether major theatrical studios would step up to the plate to offer a rebuttal to the streaming-first narrative.” That didn’t happen.

The few, the proud, the big paydays

There were a few big gets. Apple TV+ shelled out as much as $20 million for “Flora and Son.” John Carney’s musical rom-com, noted sources, was the one picture where interest skyrocketed after the premiere played through the roof. Netflix paid $20 million for the buzzy and potentially controversial — at least among the perpetually online — “Fair Play.” The Chloe Domont-directed film, starring Alden Ehrenreich and Phoebe Dynevor as two hedge fund analysts having a secret romance, inspired one of the week’s only bidding wars. The big theatrical pickup was Searchlight offering up a reported $10 million for Molly Gordon and Nick Lieberman’s crowd-pleasing mockumentary “Theater Camp.”

Otherwise, most of the in-festival acquisitions were documentaries like “The Eternal Memory” — which MTV Documentary Films picked up Friday morning, and “Little Richard: I Am Everything” (Magnolia) alongside horror movies like “My Animal” (Paramount), “In My Mother’s Skin” (Amazon’s Prime Video), “Run Rabbit Run” (Netflix) and “Talk to Me” (A24).

Theater Camp
Searchlight nabbed “Theater Camp.” (Sundance Institute)

Meanwhile, Ira Sachs’ “Passages” ended up with MUBI and Angus MacLachlan’s character drama “A Little Prayer” ended up with Sony Pictures Classics. Moreover, as is often the case, several high-profile titles like Nicole Holofcener’s “You Hurt My Feelings” and Brandon Cronenberg’s “Infinity Pool” — which debuted theatrically Thursday night — and Nida Manzoor’s “Polite Society, already had pre-festival distribution deals.

As discussed last week, this was partially about the market correcting itself after years of arguable overspending and a few years of streaming-specific splurges. As noted by one executive in a prior conversation with TheWrap, “The pace [generally] won’t be as excessive and immediate, with more conventional deal-making in days or weeks instead of hours.” That prediction seems to have come true.

There were fewer big overnight bidding wars than we might have seen a decade ago. However, just because “Cat Person” had yet to nab a distributor by the festival’s end does not mean it will languish in perpetuity.

No buyers for “Eileen.” (Sundance Institute)

Fears of box office failure and Wall Street’s judgment meant fewer big buys

As the first in-person Sundance in two-and-a-half years began last week, there was hope that a need to procure content for both theatrical and streaming pipelines, along with fears of a WGA strike, would lead to bountiful business. Conversely, there was a fear over continuing uncertainty about the validity of the theatrical marketplace, in which non-franchise, adult-skewing, smaller-scale films had been struggling well before the pandemic.

For every “Clerks” or “Memento” there were at least a few Sundance crowd-pleasers like “Me, Earl and the Dying Girl” and “The House of Yes” that netted big bucks only to eventually play to mostly empty auditoriums upon theatrical release.

Meanwhile, the last few years saw streamers like Amazon — which spent $46 million on films like “Late Night,” “Brittany Runs a Marathon,” and “The Report” in early 2019 — picking up the slack. Apple TV+ still arguably has because-we-can money, but Wall Street changed its mind about streaming platforms going on content for content’s sake splurges. The streaming war is no longer an alibi for cashing out on a commercial longshot or — save for one or two titles — overspending for the sake of besting rivals.

That also applies to cumulative content spending, which partially explained a slower-than-usual year for documentaries.

Will slow and steady win the race?

“There were several titles,” said one exhibition source, “that were currently in some form of limbo, either genuinely trying to find a buyer, holding out for more money, or trying to find a balance of possibly accepting potentially less money upfront in exchange for a theatrical component.”

Meanwhile, with streamers and studios exercising an abundance of caution, there could be more of a wait-and-see attitude as to whether a film is worth a mega-bucks check.

“Even streamers are more strategic about their purchases,” stated a distribution executive, “partially because everyone has promised to tighten their belt in terms of content.”

Blame mixed reviews, darker subject matter, or fears of limited appeal

In another possible factor for the lack of sales: A number of these films didn’t debut to critical raves. It’s hard enough to get audiences to show up — or hit play — for an adult-skewing character study like “Bad Behaviour” when it’s praised to high heavens, let alone when it’s sitting at a barely-fresh 67% on Rotten Tomatoes. Ditto, for example, “Cat Person” at 41% and “The Pod Generation” at 37%.


Moreover, with streamers less likely to go on a shopping spree and with those same platforms now chasing multi-quadrant titles with stereotypically broad appeal, there’s less incentive to pay big bucks for a demographically-specific drama or comedy even if it’s an alleged crowd-pleaser like “Shortcomings” sitting at 83%. That some, but not all of these films, were darker or ponderous pictures, especially when contrasted with the likes of “Little Miss Sunshine,” probably didn’t help.

Save for horror films, audiences are gravitating toward cheerful or viscerally propulsive fare like “CODA” or “Glass Onion” at home as much as they are with the likes of “A Man Named Otto” or “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” in theaters. Even a likely — as intended by the source material — cringe-fest like “Cat Person” may seem off-putting to buyers.

Come back again in three weeks!

The hope is that all of this is a mere symptom of studios and streamers being more cautious about spending money quickly, as opposed to spending money at all. By this time next month, most of these shocking no-deal movies may be turned into titles coming soon to a streamer or theater near you. That the fears of a strike didn’t seem to make an impact either means the industry doesn’t think there will be a work stoppage or they don’t care.

But the overall consensus is that a still-questionable theatrical marketplace and a newfound spendthrift mentality at most of the streamers combined to turn this year’s Sundance into either a low-sale festival or a wait-and-see affair.

As one upper-level executive summed up, “Studios have always had to look at revenue streams, but now even streamers have accountability.”

Umberto Gonzalez contributed to this article.

The post Sundance 2023: A Low-Sale Festival or a Wait-And-See Affair for Many Films Without Deals appeared first on TheWrap.

Sundance 2023: ‘A Thousand and One,’ ‘Radical’ Win Top Awards Fri, 27 Jan 2023 18:28:30 +0000 Other winners include "Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project," Scrapper," The Eternal Memory," and "Kokomo City"

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“A Thousand and One,” A.V. Rockwell’s drama about a mother who kidnaps her son from the foster care system, has won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. “Radical” has taken the top Audience Award.

In the U.S. Dramatic Competition section, Sing J. Lee won the directing award for “The Accidental Getaway Driver.” “Theater Camp” won the award for ensemble cast, while Lío Mehiel won the individual acting award for “Mutt.” “Magazine Dreams” won for creative vision and “The Persian Version” for screenplay.

In the U.S. Documentary section, the Grand Jury award was given to “Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project.” The prize for directing went to Luke Lorentzen for “A Still Small Voice” and for editing to “Going Varsity in Mariachi,” with additional awards to “Bad Press” and “The Stroll.”

The Festival Favorite Award, the top audience prize, was won by the opening-night film “Radical,” based on the true story of an innovative teacher in an impoverished Mexican school. Other Audience Awards went to the narrative features “The Persian Version” and “Shayda” and the documentaries “Beyond Utopia” and “20 Days in Mariupol.”

In the World Cinema Dramatic category, the jury chose “Scrapper” as the best film, Marija Kavtaradze as best director for “Slow” and Rosa Marchant as best actor for “When It Melts.” In World Cinema Documentary, “The Eternal Memory” took the top prize and Anna Hints was named best director for “Smoke Sauna Sisterhood.”

“Kokomo City” won the award in the NEXT section, while “When You Left Me on That Boulevard” won the grand jury prize for the shorts section.

Drawing from 4,061 feature-film submissions (and 15,855 submissions overall), this year’s slate featured 101 feature films. The jury consisted of Marlee Matlin, Jeremy O. Harris and Eliza Hittman for the U.S. Dramatic Competition; W. Kamau Bell, Ramona Diaz and Carla Gutierrez for U.S. Documentary Competition; Shozo Ichiyama, Annemarie Jacir and Funa Maduka for World Cinema Dramatic Competition; and Karim Amer, Petra Costa and Alexander Nanau for World Cinema Documentary Competition. Madeleine Olnek served as juror for the NEXT competition section, while Destin Daniel Cretton, Marie-Louise Khondji and Deborah Stratman comprised the jury for the Short Film Program Competition.

This year’s Sundance was the first in-person festival and awards ceremony in three years, with the last two Sundances taking place virtually because of the pandemic. The festival ran from Jan. 19 to Jan. 29 in Park City, Salt Lake City, and the Sundance Resort as well as online.

Past winners of the Sundance jury prizes include “Nanny,” “Fruitvale Station,” “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” “I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore,” “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” and Oscar winners “Whiplash,” “Minari,” “Summer of Soul” and “CODA.”

The winners:

US Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic: “A Thousand and One”
Directing Award: US Dramatic: Sing J. Lee, “The Accidental Getaway Driver”
Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award: US Dramatic: “The Persian Version,” Maryam Keshavarz
US Dramatic Special Jury Award: Acting: Lío Mehiel, “Mutt”
US Dramatic Special Jury Award: Creative Vision: “Magazine Dreams”
US Dramatic Special Jury Award: Ensemble: “Theater Camp”

US Grand Jury Prize: Documentary: “Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project”
Directing Award: US Documentary: Luke Lorentzen, “A Still Small Voice”
Jonathan Oppenheim Editing Award: US Documentary: Daniela Quiroz, “Going Varsity in Mariachi”
US Documentary Special Jury Award: Clarity of Vision: “The Stroll”
US Documentary Special Jury Award: Freedom of Expression: “Bad Press”

Festival Favorite Award: “Radical”
Audience Award: US Dramatic: “The Persian Version”
Audience Award: US Documentary: “Beyond Utopia”
Audience Award: World Cinema Dramatic: “Shayda”
Audience Award: World Cinema Documentary: “20 Days in Mariupol”
Audience Award: NEXT: “Kokomo City”

NEXT Innovator Award: “Kokomo City”

World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic: “Scrapper”
Directing Award: World Cinema Dramatic: Marija Kavtaradze, “Slow”
World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award for Best Performance: Rosa Marchant, “When It Melts”
World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award for Cinematography: Lilis Soares, “Mami Wata”
World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award for Creative Vision: “Animalia,” Sofia Alaoui

World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Documentary: “The Eternal Memory”
Directing Award: World Cinema Documentary: Anna Hints, “Smoke Sauna Sisterhood”
World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award for Verite Filmmaking: “Against the Tide”
World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award for Creative Vision: “Fantastic Machine”

Sundance Institute/Amazon Studios Producers Award for Nonfiction: Jess Devaney, “It’s Only Life After All” and “Milisuthando”
Sundance Institute/Amazon Studios Producers Award for Fiction: Kara Durrett, “The Starling Girl”
Sundance Institute/Adobe Mentorship Award for Nonfiction: Mary Manhardt
Sundance Institute/Adobe Mentorship Award for Fiction: Troy Takaki
Sundance Institute/NHK Award: Olive Nwosu, “Lady”
Sundance Institute/Stars Collective Imagination Awards: Tamara Shogaolu for “40 Acres”; Navid Khonsari, Vassiliki Khonsari, and Andres Perez-Duarte for “Block Party Bodega”; Vanessa Keith for “Year 2180”
Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize: “The Pod Generation,” Sophie Barthes

Short Film Special Jury Award: Directing, International: Valeria Hoffman, “AliEN0089”
Short Film Special Jury Award: Directing, US: Jarreau Carrillo, “The Vacation”
Short Film Jury Award: Animation: “The Flying Sailor”
Short Film Jury Award: Nonfiction: “Will You Look at Me?”
Short Film Jury Award: International Fiction: “The Kidnapping of the Bride”
Short Film Jury Award: US Fiction: “Rest Stop”
Short Film Grand Jury Prize: “When You Left Me on That Boulevard”

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