Return of the Indie Film Bubble: Buying Frenzy Caps the Best Sundance Film Festival in Years

02/01/2011 11:22 AM |


This is the last of Danielle DiGiacomo’s dispatches from the just-concluded 2011 Sundance Film Festival.

After a slow start to the dealmaking action, Park City, Utah erupted into a mad buying frenzy. As of the 2011 Sundance Film Festival’s wrap, more than two dozen distribution deals have already been made, from the obvious IndieWood sales (IFC Films taking star-studded thriller The Ledge, The Weinstein Company taking on the Tobey Maguire/Elizabeth Banks vehicle The Details) to the this-could-be-the-next-Little Miss Sunshine discovery plucks (Focus Features’ seven-figure deal for Dee Ree’s lesbian coming-of-age film Pariah and brand new distributor Motion Film Group’s seven-figure acquisition of Rashaad Ernesto Green’s gritty Bronx drama Gun Hill Road).

Sales are still being announced, leaving industry folks taking daily tallies, and texting each other incredulously with each new IndieWire report. Whether this marks a return to the golden age of independent film or is the result of a delusional bubble effect is yet to be determined, but it does leave me thinking of a scene from David Sington’s The Flaw (pictured), one of the stronger documentaries I saw at Sundance. A series of old ads, promoting the financial boom of the dotcom bubble years, depict a patient being rolled into a hospital with money literally “coming out of the wazoo.” At Sundance, money was pouring out of lots of wazoos; so here’s hoping, for the sake of talented, upstart filmmakers everywhere, that it’s not merely speculative.

At the awards show on Sunday night, there were few surprises. (See my past two dispatches for evidence of that). The Grand Jury Prize for Drama was handed to an emotional Drake Doremus for his long-distance romance Like Crazy, while Sean Durkin (a name that will soon be very familiar) took the Best Dramatic Director prize for MMMM. (Both films also landed high-profile distribution deals.) The Grand Jury Prize for Documentary was given to Peter D. Richardson’s tearjerker How to Die in Oregon, which takes an empathetic look at Oregonians trying to die with dignity through legally assisted suicide.

In the World Cinema Section, Anne Sewitsky’s Happy, Happy took the top dramatic prize, while the devastating war documentary Hell and Back Again took the top documentary award. The U.S. and World documentary Audience awards went to two biographical explorations—Cindy Meehl’s true-life Horse Whisperer doc Buck, and Asif Kapadia’s Senna, chronicling the life of Ayrton Senna, the three-time Formula One champion—while the Audience awards for drama were bestowed on two devastating and nuanced films: Maryam Keshavarz’s film Circumstance, a(nother) lesbian coming-of-age story set in Iran, and Alrick Brown’s Kinyarwanda, a layered portrait of post-genocide life in Rwanda.

Over a dozen more prizes were handed out to deserving filmmakers, and hundreds of deserving filmmakers were not given anything but the satisfaction of being featured in one of the strongest lineups at the most important U.S. film festival of the year. If the power and importance of Sundance has been questioned in recent years, 2011’s incarnation did everything to answer those charges. Less Swag, Great Cinema. The End.