For most people on the indie film circuit, the Sundance Film Festival marks the start of the new year. Park City is where filmmakers go to earn buzz for their projects, get some press and maybe even ink a distribution deal. On Jan. 30 I spoke with Thom Powers about the documentary films at Sundance that garnered the most chatter and the biggest checks, among other subjects.
[Q&A has been edited for content and clarity]
Rahul Chadha: It seemed like so much of the press attention around Sundance was focused on sales. The Hollywood Reporter said that four docs sold for at least seven figures and I read a report that BLACKFISH elicited a bidding war from four or five distributors. Did you get the sense that sales were better this year, and if so, why do you think that was?
Thom Powers: Some of those figures are slightly inflated. I know at least one of those films that is being reported as a million dollar sale is a little under a million dollars. But the fact remains that there were some very strong doc sales, and notably the emergence of a new player in The Weinstein Company’s RADiUS brand run by Tom Quinn and Jason Janego. Tom previously worked for Magnolia, where he worked on several successful docs such as FOOD INC. and MAN ON WIRE. Months ago RADiUS announced involvement in the new Errol Morris film about Donald Rumsfeld, THE UNKNOWN KNOWN, due out later this year. Tom told me they would be very selective about docs which left me unprepared for their recent buying streak. Their first Sundance acquisition was the opening night title 20 FEET FROM STARDOM, set in the music industry that gives it a solid commercial hook. Then RADiUS acquired INEQUALITY FOR ALL, which struck me as less obvious. But if you imagine it following in the footsteps of AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH you can see the commercial appeal. Then they announced CUTIE AND THE BOXER, which has no celebrity connection and on the surface feels less obviously commercial, although it had strong word of mouth. So it seems RADiUS is trying out a wide range of docs and it’s good for the industry to have a new player in the mix. In addition to their strong showing, there was notable acquisitions by mainstay distributors including Sundance Selects, which bought DIRTY WARS and THE SUMMIT, and Magnolia Pictures, which bought BLACKFISH... (continue reading)
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