Sundance 2015 is done. We’ve seen the films, the awards are doled out, and careers are made. We know some of the films that we’ll be talking about for the rest of the year — and likely for a long time to come. So who were the winners and losers of Sundance 2015? They aren’t all people, as some concepts and business ideas really top the list of both the success stories and the failures. From breakout talents and new directors to 35mm projection and new business strategies from companies like Amazon and Netflix, we’ve go the Sundance 2015 winners and losers below.
They aren’t all winners, but the losers we’re going to highlight, for the most part, aren’t actually films or filmmakers. They’re other parts of the business that didn’t manage to come out on top this year.
There is no more 35mm projection at Sundance. The festival that launched several waves of independent filmmakers, several of whom are now standard-bearers in the fight to save the possibility of shooting and projecting on film, is now almost entirely digital. Holden Payne, the Technical Director of Exhibition and Projection of the Sundance Film Festival, told No Film School:
This is actually the first year that we do not have any 35mm in our history. We are showing a 16mm short this year, though a couple of years ago we took 16mm out as an accepted format. We kind of made an exception. It’s a hand-painted 16mm short — I’m spending way too much time to play a 3-minute short, but it was something that I felt compelled to do just because it was a film.
Amazon and Netflix as Feature Film Distributors
Netflix has made a name for itself as a purveyor of TV series, and both Netflix and Amazon have been working more intently in recent months to pick up feature films. While Netflix has a few documentaries and just made a deal with the Duplass Brothers for four features, Amazon is looking to buy movies for its Amazon Original Movies label, which would put films in theaters and then on Prime not long after the theatrical debut.
Both companies made moves to acquire big Sundance films, with Netflix trying to land The Bronze, which ultimately went to Relativity. Netflix offered $5m for The Bronze — more money than Relativity did — but the deal went to Relativity because, as Mashable says, Relativity could offer “the promise of a robust theatrical release.”
Neither company came away with a big acquisition win, because while the promise of the new distribution paradigm is interesting, filmmakers and producers still want a theatrical distribution deal out of Sundance. VOD and digital distribution are more highly thought of than was once the case, but when it comes to sales at the pre-eminent film festival in the US, everyone is hoping for theatrical.
Last year turned out to be a big one for people who like to predict awards as films such as Boyhood and Whiplash were determined, mere minutes after their debut showings, to be promising Oscar candidates. That’s all well and good, but hurling awards predictions in January does very little for anyone except those making the predictions. Months later they get to crow about being right, but that doesn’t help a film like Whiplash get seen any sooner. This year predictive awards talk was significantly muted, and that makes for a festival that is focused on what is actually playing, rather than on what might happen over a year in the future.
Relatively late in the festival, Warner Bros. booked the Wachowski Siblings latest film, Jupiter Ascending, as the festival’s “secret screening.” The screening was not truly open to public or press, and as far as we can tell was primarily attended by industry types and volunteers. Those members of the press who did attend were held to a review embargo, but that didn’t stop bad word from spreading rapidly through the festival’s attendees. It was a strange choice overall, as this film is pretty much the antithesis of a Sundance movie. Whether or not this was the film’s true premiere (WB doesn’t consider it to be) it was a bad place to hold even a guarded coming out party for the delayed sci-fi opera.
Even a relatively short film like Cop Car (above), which runs less than 90 minutes, felt like it could use a tightened middle third. The same goes for films such as Finders Keepers and Dope, both of which we loved overall. And Guy Maddin’s The Forbidden Room is a great and weird experience that would be easier to recommend to a more general audience, just as an experiment, if it ran 90s minutes rather than two hours. Don’t even get me started on Ten Thousand Saints, which felt like an endurance test at its current length. The good news is that Sundance doesn’t have to be the last word on all these films, and there’s a chance that many will get another editing pass before going out to general audiences.
Next up, we’ll turn a more positive eye to the fest, to focus on the winners.