Can Sundance Save the Indie Film Industry?

Credit: Jemal Countess/Courtesy of Sundance Institute
Sundance is back in Park City. Is this the jolt the industry needs?

Hey, have you noticed the past couple of years have been kind of tough for the film industry? The pandemic shook everything up—starting with SXSW in 2020, all the major festivals were sidelined, and they've only recently begun to recover.

Sundance Film Festival has been virtual for the past two years, in the midst of general Hollywood panic and distribution shake-ups. COVID-19 had major studios throwing all their big titles onto streamers, for instance. Under pandemic restrictions, new projects were few and far between. Buyers weren't walking Main Street or partying in chalets; they were watching early screeners or online premieres, communicating on Slack, and very much in new territory.

This environment probably drove a lot of the biggest Sundance sales of the past few years. In 2020, it was Palm Springs. The next year, it was CODA, which went on to be an Oscar movie for Apple. Last year, the fest was definitely more subdued, with no huge acquisitions and some subtle genre hits, some of which are just now trickling onto various platforms.

Will CODA's huge sale of $25 million be topped this year, or is the name of the game caution as we all relax into a more "normal" fest? And what does that mean for the industry as a whole?

Considering the status of film and TV, we can probably suppose that the deals will be more cautious this time around. After all, places like AMC and Warner Bros. Discovery aren't even releasing the projects they already have in the can. (Not to mention a potential writers strike coming up.)

Deadline agrees. Anthony D'Alessandro and Jill Goldsmith write:

"Streamers, which emerged as dominant buyers of niche movies pre-pandemic, may buy less, and are also strong purveyors of indie titles as COVID eases. The uncertain state of the indie box office has everyone questioning the types of movies that can leg out on the big screen."

We're likely to witness less of a scramble and more of a slow burn this year. Of course, momentum can explode quickly, so we'll have to see if there are any bidding wars over this year's hot new voices.

The good news for filmmakers is that there are a lot of potential platforms for their films, both in theaters and on streamers, including smaller distributors like IFC, Utopia, Mubi, and Picturestart alongside big names like Netflix, Apple, Amazon, A24, and the rest.

And as the biggest domestic film festival we've got, which has launched several major filmmaking careers and has always been a platform for interesting voices, an in-person Sundance might be just the thing we need to kickstart our creativity in 2023.     

No Film School's coverage of Sundance 2023 is brought to you by Adobe.

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