Birth of a Nation

The flurry of snowflakes and press hype surrounding Park City, UT, may be soon slowing to a halt, but the reach and influence of the Sundance Film Festival will last long into the coming year. Here are a few interesting factoids from this year's festival, which runs through this Sunday, January 31.

How many films get distribution deals? In 2014, it was four out of five.

This 2015 infographic from Cultural Weekly shows you the many ways to slice and dice Sundance figures but the graph about distribution deals, counting figures through 2014, is the most telling: 95 Sundance films picked up deals in 2014, up sharply from the rare few—12, in fact—that did in 2010. What changed? The streaming revolution (see below), pushing the exponential upward tick of deals through the last several years. That fact has, no doubt, sharply increased overall submissions to the festival in the past few years, though the same infographic shows a leveling off through 2015.

Who is buying the most films this year? Netflix and Amazon.

Netflix bid a staggering $20 million for Nate Parker's The Birth of a Nation (top), the story of preacher Nat Turner and the most successful yet bloody slave rebellion in American history. In the end, the filmmakers left that deal on the table, opting instead for the slightly less lucrative offer of $17.5 million from Fox Searchlight. With the #OscarsSoWhite crisis forcing the industry to examine how more filmmakers and actors of color can compete earlier and more often for Academy Awards, a theatrical release makes sense on many levels. The film got a resounding and prolonged standing ovation at its Sundance premiere January 25, sparking an immediate bidding war. "My responsibility to the project is to make sure to find a partner that is as passionate as we are about it socially, so if that meant we had to take less money, then those were conversations I was willing to have," Parker told The Hollywood Reporter, which also cited sources who said Parker and the producers wanted "a large theatrical experience …. so people would be rallied to action," just as they had been inside the festival's Eccles Theatre. 

But in most other deals, Netflix and Amazon continued to outbid the traditional studios.

Swiss Army Man

How many films were cut with Adobe Premiere Pro? Just under half.

Adobe revealed recently that 51 of the 120+ films, not including shorts, selected for this year's festival were cut with Adobe Premiere Pro CC, double the number touched by the editing software last year. Those include the documentary Richard Linklater – Dream Is Destiny, directed by journalist Louis Black, the Man on the Moon/CIA thriller Operation Avalanche, and Swiss Army Man (above), which features Daniel Radcliffe as a farting corpse (above).

Southside with You

Number of films that could influence how people vote in 2016? Six.

Don't quote me on that number, since one could argue that all documentaries are sociopolitical change agents at the most fundamental level, but a few of this year's films stand out for how they will likely impact the current political climate. And documentaries aren't the only influencers. In addition to Birth of a Nation, another work of timely historical fiction at this year's festival is Southside With You, (dir. by Richard Tanne), an account of the "epic first date" between Barack and the future Mrs. Obama in the summer of 1989. The docs that will likely influence votes include those on gun control (Newtown, directed by Kim A. Snyder), the sexting scandal of Anthony Weiner, husband of Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin (Weiner, dir. and shot by Josh Kriegman), Gasland director Josh Fox's How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can't Change and the abortion rights film Trapped, directed and co-written by Dawn Porter.


Number of Grand Jury Prize-winning debut directors returning, at long last, this year? Two.

Kenneth Lonergan won the Sundance Grand Jury Prize in 2000 for You Can Count on Me, which he wrote and directed, and he's back this year with Manchester by the Sea, a working-class drama featuring brooding performances from Casey Affleck, Kyle Chandler and Michelle Williams (see below). Netflix just picked it up for $10 million. Joining him is Todd Solondz, whose Wiener-Dog (above) is also a kind of return to weird and wonderful Dawn Wiener country and Solondz's first Sundance premiere since his 1996 festival-winning debut, Welcome to the Dollhouse. Greta Gerwig stars as a grown-up Dawn. Zosia Mamet, Danny DeVito and a lovable dachshund are along for the ride. Cinematographer Ed Lachman captures the eccentric characters, as well as the scatological adventures of the canine star, in loving detail.

Love and Friendship

Number of period dramas? Five.

Whit Stillman has returned to Sundance with an adaptation of Jane Austen's unpublished novella, Lady Susan. Love & Friendship (above) is a 1790s English comedy of manners starring Kate Beckinsale and Chloe Sevigny, and it joins Birth of a Nation and Southside with You, in the tales-from-another-time category. John Carney, director of the Sundance Audience Award-winning breakthrough hit Once, returns this year with Sing Street, another youthful musical story set, this time, in 1980s Dublin. Sophie and the Rising Sun, a mixed-race American love story further complicated by the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, comes from Sundance alum Maggie Greenwald.


Extra Credit: Number of films starring Michelle Williams? Two.

Number starring Natasha Lyonne? Three.

Michelle Williams appears in both Kelly Reichardt's Certain Women and Kenneth Lonergan's Manchester by the Seabut Orange Is the New Black's Natasha Lyonne tops her with three films at Sundance this year. She can be seen in The Intervention, actress Clea DuVall's directorial debut; in Kevin Smith's Yoga Hosers alongside Johhny Depp and his daughter Lily-Rose; and in Antibirth.