Sundance 2012: The Deals, The Awards, and That Kubrick Doc

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The 2012 Sundance Film Festival drew to a close over the weekend with a flurry of additional distribution deals, as well as a Saturday night awards ceremony. The fest’s out-of-nowhere buzz hit Beasts of the Southern Wild was among the big winners, nabbing not only the Dramatic Grand Jury Prize, but the US Dramatic Excellence in Cinematography award. The Documentary Grand Jury Prize went to The House I Live In, an examination of the war on drugs from director Eugene Jarecki (Why We Fight). The Israeli film The Law in These Parts won the World Cinema Jury Prize for Documentary, while the Latin American musical drama Violeta Went to Heaven won the Dramatic World Cinema Jury Prize.

True to my history of excellent scheduling judgment, your humble correspondent saw not one of those films during my eight days in Park City, though I did take in — and greatly enjoy — the US Audience award winners The Invisible War (Documentary) and The Surrogate (Drama); the latter film also won a richly-deserved US Dramatic Special Jury Prize for Ensemble Acting. My favorite film of the fest, Mike Birbiglia’s warm, winning comedy Sleepwalk With Me, won the Best of NEXT Audience Award; another favorite, the wry time-travel comedy/drama Safety Not Guaranteed, won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award.

Late Sunday, that film also received an honor perhaps even more desirable than festival jury recognition: a theatrical distribution slot. FilmDistrict (the young company that put out Drive and The Rum Diary) announced its acquisition of Safety Not Guaranteed, its only pick-up of the fest thus far. The Weinstein Company — which had in previous years (both in its current incarnation and when owners Harvey and Bob Weinstein were running Miramax) treated the festival like an all-you-can-eat buffet — also waited until Sunday to announce their solitary acquisition to date: the gambling comedy Lay the Favorite, from director Stephen Frears (and Grosse Point Blank co-writer D.V. DeVincentis). It’s a deeply problematic movie (TWC’s rumored interest prompted head-scratching from everyone who saw it in Park City), but its starry ensemble cast, which includes Bruce Willis, Rebecca Hall, Vince Vaughn, and Catherine Zeta-Jones, makes it a very marketable one as well.

Magnolia Pictures was the big shopper at Sundance 2012, picking up distribution rights to the charming Julie Deply comedy 2 Days in New York, the John Krasinski/Olivia Thirlby romantic drama Nobody Walks, US Directing Award: Documentary winner Queen of Versailles, and the fest’s cause célébre, Compliance; they also snatched the popular indie horror anthology V/H/S for their specialty division, Magnet. Fox Searchlight grabbed up the eventual double award-winners Beasts of the Southern Wild and The Surrogate, and is already talking about positioning the latter for an Oscar-friendly fall release (wisely — John Hawkes is a shoo-in).

Sony Pictures also acquired three audience favorites, picking up both the World Cinema Audience Award and Special Jury Prize winner Searching for Sugar Man and the Rashida Jones-scripted Celeste and Jesse Forever for their Sony Pictures Classic division; they also bagged the Frank Langella heist comedy Robot and Frank for Sony Pictures Worldwide. IFC Films may have some trouble marketing the love-it-or-hate-it Simon Killer and The Pact (they’re releasing the latter through IFC Midnight), so they appear to have hedged their bets by acquiring Josh Radnor’s imminently likable Liberal Arts (co-starring Flavorwire fave Elizabeth Olsen).

CBS Films picked up your correspondent’s least favorite film of the festival, The Words, early on — maybe they should’ve waited for the reviews to come in. Other single movie acquisitions include Lionsgate/Roadside Attractions (the entertaining Wall Street drama Arbitrage, which they’ll presumably position as this year’s Margin Call), ATO (the well-crafted, low-key IRA thriller Shadow Dancer), Millenium (the lukewarmly-received Red Lights), Entertainment One (the so-so Wish You Were Here), Focus Features (the good-time, lowbrow sex comedy For a Good Time Call…), Rough House Pictures (the audience-dividing The Comedy), LD Distribution (Black Rock), Indomina (Ice-T’s unfortunately shallow doc Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap), Participant (US Directing Award: Dramatic winner Middle of Nowhere), and Sundance Selects (How to Survive a Plague). On the TV side, HBO picked up the documentary Me @TheZoo, as well as series adaptation rights to the World Cinema Documentary Editing Award winner Indie Game: The Movie; National Geographic Channel, to no one’s surprise, acquired the US Documentary Excellence in Cinematography Award winner Chasing Ice.

One title that may prove unfortunately problematic for distribution is Room 237, that documentary examination of the buried subtext in Kubrick’s The Shining which we told you about a couple of weeks ago. It was one of this viewer’s favorite films of the festival, a smart, funny, and thought provoking close-read of the modern horror classic, allowing its motley crew of theorists and critics to argue that the Stephen King adaptation is anything from an apologia for our treatment of Native Americans to a confession of Kubrick’s involvement in the faking of the moon landing. It’s also a clearance nightmare, filled with clips from not only The Shining but Kubrick’s entire filmography, and plenty of other movies besides (director Rodney Ascher forgoes talking heads for a montage/found footage approach). Unless the Kubrick estate gets behind it, Room 237 may very well never play outside of the festival circuit — and that’s a shame, because boy is it a lot of fun.

Finally, the rest of the winners from Saturday night’s awards ceremony: Valley of Saints (World Cinema Audience Award: Dramatic), 5 Broken Cameras (World Cinema Directing Award: Documentary), Teddy Bear (World Cinema Directing Award: Dramatic), Young & Wild (World Cinema Screenwriting Award), Detropia (US Documentary Editing Award), Putin’s Kiss (World Cinema Cinematography Award: Documentary), My Brother The Devil (World Cinema Cinematography Award: Documentary), Love Free or Die (US Documentary Special Jury Prize for an Agent of Change), Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry (US Documentary Special Jury Prize for Spirit of Defiance), Can (World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Prize for Artistic Vision), and producers Andrea Sperling and Jonathan Schwartz (US Dramatic Special Jury Prize for Excellence in Independent Film Producing, for Smashed and Nobody Walks).

[h/t to Indiewire and Deadline (twice) for their help with our deal reporting]