The big news from Sundance so far…

Though Sundance does not, in fact, involve either the sun or dancing, it is for many film buffs the beginning of festival envy for the year. Many of the movies that show at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah go on to have either theatrical or festival releases worldwide. However, there are just as many, if not more, that never make it to our screens – not for a lack of quality but for a lack of distributor interest.

With the festival at the halfway point we have the lowdown on the latest films to get distribution, meaning the films that will most likely be playing at a cinema or festival near you in the coming 12 months. As an example of how long the process can be, Catfish was a favourite at last year’s Sundance and is only now seeing a limited theatrical release in Australia a full 12 months after the festival.

*And a big thank you to Deadline and Slashfilm for compiling the torrent of news coming out of Park City, distilled here for your reading pleasure.*

The biggest controversy to come out of Utah in the last few days has been around Kevin Smith – the outspoken director of favourites such as Clerks and Chasing Amy – and his new film Red State. His horror satire about the religious right drew plenty of buzz (and protesters), and ultimately saw him further distancing himself from the industry that gave him a career by announcing he would be self distributing Red State through his banner SModcast Pictures (he also said it would be his second-last film as a director). This latest stunt follows the widely publicised stance Smith took last year over bad reviews from critics of his film Cop Out. Now, after sidelining distributors as well as critics, it will be interesting to see how Red State fares at the box office.

One of the biggest deals of the festival so far has been the acquisition of My Idiot Brother by the Weinstein Company. The film stars Paul Rudd, Elizabeth Banks, Zooey Deschanel, Rashida Jones and Emily Mortimer. Rudd plays fun loving brother to Banks, Deschanel and Mortimer as he crashes at their home and causes more than his fair share of havoc. Early buzz is this isn’t Rudd to his full potential but it’s a solid comedy with great performances.

Did you know Freddie Highmore is now 18 years old?! “Who’s Freddie Highmore?” you ask. The kid who played Charlie in Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. He’s all grown up and starring in Homework alongside Emma Roberts. The film has been snatched up by Fox Searchlight for a reported $2 million. Homework is the debut of writer/director Gavin Wiesen and looks to be the indie-coming-of-age-teen-rom-com-esque film of 2011. (Did I just make up a film genre?) According to the official synopsis, the film is about “a lonely and fatalistic teen (Highmore) who’s made it all the way to his senior year without ever having done a real day of work, who is befriended by Sally (Roberts), a beautiful and complicated girl who recognizes in him a kindred spirit”.

Paramount Pictures and Indian Paintbrush have picked up the rights to Like Crazy – a film getting much critical love at the festival and is being called 2011’s Blue Valentine. The picture is about a British college student who falls for an American student but it separated from him after overstaying her visa. Amongst its cast is Jennifer Lawrence, who gave an astounding performance in 2010’s Sundance winner Winter’s Bone. Like Crazy has been called a standout of the 2011 festival.

There’s always the film that sells despite its debatable quality; it rides on the back of its stars – names like Kevin Spacey and Jeremy Irons. One such film is feature debut Margin Call, by director J.C. Chandor, which sold to LionsGate and Roadside Attractions in a joint deal. Reviews out of Sundance call this financial thriller a disaster, and one of the disappointments of the festival. From the synopsis it doesn’t sound like a crowd pleaser, but we could be wrong. Margin Call centres on a group of people working in the financial sector with the impending 2008 financial crisis on the horizon. Okay we take that back, this won’t be a crowd-pleaser.

Now for something completely different; National Geographic has bought the rights to distribute Life in a Day, a YouTube documentary produced by Kevin McDonald and Ridley Scott. Details are scarce but the 90 minute documentary was compiled from 80,000 clips submitted through YouTube, all of which were filmed on July 24, 2010. Consider us extremely intrigued!

And lastly (for now), Martha Marcy May Marlene has been acquired by Fox Searchlight. Buzz at the festival is that lead actress Elizabeth Olsen (yep, sister to those famous twins) has given a phenomenal performance in this film as Martha, a woman haunted by paranoia and memories after fleeing a cult and returning to her family. Sounds delicious!

While I’m sure we’d all love to be at Sundance ourselves, we have a great year of festivals coming up in our own country and we’re hoping we all get to see a little slice of Sundance in our own backyard soon.

The Sundance Film Festival continues until January 30th, when the major prize winners will be revealed.

Discuss: Which of these flicks are you most excited to (eventually) catch?

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