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DocGeeks » Festivals » Bought, revealed and sued: What’s happening at Sundance 2012?

Bought, revealed and sued: What’s happening at Sundance 2012?

Starting only last Friday, Sundance has already managed to once again draw the attention of the documentary world onto itself and set the agenda for the coming year. Here a short overview of the opening weekend’s events.

The festival creates a buzz for documentary lovers; most films, if not all, that have been selected will be screening at festivals worldwide and it is so nice to see a fresh batch to look forward to. For film makers themselves too it is a fantastic opportunity; out of last year’s selection six documentaries are now among the 15 Oscar contenders announced. Whether the shortlist will contain any of them will be known on Tuesday when the official nominations are made public but so far Sundance has proven it knows quality.

Still, the nominations are not a guarantee for box office success.

As TheWrap pointed out in an article that was published on Thursday, no documentaries premiering at Sundance this year had a buyer before coming to the festival. This means that it is a buyer strong market, especially considering the average mediocre results that last year’s films brought.

Film blog Indiewire lists the results of some of the most remarkable sales taking place at the festival in 2011. Project Nim, a film also mentioned as a possible Oscar nominee was, according to the blog, “the biggest disappointment” in terms of takings in North America. Bought by Roadside Attractions for a reported $2 million the film made less than $500.000.

Indiewire writes:

Despite great reviews, the cautionary doc about a chimpanzee being raised as a human managed only $411,184 this summer, well under the $2.9 million Marsh’s “Man on Wire” made in 2008. It was an oddly similar situation to dolphin-related “The Cove,” which Roadside Attractions also released back in 2009 after it won accolades in Park City. Great reviews, big buzz out of Sundance… but the semi-tragic animal stories were both disappointing at the box office.

Other films bought last year with disappointing results are Morgan Spurlock’s POM Wonderful presents: The greatest movie ever Sold and Page One: A year inside the New York Times.

In fact, only two documentaries can so far be considered big hits; Senna and Buck.

Senna’s deal was signed on the basis of an income split and the income figures are unknown, but Buck was bought for $700.000 and grossed $4.04 million.

Will the 2012 festival see more winners like this? It is hard to tell so far. Two documentaries at least are able to take a shot at it as of today. Sony Pictures bought the North American rights to ‘Searching for Sugar Man’, director Malik Bendjelloul’s debut documentary, and Magnolia buying ‘The Queen of Versailles’, by Lauren Greenfield. The director, however, managed to draw attention to her film in a rather unintentional and controversial way; by getting sued.

One of the documentary’s subjects, David Siegel, sued Greenfield, her husband and the Sundance Institute over a description in the release that said his house had been foreclosed, which it had not. According to Siegel the statement damaged his reputation.

Another film which managed to capture the headlines is ‘West of Memphis’. The controversial new feature doc produced by Peter Jackson and directed by Amy Berg, covers the exact same topic of the already-proven-to-be-popular Lost Paradise trilogy by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky. But premiering last Friday it revealed its added value: fresh allegations in the 1993 murder case of three young boys in Arkansas. The full story can be read here on TheWrap.

As you can see, the festival is far from boring and we’ll keep you updated on the latest developments.


Written by

Alexandra Zeevalkink is a Dutch-born journalist living in London who founded DocGeeks in August 2011 in order to have a legitimate excuse to watch every documentary under the sun. She freelances for various publications and writes mainly about documentaries and the film production industry. When she is not blogging or watching films, she enjoys theater, photography and reading loads of books. She is always on the look out for potential partnerships with other creative minds.

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