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Sundance: Let the Post-Mortem Begin

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Feb 01, 2010 | 4:19am EST

The Sundance post-mortem has begun. Several deals were concluded, keeping pretty much apace with 2009's festival, but the general consensus is that no film will have the breakout success of last year's Precious.

Many felt this year's edition was more of the same. Others say there may be a strong after-market for sales. Still, now that the fest is over, The Wrap calls the indie landscape "more fragmented and confused than ever."

Critics, including The New York Times' Manhola Dargis -- who last week noted that while the "spin was hotter and the vibe somewhat warmer...the movies were much the same" -- seem to agree that much of the fare on offer was a retread of years past.

"I thought Sundance 2010 was a good year for the quality of films presented, but I doubt it will be remembered as a particularly strong acquisitions market," Tom Ortenberg, former president of theatrical films at Lionsgate and founder of the consulting firm One Way Out Media, told TW. "Given the films that were snapped up...I'm sure there will be a brisk after-market in terms of film sales."

"In many respects, Sundance is always the same," independent film consultant Mark Urman told TW. "Movies you expect to be good, disappoint; the films you shy away from because they sound bad on paper turn out to be wonderful. Half the time you feel as of you're in the wrong theater. That said, I thought the mood this year was high. Positive, not poisonous like last year. People seemed upbeat, invigorated, inspired. If the independent arena is hard - and it still is - I think people are more prepared to do the work than they were in the past few years."

Among the ten or so deals concluded at the festival were The Weinstein Co's North American theatrical and Pan-Asian satellite buy of Blue Valentine; IFC Films’ acquisition of US rights to Michael Winterbottom's controversial thriller The Killer Inside Me; Roadside Attractions’ acquisition of North American rights to Winter's Bone -- the ultimate grand jury prize winner -- Focus' pick up of Lisa Cholodenko's crowd-pleaser The Kids Are All Right; Lionsgate's acquisition of Buried; Newmarket's pick-up of Hesher; Hannover House's deal for Joel Schumacher's Twelve; and Sony Pictures Classics’ acquisition of all US rights to the Dutch film Winter in Wartime.

Still, buyers said they'd be surprised if any replicated the critical or financial success of last year’s Precious or Paranormal Activity, Deadline.com notes.

Also according to Deadline.com, buyers preferred to pass rather than overpay while sellers and filmmakers were less concerned with MGs than they were with P&A commitments.

"There's a sense of relief and comfort that the market is still pretty healthy," Micah Green, co-head of CAA's Film Finance Group, told The Hollywood Reporter. "The pace of sales is more deliberate now. If you check back in three to four months, I think you'll find more films will have sold than in previous years. The market is more fragmented, so there's less of a herd mentality. People are responding more to the films than who else is chasing them."

Titles that remain in play include documentary grand jury prize winner Restrepo and dramatic World Cinema jury prize winner Animal Kingdom.

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