EXCLUSIVE: In the first big deal of the 2021 virtual Sundance Film Festival, Apple has landed worldwide rights to CODA, for a number just north of $25 million. That sets a new a Sundance acquisitions record — above the $22.5 million that Palm Springs received last year from Hulu/Neon. But this time, all the premiere watching and all night auctioning was done far from the slopes of Park City. It came down to a pitched battle between Apple and Amazon.
Writer-director Siân Heder’s coming-of-age drama is about a high school senior who is the only hearing person in her deaf family and is torn between holding together that unit or seeking her own dreams. The film premiered opening night in the U.S. Dramatic Competition. Buyers loved it, and it became clear yesterday that its value to distributors was heading into the stratosphere, after receiving glowing reviews and reaction from buyers. Multiple offers were on the table and brought the bidding close to Palm Springs territory. That was the Andy Samberg-Cristin Milioti movie that broke the Sundance sales record last year with $22.5 million.
The film (the title’s acronym is for Child of Deaf Adults) centers on Ruby (Emilia Jones), the only hearing person in her deaf family. When the family’s fishing business is threatened, she finds herself torn between pursuing her love of music and her fear of abandoning her parents. The pic is based on the award-winning French hit La famille belier. Jones is a real discovery and the film is a bonafide crowd pleaser with heart and awards potential. Heder has captured the fishing scene in Boston, and the love of classic Motown and Joni Mitchell and Marvin Gaye, whose songs are broken down and connect you to the messages within them, and why they resonate with the characters navigating difficult circumstances. Most importantly, it creates a real way into the world of a mother, father and son who were born deaf, and when the film transports the audience to how these deaf characters experience the world without sound, and try to appreciate the bright singing talent of a cherished daughter they can’t hear, the results are what they build Best Picture candidates out of. Numerous buyers discussed the film with me yesterday and were saddened when the numbers shot past what they could spend as it became clear this would be a world rights deal with a streamer.
Deal was led for Apple by heads of Worldwide Video Zack Van Amburg & Jamie Erlicht, who last year reeled in the Sundance docu Boys State, which is in the Oscar race right now. It becomes the latest statement-making deal for Apple, which at last virtual Cannes broke the record there for the Antoine Fuqua-Will Smith runaway slave drama Emancipation in a record pre-buy.
Said writer/director Heder: “I have been so moved by the outpouring of response to the film and am so excited to have found a partner in Apple that loves and deeply gets this movie, the spirit in which it was created and is committed to having this film reach the widest audience possible in a thoughtful and meaningful way. The whole CODA team is also so grateful to Sundance for being a part of the film’s journey. I hope that this film and Apple’s powerful support will help kick down some doors standing in the way of inclusion and representation and pave a path for more stories that center characters from the Deaf and Disabled community. The world has waited too long for these stories to be told. Now is the time. No more excuses.”
Eugenio Derbez, Marlee Matlin and Ferdia Walsh-Peelo also star. Fabrice Gianfermi, The Pathe film was produced by Philippe Rousselet, and Patrick Wachsberger produced the film with Jerome Seydoux,and exec produced by Ardavan Safaee, Sarah Borch-Jacobsen, and co-produced by Hester Hargett-Aupetit, Ged Dickersin, Marie De Cenival, and Eric Jehelmann, Stephane Celerier, and Valerie Garcia.
The auction was brokered by CAA Media Finance and ICM Partners and Pathe.
All this bodes well for other hot titles in the festival, with the Rebecca Hall-directed Passing premiering today.