There’s a euphoria among film sellers and buyers as SXSW finally convenes Friday in Austin, Texas after a three-year pandemic shutdown.
With the last two editions of the Sundance Film Festival being virtual, and the hybrid edition of TIFF seeing reduced capacities, few industry execs, and a muted atmosphere, SXSW marks the return to packed, receptive audiences; actual live pulses which can trigger good reviews and social media wattage, culminating in what some believe could be an active sales market here in Texas’s capital.
SXSW has a knack for programming comedies, genre, and genre-twisted features; titles which are best experienced by a reactive audience. Sellers previously told Deadline that virtual viewing of such fare at recent fests doesn’t really help their cause. While SXSW is enforcing vaxx cards and mask-wearing indoors, screenings will be at full capacity. In 2019, SXSW drew a reported 73K attendees alone to the film portion of their annual multimedia event.
Pre-pandemic, the feature acquisition activity at SXSW was never at the frenzied nor lucrative levels of Sundance, where buyers and sellers are known to stay up late haggling. That’s not to say that it hasn’t had its all-night auction moments, i.e. the seven-figure deal for Undefeated back in 2011, which ultimately won the Oscar for Best Documentary. For the most part, sellers and buyers typically head home on Monday from the fest to digest the whole SXSW experience before resuming talks again.
In that way, SXSW has been a cash cow for sellers in regards to a $1M deal here and there (i.e. 2016’s Adam Scott-Nick Kroll-Jenny Slate movie My Blind Brother). One of the more notable sales in recent history was the 2015 Sally Field movie Hello, My Name Is Doris, which sold to Roadside Attractions for $1.75M and grossed $14.4M at the domestic box office.
With the 2020 SXSW festival canceled, that edition saw the Kelly Oxford directed-written narrative feature selection, Pink Skies Ahead, which was in contention for a jury award, ultimately selling to MTV for an estimated $3M. Even for smaller movies which align themselves with smaller distributors, SXSW remains a place where lightening can strike: Troubled-teen drama Short Term 12 made its world premiere here in 2013 which ultimately skyrocketed the careers of Brie Larson and filmmaker Destin Daniel Cretton, both of whom are now employed by the Marvel Cinematic universe respectively with Captain Marvel ($1.1 billion) and Shang-Chi and the Legend of Ten Rings ($432.2M). The pic sold to Cinedigm after winning Best Narrative Feature at the fest.
Many sellers are upbeat about the delegation of buyers making their way to Austin for the weekend, some sending as many as three executives. This includes streamers like Netflix, Apple, Hulu, HBO Max, and theatrical distributors such as A24, IFC, NEON, Sony Pictures Classics and Focus Features, and more.
Even as moviegoers begin to make their way back to the theaters as Covid eases, streamers remain in need of product, particularly at a time when a number of frosh OTT services are competing for subscribers, i.e. Disney+, Paramount+, Peacock, and HBO Max. Even though tech savvy streamers like Netflix, Amazon, and Apple have the checkbook-power to outbid, there are those filmmakers who still desire a pure theatrical release, and that’s where the bargaining edge of traditional distributors comes in.
Here are some of the hot titles up for sale:
(all times CT)
SPIN ME ROUND
Director: Jeff Baena. Cast: Allison Brie, Alessandro Nivola, Aubrey Plaza, Molly Shannon, Zach Woods, Fred Armisen. Sales: WME Independent, ICM Partners. Baena, a Sundance alum with movies such as Life After Beth, The Little Hours, Joshy, and Horse Girl, reteams with actresses Brie (a producer and co-writer here), Plaza, and Shannon for the filmmaker’s SXSW first world premiere. When the manager of an Italian restaurant chain wins the opportunity to attend the franchise’s educational immersion program in Italy, what she thought would be a romantic getaway devolves into chaos and catastrophe. Narrative Spotlight/Premiere: March 12, 6:15PM
SOFT & QUIET
Director: Beth de Araújo. Cast: Stefanie Estes, Olivia Luccardi, Eleanore Pienta, Dana Millican, Melissa Paulo, Jon Beavers, Cissy Ly. Sales: CAA, Blumhouse. Blumhouse became so excited about this socially arresting thriller, they boarded it before the festival to assist in selling. Set in a single afternoon, the movie follows an elementary school teacher as she organizes a mixer of like-minded women. When the group heads home, the teacher encounters a woman from her past, leading to a volatile chain of events. Narrative Feature Competition, March 12, 4:15PM
Director: Colin West. Cast: Jim Gaffigan, Rhea Seehorn, Katelyn Nacon, Gabriel Rush, Amy Hargreaves, West Duchovny, Michael Ian Black, Tony Shalhoub, Elisabeth Henry, Roger Hendricks Simon. Sales: UTA. When the host of a failing children’s science show tries to fulfill his childhood dream of becoming an astronaut by building a rocket ship in his garage, a series of bizarre events occur that cause him to question his own reality. Narrative Feature Competition. March 12, 7:15PM
Director: Nyla Innuksuk. Cast: Tasiana Shirley, Alexis Wolfe, Chelsea Prusky, Frankie Vincent-Wolfe, Nalajoss Ellsworth. Sales: UTA. Pangnirtung, Nunavut: A sleepy hamlet nestled in the majestic mountains of Baffin Island in the Arctic Ocean wakes up to a typical summer day. No School, no cool boys (well… except one), and 24- hour sunlight. But for Maika and her ragtag friends, the usual summer is suddenly not in the cards when they discover an alien invasion threatening Pang. But these teenagers have been underestimated their whole lives, and using makeshift weapons and their horror movie knowledge, they show the aliens you don’t fuck with the girls from Pang. Innuksuk was facing grim physical circumstances and in need of a transplant; the one thing she wanted to commit to was the making of this movie. Innuksuk made the movie and received the organ transplant. Narrative Feature Competition, March 13, 12:45PM.
Director: Maureen Bharoocha, Cast List: Connor Kalopsis, Ramona Young, Rita Moreno, Keith David, Kate Flannery, Meredith Salenger, Johnathan Kimmel, Nathan Janak, Betsy Sodaro, Romel De Silva. Sales: UTA. Ben, and his slacker friend, Tanner, play a prank on their high school physics professor (90-year-old Moreno, like you’ve never seen her before) when she fails them on a test. They teach the imperious, demanding instructor a lesson by falsely accusing her of the murder of a missing student on social media. Narrative Spotlight, March 13, 11:45 AM.
Director: Gracie Otto. Cast: Rose Byrne, Krew Boylan, Bobby Cannavale, Daniel Webber, Celeste Barber, Thomas Campbell. Sales: CAA, Arclight Films. Raylene ‘Red’ Delaney is a vivacious but, at times, misguided redhead, who pours herself a cup of ambition and trades her nine to five career in real estate for a life under the spotlight as a Dolly Parton impersonator. At first average, and then fabulous, her tumultuous journey is full of fake hair, artificial boobs, and a romantic liaison with Kenny Rogers. The cost of success, however, is far greater than Red ever anticipated, and in order to find herself she needs to lose herself in Dolly. The film features a catalogue of classic Dolly Parton hits, as well as Elvis, Kenny Rogers, Neil Diamond, Kylie Minogue and more. Pic marks the Australian filmmaker’s return to SXSW after last year’s docu Under the Volcano. Narrative Feature Competition, March 13, 7PM.
Director: Bill Posley. Cast: Tony Todd, Sheaun McKinney, Tunde Laleye, Me’Lisa Sellers, Teon Kelly. Sales: WME Independent. Posley is a Cobra Kai scribe who is making his feature directorial debut here with Bitch Ass, as well as debut at SXSW. The year is 1980. Young Cecil is bullied by kids in the 6th Street gang for being fat, shy, and always playing board games. They all pick on him and call him Bitch Ass. On a gang initiation night, they jump him and leave him for dead. Fast forward to 1999. No one has seen or heard from Bitch Ass since, and he has become an urban legend. Now, a new crop of 6th Street recruits are gearing up for another initiation night. They get tasked with robbing a house, but little do they know they’re walking into Bitch Ass’ house, and he has been plotting his revenge by building deadly versions of the childhood games they bullied him for playing. Let the games begin! Midnighters/March 14, 10 PM
Director: Kestrin Pantera. Cast Britt Rentschler, Michael Tennant, JJ Nolan, Graham Outerbridge, Charlotte Ubben, Alex Klein, Clayton Froning, Katrina Hughes, Vanessa Chester, Amy Maghera. Sales: ICM Partners, UTA. Billed as White Lotus by way of Schitt’s Creek, this satirical takedown of the rich elite follows Jack and Lindsey Simpson, who have low cash flow, Plan B jobs, and a snooze alarm sex life. However, when they get invited to a Sonoma Chateau by affluent strangers, they end up on the most unhinged weekend of their lives. With the “haves,” anything goes — including their bearings on reality. Pantera was previously at Sundance with the femme dramedy Mother’s Little Helpers, which sold to Gravitas Features. Narrative Spotlight/March 14, 11:30AM
Director: Michael Morris. Cast List: Andrea Riseborough, Allison Janney, Marc Maron, Andre Royo, Owen Teague, Stephen Root, James Landry Hebert, Matt Lauria, Catfish Jean. Sales: UTA. A West Texas single mother wins the lottery and drinks it away just as fast, leaving behind a world of heartbreak. Years later, with her charm running out and nowhere to go, she returns home to confront her past, her choices, and her future. Narrative Spotlight, March 12, 8:30 PM.
Director: Eli Horowitz. Cast List: Winona Ryder, Dermot Mulroney, John Gallagher Jr, Owen Teague, Brianne Tju. Sales: CAA. When her boyfriend runs off with a younger woman, Kath (Winona Ryder) attempts to move on with her life — but she begins to suspect his disappearance is not what it seems. Narrative Spotlight, March 13, 9:30PM.
A LOT OF NOTHING
Director: Mo McRae. Cast: Y’lan Noel, Cleopatra Coleman, Shamier Anderson, Lex Scott Davis, Justin Hartley. Sales: CAA. An upper middle class married couple find their lives spiraling out of control when they decide to take justice into their own hands and seek retribution against their neighbor. Narrative Feature Competition, March 13, 3:45PM
THE UNKNOWN COUNTRY
Director: Morrisa Maltz. Cast: Lily Gladstone, Raymond Lee, Richard Ray Whitman, Lainey Bearkiller Shangreaux, Devin Shangreaux, Jasmine “Jazzy” Bearkiller Shangreaux, Pam Richter, Dale Leander Toller, Florence R. Perrin, Teresa Boyd. Sales: ICM Partners. An unexpected invitation launches a grieving young woman on a solitary road trip through the American Midwest as she struggles to reconcile the losses of her past with the dreams of her future. Visions/March 13, 3PM
Director: Sarah Jones, Sales, UTA. A heartfelt, witty doc/narrative hybrid following Tony-winning performer/comedian Sarah Jones and her multicultural characters on a journey exploring her personal relationship to the sex industry through a social justice lens. Visions, March 11, 10PM
GABBY GIFFORDS WON’T BACK DOWN
Directors: Julie Cohen, Betsy West. Sales: CAA, UTA. The directors of the 2x Oscar-nominated and docu box office hit RBG arrive at SXSW with a look at Congresswoman Gabby Giffords. A gunman ended her skyrocketing political career, but she still didn’t stop. With total access to her rehab, work fighting gun violence, and marriage to Sen. Mark Kelly, the film brings us inside Gabby’s extraordinary journey back. Documentary Spotlight, March 12, 3PM.
STILL WORKING 9 TO 5
Directors/Producers: Camille Hardman, Gary Lane. Sales: Gersh. Docu explores why workplace inequality is no laughing matter in the 40 years since the seminal comedy 9 to 5 was released in 1980, starring Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Dabney Coleman and Dolly Parton. Documentary Spotlight, March 13, 3:45PM.
REALLY GOOD REJECTS
Director: Alice Gu. Sales: UTA. The muted tones of rubber bridge guitars have delighted listeners the world over- from Wilco to Taylor Swift’s Folklore. Modern-day luthier Reuben Cox demystifies his process of creating some of rock’s most sought-after guitars. Pic is produced by David Dinerstein, whose Summer of Soul Questlove-directed docu was scooped up by Searchlight at 2021 Sundance and won Best Documentary at the Film Independent Spirits last weekend. It’s up for Best Documentary at this year’s Oscars. 24 Beats Per Second, March 13, 9PM.
Director: Daresha Kyi. Sales: WME Independent. Mama Bears is an intimate exploration of two “mama bears”—conservative, Christian mothers who have become fierce advocates for LGBTQ+ people—and a young lesbian whose struggle for self-acceptance exemplifies why the mama bears are so important. Documentary Feature Competition/March 13, 3PM
SPLIT AT THE ROOT
Director: Linda Goldstein Knowlton. Sales: CAA, ICM Partners, UTA. The docu, which has Rosario Dawson and Lana Parrilla aboard as EPs, centers around the emotional journey of mothers separated from their children at the US border and the grassroots initiative that, against all odds, reunites those families. When a Guatemalan mother seeking asylum was separated from her kids under the Zero Tolerance Policy, a Facebook post by a mom in Queens coalesced into a movement, as thousands of like-minded women across the US refused to stand by quietly. Knowlton’s award-winning We Are The Radical Monarchs premiered at SXSW in 2019 and was released on PBS in 2020. She produced the award-winning Whale Rider and The Shipping News, and began directing documentaries in 2003. Documentary Spotlight. March 13, 3PM
CROWS ARE WHITE
Director: Ahsen Nadeem. Sales: CAA. After decades of living a secret life, a filmmaker travels to a strict Japanese monastery in search of guidance, but the only monk who will help him prefers ice cream and heavy metal over meditation. Crows are White is an exploration of truth, faith and love, from the top of a mountain to the bottom of a sundae. Documentary Spotlight, March 11, 7:45PM.
Director: Sam Green. Sales: ICM Partners. Pic explores the elemental phenomenon of sound by weaving together 32 sound explorations into a cinematic meditation on the power of sound to bend time, cross borders, and profoundly shape our perception of the world around us. At SXSW’s in-person screening, the film will provide headphones for each audience member for a special enhanced spatial audio experience. Festival Favorites/March 11, 10:30 PM
MASTER OF LIGHT
Director: Rosa Ruth Boesten, Sales: UTA. George Anthony Morton, a classical painter who spent ten years in federal prison, travels to his hometown to paint his family members. Going back forces George to face his past in his quest to rewrite the script of his life. Documentary Feature Competition, March 12, 1PM.