The 2012 Sundance Film Festival starts tomorrow. The question is, so what?
This is not to denigrate the festival itself, which has introduced many of the best directors and actors of the past two decades, but to question the impact the indie film world is having on theaters these days.
Virtually all of last year’s Sundance “hits” bombed when it came to the general marketplace. The tense “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” which was supposed to make Elizabeth Olsen a star, eeked out less than $3 million. “Like Crazy,” with Anton Yelchin and the fabulous Felicity Jones, made less than $4 million, likely not near its production and marketing costs.
The comparatively commercial “Win Win” ($11 million) and “Cedar Rapids” ($7 million) broke even at best. Even the highly praised “Take Shelter,” the best reviewed of the bunch, has yet to make $2 million.
And writer-actor Brit Marling? Her “Another Earth” has yet to pass the $1.5 million mark.
This doesn’t mean these aren’t good movies. In truth, they’re all good movies and generally far better than films that earn 10, 20 and 30 times as much.
Further, they’re still relevant movies, because not only do they often provide the mainstream stars of tomorrow, they also influence what gets made in the mainstream by pushing from the bottom up.
But you have to wonder how many of the films at Sundance will actually be bought for theatrical distribution this year after such a financially dismal 2011 crop. Money’s tight everywhere and the few Sundance films that did make a bit of cash last year — “Buck,” “Margin Call,” “Our Idiot Brother” — may not be enough to convince buyers this year.
Of course, every time Sundance looks to be dead, another “Little Miss Sunshine,” “Precious” or “Once” appears. Hopefully that happens this year. Or 2013 could get really ugly.