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The Sundance Film Festival usually makes a minimal awards season impact, with one or maybe two films surviving the arduous journey from January premiere in Park City to bona fide Oscar contender 12 months later. It’s noteworthy, then, that this year’s awards landscape includes a number of titles from the 2017 edition of the fest.
The strongest of the group, Jordan Peele’s “Get Out,” didn’t actually arrive in Park City as a competition title, but rather a surprise midnight screening. Credit for the strategy goes to producer Jason Blum, who felt the Sundance atmosphere, and the tighter quarters of the Library Center Theatre in particular, would be the perfect place for a launch. On the heels of an electric audience reaction and instant critical approval, Blum says the outcome fully informed what the “Get Out” campaign — which yielded four nominations Jan. 23, including best picture — would be.
“We really leaned into Rotten Tomatoes and critics to show people what we had in a way that’s not really done when it comes to genre movies,” Blum notes. “With genre movies, you’re kind of going in with low expectations and prejudice against it. I wanted to try to overcome that, and Sundance was one of the ways we did it.”
Director Luca Guadagnino had such a great Sundance experience with his 2010 film “I Am Love” that he was happy to return with “Call Me by Your Name” last year. The film, also nominated for four awards including best picture, was shot in May of 2016 and finished by July. Given the movie’s European sensibilities, a Cannes bow might have made sense, but waiting a year to unspool it was never a consideration.
“What I saw was a movie that could have been considered for just a single audience, let’s say the gay community, completely spill over those boundaries,” Guadagnino recalls of the premiere. “I started to learn, [with] the incredible universal reception that we got from the film, it was not possible to label the demographic.”
Sundance has always been a special place for “Mudbound” director Dee Rees. “It’s where I started [with 2007 short film ‘Pariah,’ which precipitated the 2011 feature], and it was the first institute that supported me as an artist,” she says. “Mudbound” reportedly caused a feeding frenzy, though Rees is quick to correct the record and note that only Netflix stepped forward with an actual offer (a hefty $12.5 million). Twelve months later, she’s an Oscar nominee for adapted screenplay. The film was also recognized for best supporting actress (Mary J. Blige), best cinematography and best original song.
“I think it’s great that a festival can really shape the conversation,” Rees says. “[Sundance] keeps alive a culture of cinema critique and cinema-going, and it doesn’t let smaller things die on the vine.”
Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon, who recently penned a love letter to their Sundance experience with “The Big Sick” in the pages of Variety, met a fairytale atmosphere in Park City. The film ultimately netted the pair an original screenplay nomination.
“You walk around, and even if people haven’t seen the movie, they know you’re the guys who wrote this movie that sold for whatever, because that becomes a big part of the story, too,” Nanjiani says. “It was mostly just exciting to have so many people come up to us and tell us what parts they really felt connected to.”
Last year’s Sundance program also reared its head with documentary feature Oscar notices for “Icarus,” “Last Men in Aleppo” and “Strong Island.” Elsewhere in the season, “Patti Cake$” and “Wind River” picked up debut Directors Guild nominations for Geremy Jasper and Taylor Sheridan, respectively. (Ditto Peele for “Get Out.”)
Clearly, it’s been a strong showing for Sundance titles in the current awards race. How will this year’s Park City crop pan out in 12 months’ time?