Notes on Sundance

‘Searching for Sugar Man’ and ‘The Queen of Versailles’ Sold at Sundance

Movie acquisition agents aren’t playing around this year: two of Sundance’s buzziest documentaries bought on the festival’s second day.

Heading into this year’s Sundance, movie pundits had a field day debating just how hot and heavy—or tepid and disappointing—the bidding would be at the festival, independent filmdom’s foremost North American marketplace. While 2011’s fest provided one of the most frenzied acquisition spectacles in a decade (with most of the wheeling and dealing taking place during the event’s initial Sunday-to-Wednesday logjam), not everyone arrived in Park City, Utah, optimistic of a repeat performance.

But on Friday, two of 2012’s buzziest documentaries had their North American distribution rights scooped up in an early indication that studio acquisitions agents aren’t playing around this year.

Sony Pictures Classics struck first blood, buying North American rights to Searching for Sugar Man, Swedish director Malik Bendjelloul’s directorial debut. Following the rise, seeming demise, and reemergence of an obscure but influential Mexican-American folk singer named Rodriguez, the movie premiered Thursday to tears, cheers, and a standing ovation from festival attendees.

Later in the day Friday, Magnolia Pictures bought North American theatrical distribution rights to Lauren Greenfield’s loopy but poignant documentary The Queen of Versailles. As described in a Notes from Sundance post Thursday, the movie chronicles a unique implosion of the American Dream. Florida billionaires David and Jackie Siegel set out to build the biggest house in America—a garish 90,000-square-foot edifice modeled on French King Louis XIV’s storied estate—but then are shown nearly losing their shirts during the 2008 global economic meltdown.

The Queen of Versailles brilliantly encapsulates the salient issues of the American economic downturn, while also being one of the most jaw-droppingly entertaining films I’ve seen in a very long time,” Magnolia president Eamonn Bowles said in a statement (thereby perpetuating Hollywood executives’ over-reliance on the word construction “jaw-droppingly” in press releases). “Lauren Greenfield is an exceptionally talented filmmaker with a wonderfully humanistic touch, and she has found a truly magnetic, charismatic star in Jackie Siegel.”