Update (01.30.17 – 12pm): As the Tracking Board pretty much predicted below, Mudbound scored the largest deal at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, with Netflix swooping in late in the game to acquire Dee Rees’ period drama for a cool $12.5 million, edging out Amazon’s $12 million deal for The Big Sick. Variety confirmed that A24 and Annapurna were among the interested parties, but Netflix and its deep pockets won out in the end. The streaming service will partner with a theatrical distributor and is expected to give the film a significant awards push later this year. Financed by MACRO, Zeal, and Black Bear, Mudbound is already receiving Oscar buzz, particularly for Jason Mitchell’s performance. WME Global brokered the deal with producers Cassian Elwes and Charles King. Deadline broke the news of the sale.
The original story is below.
While most of the Hollywood contingent at Sundance has already left Park City, there are still plenty of festival deals being made, chief among them one for Dee Rees’ acclaimed drama MUDBOUND, which is the hottest acquisition title left on the board.
Insiders say that producers are seeking a $15 million deal for U.S. rights only and won’t settle for less than $11 million, in part due to this year’s Sundance market, which has seen lighter fare such as The Big Sick and Patti Cake$ go for $12 million to Amazon and $10.5 million to Fox Searchlight, respectively.
The film’s producers are said to be pushing for a major awards campaign, with one noble goal in particular. They want potential distributors to pledge to throw their weight behind helping Rees become the first African-American woman to earn a Best Director nomination, a feat that is sadly still on the table after the Academy snubbed Ava DuVernay for Selma.
Searchlight and Focus Features have also expressed interest in Mudbound, but each is coming off an underwhelming awards season. The filmmakers are believed to be reluctant to make a deal with Searchlight due to how the company handled “the Nate Parker situation” surrounding The Birth of a Nation, according to one insider, who also suggested that Focus could’ve done a better job with the Oscar campaign for Loving, which managed just one (surprise) nomination on Tuesday for lead actress Ruth Negga.
Though both criticisms are fair, there wasn’t much Searchlight could’ve done for Birth of a Nation after being dealt a bad hand with Nate Parker’s college rape controversy. The studio had never been in that kind of situation and underestimated the blowback it would have. As a result, the studio struggled to separate the movie and its message from its maker. The film underperformed at the box office and it’s possible that Searchlight’s handling of the incident could cost it a shot at Mudbound, which is another racially-charged drama that will require great care from a distributor.
Based on the book by Hillary Jordan, and adapted by Rees and Virgil Williams, Mudbound follows two men (Garrett Hedlund and Jason Mitchell) who return home from World War II to work on a farm in rural Mississippi, where they struggle to deal with racism and adjusting to life after war.
Jason Clarke and Carey Mulligan also star alongside Jonathan Banks, Rob Morgan and Mary J. Blige, who has received the most awards buzz along with Mitchell (the Straight Outta Compton star who was criminally ignored last awards season).
Whichever lucky company lands Mudbound will send a loud signal to Hollywood that they plan to be a serious player in next year’s awards race. The reviews are there. The question is, will audiences follow?
Those still at Sundance will get a sneak peek, as Mudbound screens twice more at the Eccles Theatre on Thursday and Saturday evenings.
Jeff Sneider | Editor in Chief