As Sundance films head to mainstream audiences, themes of family emerge in award winners

Jan 29, 2024, 6:06 PM

A still from "Daughters" by Angela Patton and Natalie Rae, an official selection of the U.S. Docume...

A still from "Daughters" by Angela Patton and Natalie Rae, an official selection of the U.S. Documentary Competition at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival. (Sundance Institute)

(Sundance Institute)

PARK CITY — As the dust settled from the just ended Sundance Film Festival, themes emerged from the storytelling while sales reports mean mean some of the top films will be available for general audiences either streaming or in theaters.

Films are often about connections between humans but this year’s festival award winners seems to gravitate toward stories about family — in all the forms that can take. At this year’s festival, that included both films that were purchased for wider audiences and films that were awarded by the festival.

Sundance family themes

“Daughters” that won both the Audience Award for U.S. Documentary also won the Festival Favorite Award, meaning it was the favorite new feature across all sections of the festival, getting the audience nod above non-docs with star power. It takes a sometimes heartbreaking look at daughters with incarcerated fathers and documents one prison daddy-daughter dance, with healthy doses of before and after, making it a project several years in the making. It states that 95% of inmates who go through the program stay out of prison.

“In The Summers” a dramatic feature, is also about daughters, two sisters in this case, who navigate summers with their loving but volatile father. It won the U.S. Grand Jury prize.

“A New Kind of Wilderness” with its World Cinema Grand Jury Prize is a documentary about a family living an isolated lifestyle in an effort to be self reliant and free. In this documentary a tragic event means they must adjust to a new reality.

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“Porcelain War” is about artists who must help in the fight to keep Ukraine free from an invading Russia, but it’s also very much about a family torn asunder when children must be sent to safety while adults remain behind to what they can.  It won the U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Documentary. Finding beauty in the midst of destruction, it shows that people can be made afraid but taking away their passion for life is much more difficult.

Two other award-winning films are coming-of-age films with “Didi” — dramatic jury award for best ensemble and — “Girls Will Be Girls”, awarded with the World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award For Acting.

“Ibelin” that won the world directing award, is about a family fractured after a gamer with a degenerative muscular disease dies, leaving his parents to discover his network of friends from around the world.

Coming to a screen near you

Family is at the center of many of the Sundance sales so far.

“Super/Man: The Christopher Reeve Story” is very much a family film, with his children providing the voice and home movies of much of the documentary. Warner Bros. Discovery closed on an approximately $15 million deal.

“Skywalkers: A Love Story” is about a young couple that climb skyscrapers around the world, but also the families they come from and the one they hope to make together. Netflix purchased it.

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“Ghostlight” is about the construction-worker father of a family forced to grapple with a recent tragedy mirror as he lands in a local theater production. IFC Films picked it up.

The biggest purchase of the 2024 festival is “It’s What’s Inside” by Netflix for $17 million. It’s about friends who gather in a mansion for a weekend when one friend arrives with a mysterious suitcase with a new technology and chaos ensues. It’s technically a blend of sci-fi and social media.

Amazon MGM spent approximately $15 million for another sci-fi concept, “My Old Ass,” but with a sweet tone about a farming family’s daughter who is about to head off to college. The teen talks to her older self, played by Aubrey Plaza.

Cousins return to Poland to see where their beloved grandma left and the concentration camps she survived in WWII. “A Real Pain,” staring Jesse Eisenberg and Kieran Culkin is a $10 million purchase by Searchlight Pictures. That studio had 11 Oscar nominations this year.

A supernatural film with a family at its center is Steven Soderbergh’s “Presence,” sold to Neon. Expect it in theaters. More acquisitions are expected to follow.

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As Sundance films head to mainstream audiences, themes of family emerge in award winners