Sundance, Steeped in Weinstein Mystique, Enters a New Era

The lawyer Gloria Allred, after speaking at a rally over the weekend at the Sundance Film Festival.

PARK CITY, Utah — “Resist! Persist! Insist! Elect!”

Gloria Allred, the feminist lawyer, seemed exactly in her element on Saturday morning in this ski town as she led hundreds of Sundance Film Festival attendees at a Women’s March rally. It was only 22 degrees, and heavy snow was swirling around her. But Ms. Allred charged forth, determined to keep the heat on Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and other powerful men accused of sexual harassment and assault.

The moment neatly summed up an evolving Sundance.

This is no longer Mr. Weinstein’s freewheeling festival, the one he blasted into the public consciousness with eye-popping deals to bring male-gaze entries like “Sex, Lies and Videotape” and “Reservoir Dogs” to theaters. Sundance is now a prime showcase for women — films directed, produced and written by women; films with female protagonists; special events focused on female empowerment. And most of the distribution deals involve TV sets.

Seeing Allred,” a documentary about Ms. Allred’s life and labors that was directed by Sophie Sartain and Roberta Grossman premiered at the festival on Sunday. Netflix owns it. The film will arrive in living rooms on Feb. 9.

Mr. Weinstein’s presence still reverberates at Sundance. His usual seats in the back right corner of the Eccles Theater seem a bit forlorn without his swaggering entourage camped in them, and people (reporters, mostly) keep talking about his absence. Fired from his company, ousted by the film academy and under investigation by police, Mr. Weinstein is missing his first Sundance in memory. His company is trying to sell itself to avoid bankruptcy.

But most longtime attendees will tell you that the festival feels no different because the Weinstein Company, with its theater-focused business model, long ago ceded the Sundance marketplace to Netflix and Amazon. Last year, those two streaming services, both official Sundance sponsors, snapped up at least 14 movies, including spending $12 million for “The Big Sick” and $12.5 million for “Mudbound,” accounting for more than a third of total festival acquisitions. The Weinstein Company bought nothing.

Reed Hastings, Netflix’s chief executive, is now the person who reporters for Hollywood trade publications track through the snow.

“Harvey was a moment in time,” Robert Redford, who founded Sundance, said at the festival’s opening-day news conference on Thursday.

John Cooper, Sundance’s director, acknowledged in an interview that his festival’s 35-year history will be forever intertwined with Mr. Weinstein, who reached a settlement with the actress Rose McGowan after a 1997 festival encounter that she has since described, on Twitter, as rape. (Through a spokeswoman, Mr. Weinstein has repeatedly denied “any allegations of nonconsensual sex.”) But Mr. Cooper also said that the fallen mogul’s impact on Sundance had long been overstated.

“Nobody on the ground here ever gave him a crown,” Mr. Cooper said. “He was just the loudest and the media followed and built him up.”

Tom Bernard, the co-founder of Sony Pictures Classics, who has attended Sundance since its inception and shepherded such celebrated indie films as “Whiplash” and the current Oscar contender “Call Me By Your Name,” said in an interview that the festival had matured and diversified in ways that the news media often ignored. “Sundance coverage tends to play into a mystique that just isn’t true anymore,” Mr. Bernard said.

Sundance’s anything-goes aura was established in the 1990s and the 2000s, when independent film reigned as the epitome of cool. Fueled by the DVD boom, almost all of the big studios created specialty divisions and poured money into Sundance distribution deals, leading to all-night bidding wars in luxury condos around Park City. Marketers for fashion labels, cellphone companies and vodka brands scrambled to capitalize on the heat, setting up gifting suites that attracted celebrities with no connection to the festival. (Paris Hilton, most infamously.) Films took a back seat to the circus.

There is still plenty of hot tub hopping. But the festival, which attracted 71,600 attendees last year, has matured into middle age. The swag suites are largely gone. Creative Artists Agency, which threw a Sundance party in 2013 featuring lingerie-clad women pretending to snort prop cocaine and exotic dancers outfitted with sex toys, has not had an event the past two years. A newly implemented Sundance code of conduct states that the festival can kick out anyone engaging in “harassment, discrimination, sexism and threatening or disrespectful behavior.” A lot of gray hair can be seen on the festival shuttle buses; people who started coming here in their 20s are now in their 40s.

As for those bidding wars, this year’s Sundance opened on a quiet note. By Sunday afternoon, four days into the 11-day festival, only one significant distribution deal had been struck. Bleecker Street, founded in 2014 with backing from Manoj Bhargava, the 5-Hour Energy drink entrepreneur, and 30West, a company financed by the Texas billionaire Dan Friedkin, teamed up to pay roughly $5 million for distribution rights to “Colette,” a costume drama starring Keira Knightley as the French novelist Sidonie Gabrielle Colette. (Amazon was also a bidder.)

“There are two different worlds intersecting, one that is traditional and focused on ticket sales and one that only cares about signing up more subscribers,” said Peter Broderick, a film distribution strategist. “Traditional distributors have a lot of challenges. So many are looking backward — what has worked for us before. At the same time, they are being priced out of the market for the better films.”

Distributors, including relatively new players like A24, Neon and Annapurna, may be erring on the side of caution. Some sales agents cited the dampening effect of “Patti Cake$,” a rap-infused drama that sold to Fox Searchlight for an estimated $10 million last year and ended up taking in just $800,148 in theaters. But the mix of movies this time around could also be a factor; some distributors complained that films that premiered early in the festival were flawed, including the opening-night selection, “Blindspotting.”

“It’s not as big of a marketplace for finished films as it was in the ’90s and early 2000s,” said Mr. Bernard of Sony Pictures Classics. “But it’s still an enormous marketplace for talent: Casting people looking for actors, producers looking for directors and cinematographers.” (One example from recent years: After gaining attention at Sundance for quirky films like “Hunt for the Wilderpeople,” Taika Waititi went on to direct “Thor: Ragnarok” for Disney.)

This year’s primary festival lineup — 122 feature-length films culled from 3,901 submissions — includes many movies that examine race. “Blindspotting,” starring Daveed Diggs, best known for winning a Tony for “Hamilton,” is a raucous, hip-hop-infused story of racism, stereotypes and gentrification. (Mr. Cooper, Sundance’s director, called it “fun, to the point of being sassy” as he introduced it. Reviews are mixed.)

Other selections addressing race include “Sorry to Bother You,” about a thirtysomething black telemarketer who climbs rungs by finding his inner “white voice,” and “Monsters and Men,” about a Puerto Rican man in Brooklyn who witnesses a white police officer wrongly gun down a black resident.

Mr. Cooper drew a connection between filmmakers wrestling with race and the #OscarsSoWhite outcry in 2015 and 2016. “It usually takes about two years for topics to permeate,” he said.

Even so, women are front and center at this year’s festival, noted Trevor Groth, Sundance’s director of programming.

There are major documentaries on Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Jane Fonda, Joan Jett and the artist Yayoi Kusama, in addition to the one on Ms. Allred. Amy Adrion’s “Half the Picture” delves into gender bias in Hollywood. Alexandria Bombach’s “On Her Shoulders” looks at a young female activist and survivor of ISIS sex slavery.

The actresses Chloë Sevigny, Laura Dern, Carey Mulligan, Chloë Grace Moretz, Kathryn Hahn, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Rose Byrne, Daisy Ridley, Blythe Danner, Hilary Swank and Kelly Macdonald all anchor films. And 45 movies were directed by women, including indie stalwarts like Tamara Jenkins and Debra Granik.

“It’s a really plentiful year for women,” Mr. Groth said, “which makes us enormously excited.”

All the better to vanquish memories of Mr. Weinstein.

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