The 2024 Sundance Film Festival kicked off on January 18th with the world premiere of the highly anticipated horror film “Freaky Tales.” Directed by up-and-coming filmmaker Zoe Lister-Jones and starring Kristen Stewart and Pedro Pascal, “Freaky Tales” drew crowds of enthusiastic fans and celebrities to Park City, Utah for the festival’s 40th anniversary.
Lead Up to Highly Anticipated “Freaky Tales” Premiere
Founded by actor Robert Redford in 1981, the Sundance Film Festival has become the premier showcase for independent films and emerging talent. This year’s festival, running from January 18-29, is especially momentous as Sundance celebrates four decades of championing indie creators.
Lister-Jones has gained acclaim for her biting social commentary couched in horror and sci-fi, making “Freaky Tales” one of the most hotly anticipated films headed into Sundance 2024. The film follows a group of millennial influencers whose vlog about an abandoned summer camp turns sinister when they actually encounter the vengeful spirits of campers murdered decades prior. Sundance’s Director of Programming, Kim Yutani, praised “Freaky Tales” in an interview with Filmmaker Magazine, saying Lister-Jones has crafted “a scathing satire of internet culture drenched with blood and gore.”
Stewart, known for brooding dramatic turns in films like “Spencer” and “Seberg,” reportedly embraces full-on horror camp in “Freaky Tales.” In arguably the festival’s starriest premiere on opening night, she was joined by co-star Pedro Pascal, himself enjoying major career heat following “The Mandalorian.” The two posed together on the red carpet before the premiere along with Lister-Jones and other cast.
Early critical buzz for “Freaky Tales” has been strong, with IndieWire calling it “a midnight crowd pleaser dripping with sardonic takes on influencer narcissism.” Variety notes the film “[aims] to tap into 20-something audiences’ conflicted relationships with social media.”
Opening Night Draws Slew of A-List Celebrities
Beyond just Stewart and Pascal walking the red carpet, Sundance’s 40th anniversary brought out stars and celebrity guests eager to celebrate a festival that has long straddled Hollywood and the indie world.
Robert Downey Jr. was spotted disembarking a private jet at a small Utah airport, avoiding the crowds descending on Park City in order to “[arrive] incognito” according to ABC 4 in Salt Lake City. Rami Malek, Rachel Brosnahan, William Jackson Harper, and Thuso Mbedu posed together at Variety’s portrait studio.
Director Ava DuVernay appeared on a panel about supporting inclusive storytellers, saying Sundance “gave me my start” via her breakout film “Middle of Nowhere” in 2012. Lucy Lawless livetweeted the “Freaky Tales” premiere, gushing over what she called a “passion project” for Lister-Jones. Photos captured iconic moments like “Coda” star Emilia Jones fangirling over Kristen Stewart on the red carpet.
With over 100 feature films premiering, the 2024 festival has no shortage of star power on hand. Celebs making the trek to Park City include roles in some of the fest’s most anticipated titles:
- “Fair Play” starring Phoebe Dynevor and Alden Ehrenreich
- “Rye Lane” led by BAFTA winner Harris Dickinson
- “You Hurt My Feelings” with Juliette Lewis, Ann Dowd and Tig Notaro
- “The Devil You Know” featuring Sam Claflin and Eddie Marsan
Claflin and Marsan’s reteaming eight years after “The White King” has already garnered hype, with Deadline writing the psychological thriller “promises to deliver yet again.”
Early Sales Activity Buzzing Despite Lingering Strike Impact
Even on day one, the 2024 festival saw swift acquisition deals as distributors look to find the next indie breakout success à la “CODA,” which premiered at Sundance 2021 before going on to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards.
Searchlight Pictures made the first major buy, securing rights to “Rye Lane” for a reported $15 million. The film has garnered comparisons to past Searchlight Sundance buys “The Farewell” and “Late Night,” two festival breakouts centered on young creatives navigating personal relationships against pressure to conform to societal expectations.
Slamdance title “To Live and Die and Live” also earned a quick sale after premiering on opening day. Director Deborah Chow grabbed headlines for helming episodes of Disney+’s Star Wars series “Obi-Wan Kenobi” and she looks to transition to the film world with this documentary chronicling actor Christopher Reeve’s paralysis from Superman to activist. National Geographic Documentary Films acquired the buzzy doc for a seven-figure sum.
However, Hollywood guild strikes threatened to cast a shadow over the high-profile festival. Walkouts from the last year meant disruption of the production pipeline, leaving sales agents concerned about potential inventory issues impacting the indie marketplace. Fortunately Sundance 2024 seems to be faring well, according to IndieWire’s Eric Kohn: “Despite stops and starts in production, this year’s lineup suggests that indie veterans and newcomers finished enough movies to sustain a solid program.”
Sources indicate “several seven-figure minimum guarantees” have already been committed among various films. Titles garnering early buyer interest even prior to premieres include a narrative about Oakland dance company the Scrappers, the Will Ferrell drama “The Legend of Idaho Gray,” and films starring big names like Jennifer Lawrence, Florence Pugh, Jonathan Majors and others.
We’re just getting started at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival but sales activity already seems poised to follow last year’s robust market, when major deals occurred for films such as “Cha Cha Real Smooth,” “Navalny,” “892,” “Resurrection” and the Grand Jury Prize winner “Nanny.”
Zoe Lister-Jones Cements Status as Festival Breakout
While Stewart and Pascal brought their star power to Park City and various Hollywood heavyweights made their expected appearances, opening night proved to be a showcase for the continued rise of Zoe Lister-Jones. The actor-writer-director has delivered a Sundance breakout three festivals in a row now between “The Craft: Legacy,” “How It Ends” and her latest effort, “Freaky Tales.”
Critics praised Lister-Jones for bringing biting social commentary to genres frequently written off as lowbrow horror and sci-fi. In a review roundup via Rotten Tomatoes, JoBlo writes “’Freaky Tales’ solidifies [her] voice as one that has a lot to say buried in the jump scares.” Hollywood Reporter’s critic calls it a film with “mainstream appeal aided by stewing anger at the shallowness influencing young minds.”
Lister-Jones has succeeded in launching projects with major stars that still retain her own creative fingerprint. Despite the ominous title, her Sundance 2024 entry seems far from the last we’ll see from this multi-hyphenate talent.
The Festival So Far: Additional Pageantry for 40th Celebration
Sundance always infuses star power and Hollywood spectacle around its mission promoting indie films, but several events this year hold particular significance commemorating four decades since Robert Redford provided an annual platform for outsider voices.
On Thursday January 19th, the Sundance Institute held an invite-only 40th Anniversary Gala BASH including a Blue Carpet with many unnamed celebrity guests in attendance. The organization also hosted a panel discussion entitled “40 Years of Sundance: Present Meets Future” looking back at classic Sundance discovery stories like Steven Soderbergh’s “sex, lies, and Videotape” while featuring current voices like “Nanny” director Nikyatu Jusu speaking to the festival’s legacy.
Festivities extend into the weekend with Variety hosting its annual interview studio. On January 21st, Sundance’s Director of Film Programming Kim Yutani will sit down withbreakthrough documentary filmmaker Ramona S. Diaz to discuss her career and new film “’Matter of Fact.” Closing weekend, January 28th, will feature a commemorative screening of past Audience Award winners hosted by festival founder Robert Redford himself.
Moving Forward at the 2024 Festival
We’re only one day into Sundance but awards contenders and distribution deals already seem to be taking shape. “Freaky Tales” brought a bloody bite of satire to launch the festival’s 40th year, quickly establishing itself as a provocative talking point sure to ignite conversations around Hollywood and internet circles.
Zoe Lister-Jones continues cementing her status as an original voice within the horror/sci-fi space while also proving adept at attracting A-list collaborators like Kristen Stewart and Pedro Pascal. Searchlight and National Geographic Documentary Films drew first blood on the acquisitions front. Titles like “Rye Lane,” “The Legend of Idaho Gray” and Deborah Chow’s “To Live and Die and Live” have buyers buzzing about emerging talent to watch over the next 10 days in the mountains of Park City.
Sundance 2024 has only just begun but already feels like an exceptional year highlighting rising filmmakers, diverse storytellers and pioneering indie cinema. Keep following this page for updates on buzzy titles, bidding wars and breakthrough moments coming out of the festival over these next critical days.
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