Birth of a Nation, Which Could Be Next Year's Best Picture, Sets Sales Record at Sundance

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The previous record for a film that premiered at Sundance and was subsequently purchased by a major production company belonged to Little Miss Sunshine, which sold for $10.5 million in 2006. That record was shattered today when Fox Searchlight bought world rights for The Birth of a Nation for $17.5 million. The purchase—not yet finalized—followed an all-night bidding war in Park City, Utah.

The film, directed by and starring the as-yet-unheralded Nate Parker, tells the story of Nat Turner, the revolutionary slave who led an 1831 rebellion in Virginia. Turner and his small army were responsible for as many as 60 deaths. All were eventually captured and sentenced to death, including Turner, who was hanged in November of that year. Post-rebellion retaliatory white violence took the lives of as many as 200 innocent black victims.

Sony Pictures and the Weinstein Company also made bids for the film, which came up just short of the worldwide festival sales record, held jointly by Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals and Denis Villenueve’s Story of Your Life (both purchased at Cannes for $20 million). Netflix actually made the biggest bid of all, offering a record-tying $20 million, but Fox Searchlight—the company that led 12 Years A Slave to last year’s best picture—won out with the slightly lower bid.

Deadline reports that there’s already best picture buzz for The Birth of a Nation, and considering the significant pushback from the lack of diversity for this year’s nominees, it seems likely that the film could benefit from a reformed Academy—which was apparently one of the considerations that pushed the price so high.

The film received a standing ovation after its screening, says Deadline, with many attendees “shaken” and “sobbing.”

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