Gauging Post-Sundance Success Ain’t Easy

Fruitvale, a film about Oscar Grant's shooting, got a distribution deal. But what about the rest?

Michael B. Jordan plays Oscar Grant in Fruitvale (Screen grab courtesy of Sundance Film Festival)

There is no doubt that Sundance opens the door; what filmmakers do once they walk through it is really up to them. Shari Frilot, a senior programmer at Sundance, explained that every year she ponders the same question, “What’s to become of these filmmakers?” Sundance recently started an artists’ services division to help with distribution. Of the Weinstein-Coogler deal, she said that it indicates a company’s investment in the director. “They actually believe in the vision of this director, so I expect to see more of him coming down the pike,” Frilot told The Root.

Even before the Weinstein Company came along, Coogler already had one very big investor. Forest Whitaker, whom Coogler affectionately called “Uncle Forest” during the Sundance screening, is Fruitvale‘s executive producer. Whitaker told The Root that he took on the project after meeting with Coogler “because of his passion, because of his vision.” The Oscar winner was doing double duty in Park City; he also premiered his own film, Vipaka, at the Slamdance film festival, which runs concurrently with Sundance.

For Whitaker, Vipaka was a chance to take a short film with a white cast and turn it into a feature with an all-black cast that his company, JuntoBox Films, will distribute. “I really thought this film could be better served with an all-black cast and review something unique and different,” Whitaker explained. The thriller, about a disturbed man receiving therapy from a life coach, stars Whitaker, Anthony Mackie, Mike Epps, Sanaa Lathan and Nicole Ari Parker.

Ultimately, Sundance means different things to different people, and no two experiences are alike. Coogler says no matter what comes his way down the road, he’s fulfilled at least part of his dream. “At the end of the day, it’s all fantastic and great because people are watching your movie,” he said.

Julie Walker is a New York-based freelance journalist. Follow her on Twitter.