Nearly two months after the Sundance Film Festival wrapped up for another year, the acquisitions news is still trickling in, and the latest hit from Park City to find US distribution is “Dear White People.” Justin Simien's debut feature was one of the few to generate critical discussion and debate in what was a pretty low-temperature US Dramatic competition, and was duly recognized with a special Breakthrough Talent award. Now Lionsgate and their adventurous indie arm Roadside Attractions have picked it up for the North American market, with a release pencilled in for the autumn.
That's quite a result for a film that, while buzzy in a festival environment, hardly represents an easy sell. Simien's campus comedy rather bluntly tackles the theme of racial tension in a fictional Ivy League college; for every Sundance attendee who thought it heady and clever, there was another who found it simply obnoxious. I wasn't entirely a convert myself: the script, which matches Spike Lee-style bristle to Whit Stillman-style archness, is smart, frequently funny stuff, but I found the airless visual construction and default ironic tone mollified much of its power.
In any event, it should be a bit of conversation piece when it arrives later in the year, presumably after further exposure in Toronto. I can't imagine it going any further than the indie awards sphere, though Roadside has some form in propelling Sundance breakouts to greater success in the outside world — including Oscar nominees “Winter's Bone,” “Super Size Me” and “Margin Call.”
Roadside Attractions president Howard Cohen says, “Justin Simien is a funny, fresh and current voice with his finger on the Millennials” pulse. His crowd-pleasing 'Dear White People' took Sundance by storm, with its sly and extremely topical satire sparking conversations about our supposed ‘post-racial”, 21st century America.”