PARK CITY, Utah – Fox Searchlight picked up the slave-rebellion drama The Birth of a Nation at the Sundance Film Festival for record $17.5 million. The film, directed and written by Nate Parker, premiered Monday in Park City to multiple standing ovations.

“The Birth of a Nation” is based on the true story of a literate slave and preacher named Nat Turner –played by Parker– who led a rebellion in the antebellum South and caused severe punishment from whites. The cast is round out by Naomi King, Gabrielle Union and Armie Hammer.

Photo: Sundance Film Festival

Standing ovation lasted throughout the entire credits when the film premiered Monday at Eccles Center.

“I made this film for one reason — with the hope of creating change agents,” Parker, who also produced the film, told the audience as he took the stage for Q&A. “That people can watch this film and be affected. That you can watch this film and see that there were systems that were in place that were corrupt and corrupted people and the legacy of that still lives with us. I just want you, if you are affected and you are so moved, to ask yourself, ‘Are there systems in my life that need attention, whether it be racial, gender?’ There are a lot of injustices.”

Manchester by the Sea —bought by Amazon– and The Way, Way Back —by Fox Searchlight in 2013– are among the films that have reached $10 million at the Sundance Film Festival. “The Birth of a Nation” chose Searchlight even though there were other suitors, including The Weinstein Co., Netflix, Paramount, Universal and Sony.

In fact, as reported by Deadline, Netflix had made a bigger offer for the slave-themed drama, but Mr. Parker’s desire to make an Oscar run for the next year’s Academy Awards probably led his decision in Searchlight’s favor. However, Netflix still made four significant purchases.

Mr. Parker’s drama has reached the highest price paid for a film at Sundance, but it’s not the most ever shelled out at a film festival. Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals and Denis Villenueve’s Story of Your Life went for $20 million even though those films were not even made by that moment.

Still, even the highest prices do not ensure a box office hit. Hamlet 2 was purchased in 2008 by Focus Features for about $11 million, but the comedy took in only half that amount at the box office. “The Birth of a Nation” was independently financed and Mr. Parker quit acting for about two years to work on getting financing for the film. Although the shoot lasted less than a month, he spent seven years working on the movie.

Source: New York Times