Kris and Joe Swanberg movies Sundance successes

Kris and Joe Swanberg

Writer/director Kris Swanberg and her filmmaker-husband Joe Swanberg — tagged “the first couple at Sundance” — came home from Park City each having scored big hits with their respective world premiering features.

Kris Swanberg’s “Unexpected” was enthusiastically acclaimed as one of Sundance’s best, and among the film’s positive responses was powerhouse United Talent Agency (UTA) snapping her up for representation. 

“Unexpected” is also the first movie executive produced by the Webber/Gilbert Media Group.  It was formed in 2012 by the NBA All Star and TNT analyst Chris Webber and Kartemquin’s Peter Gilbert after meeting during the 1994 “Hoop Dreams” basketball doc produced and shot by Gilbert. 

Filmed last summer around Chicago against the backdrop of school closings, “Unexpected” stars Cobie Smulders a science teacher in a predominantly black school. She and her most promising graduating student (Gail Bean), find themselves unexpectedly pregnant and form a close friendship. Evanston native Anders Holm is Samantha’s boyfriend-turned-husband.

The Sundance payoff for Joe Swanberg’s feature, “Digging for Fire,” was a $2 million. The Orchard for US distribution deal, followed by Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions buying the international rights, for a reported $2 million.

“Digging for Fire” follows the discovery of a bone and a gun which sends a husband and wife – each full of doubts about their future and anxiety about the present — on separate adventures over the course of a weekend.

Swanberg explained the movie was about the realization that a marriage should be “two individuals agreeing to be in a relationship rather than two people melting into one thing.”

This was Swanberg’s second collaboration with Jake Johnson, who also stars; they wrote “Drinking Buddies,” and his second Sundance film in two years.

Filmed in LA, “Digging for Gold” it stars Johnson and Rosemary DeWitt as the troubled couple, with Orlando Bloom and Sam Rockwell and an extensive ensemble cast of Sam Elliott, Judith Light, Mike Birbiglia, Chris Messina, Brie Larson, Judith Light, Sam Elliott, Melanie Lynskey and Ron Livingston and Anna Kendrick from Swanberg’s earlier “Drinking Buddies.”

Among the critical praise for “Digging for Gold” was IndieWire’s prediction that it could be “the the beginning of a new phase of larger-scale filmmaking for Swanberg … “a  promising peek into the future of Swanberg, and one that only signals more to come.”