Just a day into the 2024 Sundance Film Festival, Netflix has swooped on Ibelin, a new feature doc from Norwegian filmmaker Benjamin Ree (The Painter and the Thief), in the first acquisition of the festival.
World premiering in Park City on Thursday afternoon, the title playing in World Cinema Documentary Competition tells the story of Mats Steen, a Norwegian gamer who died of a degenerative muscular disease at the age of 25. His parents mourned what they thought had been a lonely and isolated existence, later discovering that Mats had long been leading a vibrant digital life that left a profound impact on a community of fellow gamers.
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The film takes us on a journey through the breadth of Steen’s adventurous online life, introducing us to Ibelin, his charismatic World of Warcraft persona. Through reconstructed animated moments from his gameplay, narrated entries from his blog and interviews with people who knew him as Ibelin, a picture of a remarkable young man emerges, one that underscores how community and soulful relationships can transcend the boundaries of the physical world.
Ingvil Giske produced for Medieoperatørene in co-production with Norway’s VGTV.
“Many of my favorite documentary films and series of all time have been distributed by Netflix,” said Ree in a statement on the first acquisition of this year’s festival. “It’s a huge honor that Ibelin will now be on Netflix and Mats Steen’s story will be available to so many millions of people across the world. I couldn’t be more excited.”
Ree is best known for 2020’s The Painter and the Thief, a documentary examining the burgeoning friendship between Hyperrealist artist llows Barbora Kysilkova and Karl-Bertil Nordland, the man convicted of stealing his work from an Oslo gallery. Widely regarded as one of the best documentaries of the year, that film also premiered at Sundance, where it won the World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award for Creative Storytelling, before going on to distribution via Neon and a spot on the Oscars’ Documentary Feature shortlist.
The film also brought Ree a DGA Award nomination for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Documentary, as well as a Critics Choice Documentary Award nomination for Best Director, among other accolades. Previously, he directed the documentary Magnus on Norwegian chess prodigy Magnus Carlsen, along with a number of shorts.
This year’s Sundance Film Festival runs from January 18-28, with select films becoming available for viewing online beginning on the 25th. Salma Abdalla and Jason Resnick of Autlook Filmsales negotiated the Ibelin deal on behalf of the filmmakers.
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