Skip to navigationSkip to content
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rachel Lears, Paula Jean Swearengin, Amy Vilela, Cori Bush
Danny Moloshok/Invision/AP
Knock, knock.
HOUSE OF GOLD

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez helped set a documentary sales record at Sundance

By Adam Epstein

It hasn’t taken long for the AOC effect to make its way into the world of film. A new documentary featuring freshman US Democratic congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez shattered sales records at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

Knock Down the House, a documentary that followed the 2018 campaigns of four women running for Congress, was purchased by Netflix for $10 million, Deadline reported. That makes it the biggest sale of a documentary ever brokered at a film festival. It was more than triple the sum of 2019’s next-highest documentary sale and double what Netflix paid in 2017 for the Russian doping scandal documentary Icarus, which went on to win an Academy Award.

Normally, anything above $1 million is considered an expensive documentary sale. An intense bidding war among several film distributors reportedly drove up the price for the doc, putting deep-pocketed Netflix in the best position to capitalize on Ocasio-Cortez’s star power.

American documentaries enjoyed a renaissance in 2018, thanks to a series of compelling real-life stories that both won over critics and also smashed the box office (relatively speaking). Four documentaries—Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, Free Solo, RBG, and Three Identical Strangers—surpassed the rare $10 million mark at the box office last year.

No film distributor has invested more in documentary filmmaking than Netflix, which released 18 documentaries over the course of 2018. In narrative film, Amazon was the big buyer at Sundance this year, outspending rivals for films like The Report, a drama about the CIA’s post-9/11 torture program, and Late Night, a comedy written by Mindy Kaling that stars Emma Thompson as the host of a late-night comedy show.

Knock Down the House isn’t only about Ocasio-Cortez (though she was the only one of the four subjects to win her election), but her presence in the documentary surely boosted its sales. According to Deadline, Hulu and Amazon both pursued the rights to the film before it wound up at Netflix. The documentary will now head to SXSW, where the New York Congresswoman herself will appear as a featured speaker.

If AOC’s career in politics is as eventful as her first few months have been, this probably won’t be the last time she’s at the center of a Hollywood bidding war.