HBO Acquires New Sydney Sweeney Film at Berlinale
Sweeney’s performance comes nearly universally praised following her recent premiere in Tina Satter’s debut film.
The new Sydney Sweeney docudrama by director Tina Satter premiered recently at The Berlin Film Festival and is already sweeping up applause as Sweeney’s best performance yet among reviewers. The 25-year-old star of Euphoria and The White Lotus was “singled out for praise in most every review” at the Berlinale premiere of Reality last week, according to a recent report by Deadline, and the film has just been acquired this weekend by HBO for U.S. rights.
Rather than being about a reality show, the film Reality follows the underbelly of a military intelligence leak investigation in real life through the story of Reality Winner, an intelligence translator who leaked a classified report about Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections. Winner received the longest prison sentence in U.S. history for her unauthorized leak of government documents. The true crime/hero story follows the US Air Force veteran and NSA translator through questioning with the FBI.
HBO has not released information on a premiere date following its acquisition of the film. However, it would likely release it in time for Emmy consideration, according to Deadline. This sets the expected premiere window between now and May 31, 2023.
Fidelity to Real Transcripts
The acquisition by HBO is a success for Tina Satter’s directorial debut, who developed the script from her Broadway play about the same subject. Like the play, the film reportedly uses interrogation transcripts as directly quoted material, with the film weaving reenactments and documentation to highlight the fidelity to real life of the film. Satter also reportedly plays with filmic language and narrative to creatively portray misinformation and estrangement from the record during missing parts of the transcripts. The work derives from a style of plays pioneered by the Wooster Group and others that use archival documents as exact material. In a previous interview, the director said that she “had a deep internal jolt that sharing this document as a script from the first word to the last word was vital.” The closely imitated, emotionally tense FBI tapes provide launch points for the highly praised investigation of Winner as a character by actress Sydney Sweeney in the film.
No stranger to film roles, Sweeney’s breakout turn as whistleblower Reality Winner precedes her upcoming films Americana (2023), Madame Web, and Barbarella. The actress reportedly took the reality of the role very seriously, telling reporters at the Berlinale press conference for the film that she was in communication IRL with Winner via zoom and “would text her throughout the process” of making the film. The actress also conducted her own research. “Before even I got it, when I was auditioning, I went and found as many interviews that I could of Reality so that I could watch how she speaks, how she moves, her different mannerisms. And I took that into the audition,” Sweeney shared.
Reality secured an international sales deal with the Paris-based MK2 ahead of its world premiere at the 23rd Berlinale, with a representative calling Sweeney’s performance a “tour-de-force” with a strong international appeal. North American rights were repped by UTA Independent Film Group and WME Independent, who negotiated the deal with HBO.
Satter’s film is a Seaview and 2 SQ FT production in association with Burn These Words, In The Cut, Fit Via Vi, Cinereach, and Tanbark Pictures production.