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Read Hank and Jilann’s Sundance Film Festival blog,

written as they went through the rollercoaster experience of premiering a film at this world-renown documentary film competition for the first time.

 

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Hank's Sundance Blog 2010- Entry #6

Hey Doc, Am I Gonna Be OK?

To kick off the “Doctors Are In the House” Distribution Panel at Prospector Square, the moderator Eugene Hernandez of Indiewire quoted Manohla Dargis of The New York Times: “Independent filmmaking has never been for the faint of heart. But the consensus is that the past few years have been especially brutal. Sales have slowed, deal prices have dropped, and most of the major studios have retreated from the independent scene, closing or scaling back divisions like Warner Independent Pictures and Paramount Vantage, which released the kinds of movies that win critical hearts and awards. And good films are going unsold.” (1/14/2010)

Kind of bleak.  So Doc, is it terminal?

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The panel consisted of some 15 distributors and filmmakers, living up up to its subtitle of “A Rethinking Distribution Omnibus.”

Much of the first part of the 2-hour panel was taken up with a discussion about internet and VOD (Video On Demand) distribution outlets. Tom Quinn of Magnolia Pictures explained the company's reason for their day and date releases. (Whats day and date?  Its releasing a film in theaters and on VOD on the same day, instead of releasing in theaters and then waiting 6+ months to release on VOD.)  Magnolia's reason: release the film to both theaters and VOD at the same time since the film is at its zenith in the public conversation.

Others on the panel included Ariana Bocco of IFC Films.  She said her company will release 100 movies over various platforms (including VOD) in the next 12 months. Yikes, thats a lot of material.  Put them on your submissions list! And the Sundance/YouTube deal was discussed as well—5 Sundance films from this year and last are being screened on the channel during the fest—for a $3.99 charge a viewer gets unlimited views for 48 hours. Over the opening weekend, each film was rented 200-300 times, with a majority of the money going to the filmmaker.

But enough with the 'establishment'—the most exciting part of the panel came from grass roots, indy doc filmmakers—of course!

Richard Abramowitz spoke about treating films as 'events' and used a film he repped called “Anvil! The Story of Anvil” as an example. Since the film was about a rock band, the band toured with the film and gave a concert after the screening. As a result of the film's success, Abramowitz has started a new company to distribute event type films.

Filmmaker Sandi Dubowski also took the event approach with his film “Trembling Before G-d.” The film portrays the profound dilemma of Orthodox and Hasidic Jews who are gay. Dubowski self distributed the film, and had a grass roots organization sponsor the release in each city—which lead to 800 town hall type screenings around the world, with Dubowski and the films subjects attending. The film has grossed 1 million.

Finally, there was “Super High Me,” a spin off of “Super Size Me,” with marijuana instead of MacDonalds. The film basically targeted the internet, pot smoking crowd, and with an $8,000.00 advertising budget, has made $3.4 million in DVD sales alone.  Dude!

Basically the panel showed that we are (still) in a bit of a no-man's-land when it comes to distribution, between what co-moderator Peter Broderick refers to as the 'old world traditional and new world internet distribution models.'  Because we are in this netherworld, the filmmaker as well as the distributor, are left confused about which model to follow.  But Broderick declared that “Sundance 2010 is a turning point in independent distribution.” Let's hope so. Let's hope we aren't all watching a panel on similar issues 5 years from now.  If anything though, this panel demonstrated that documentaries are in the lead when it comes to new forms of distribution. Docs are the cure!

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