Friday, August 14, 2009

Theory Meets Practice - Getting and Discussing Distribution at the Independent Film Conference

As I update the IFP newsletter every week, I get to see our "hometown heroes" - the IFP Alumni made good. (Which the vast majority of them do.) This very week, OBJECTS AND MEMORY, a documentary that participated in Spotlight on Docs in both 2006 and 2007 (and I know this firsthand, as I sat, as a potential distributor, across the table from the filmmaker) will premiere to a national audience on PBS, and Ian Olds's wrenching and important documentary THE FIXER will be broadcast on HBO. (I also sat across the table from Ian last year).

It's wonderful of course, to see one's organization supporting amazing and successful filmmakers. But what is also interesting is the various ways that the films roll out in our ever-shifting distribution landscape, and how everything these filmmakers deal with -- every decision they and their dedicated teams make - is something that is continually shifting, and being addressed throughout the Week, by them and their colleagues, at the Filmmaker Conference.

Take distribution - a subject of much angst, confusion, fascination, excitement. If you look at the films in the newsletter for the last two weeks, you can see the broad array of distribution paths different films take these days. COLD SOULS, Sophie Barthes' philosedy (when this term takes of in the same way as "Mumblecore," please credit me) took the path of least resistance - traditional arthouse theatrical. While the social issue documentary MADE IN L.A. rocked out the multi-platform hybrid release with not only a PBS broadcast, but multiple ways of distributing the DVD - which includes allowing organizations of different sizes to put on screenings that will benefit their own related missions. While the MADE IN L.A. team (Robert Bahar and Almudena Carracedo) were able to be effective by partnering their unique self-distribution ideas with more traditional distributors - PBS and California Newsreel - the innovative filmmaker Nina Paley created an bold new way of self-distributing her daring and genre-defying film SITA SINGS THE BLUES. Using the Creative Commons share-alike license, she writes on her website, she is able to ask anyone to "please distribute, copy, share, archive, and show Sita Sings the Blues."

So while in one room, filmmakers like Barthes, Bahar, and Carracedo are sitting at tables, pitching their projects to producers, distributors, and broadcasters, other tastemakers and filmmakers are in another, engaging in enlightening conversations about the ways in which these films can intersect with an audience.

And this is just one example of the synthesis that is Independent Film Week - a true coupling of practice - working filmmakers finding funds, finding distribution - and theory -- panels discussing big questions like where will distribution go next? How does Web 2.0 affect this? What are the new innovations? How can social media help with financing? By the time the Conference rolls around, some of the answers may be different than they are today.

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