Archives for October 2011

On my way to DocNYC

I’m really excited that this week is the launch of the second annual DocNYC Film Festival. I imagine most of my NYC based readers know about this fest already, but if not, check out their website for the complete line-up. They’ve got some amazing docs this year, and I really commend them for putting together such a spectacular festival.

I’ll be moderating a couple of interesting panels at the festival. On Wed, Nov 2nd, I’ll be moderating “State of Theatrical” at 12:45pm. Panel description from the site: What do recent hits and misses tell us about the theatrical marketplace for docs? Panelists include Matt Cowal of Magnolia Pictures (Page One: A Year Inside the New York Times); Ryan Krivoshey of Cinema Guild (The Interrupters); Emily Russo of Zeitgeist Films (Bill Cunningham New York); and a representative of IFC Films/Sundance Selects (Cave of Forgotten Dreams) discussing their strategies for success.

Then at 2:30pm, I’ll be discussing the “State of Digital” From the fest description: In the rapidly changing world of digital distribution what are the options, opportunities and cautions for independent filmmakers? What’s the difference between transactional, subscription and ad-supported models? Representatives from key players and close watchers of this sector share their insights. Panelists include: Matt Dentler (Cinetic Film Buff); Susan Margolin (New Video/Docurama); Andrew Mer (SnagFilms); Lisa Schwartz (SundanceNOW).

That’s a great line-up of fantastic panelists, and I’m looking forward to learning a bit about the current health of the industry from them. While I’m not moderating the panel, I’m excited to also hear the panel on Branded Content. Given the fact that Thom Powers just announced a new partnership, Launch Pad, with Grey Global and Morgan Spurlock to connect doc makers and brands, that should be a great discussion. I think this is one of the most exciting new developments in the industry. Everyone with an interest in how brands and filmmakers might work together should attend. I’ve written before that we need a lot more conversation about this, as it’s a growing area. I think the team here will do it the right way, and I congratulate them on pulling this together. You can find all the panels at DocNYC here.

I’ve also been lucky enough to see a few of the films in advance, and of those I’ve seen I can highly recommend three. Okay, I could recommend more, but these three are my favorite, plus one retrospective that no one should miss. No lengthy reviews here, but I highly recommend checking out the following three titles:

Lemon – following the story of Lemon Andersen, as he attempts to make a come-back, from three time felon to one man poetry theater phenomenon.

Kumare – Kumare follows a man with followers – but he’s not the shaman they think he is. This one was a huge hit at SXSW, and while it does ride a fine line between ridiculing its subjects and having compassion for them, I think it comes down on the right (latter) side of that line.

Calvet – Another story of an artist breaking through, but this one is much different. Calvet is now an internationally renowned artist, but he led a tough life including everything from mob bodyguard to heroin and crack addicted nightclub owner. Calvet has now cleaned up his life, but has one task left – to re-connect with his estranged son. While most people will like this for the more sensational parts of the story, I found it fascinating to hear how he discovered his artistic talent and how his art continues to help him move forward.

Last, I highly recommend checking out the Ricky Leacock retrospective and the work in progress screening of Jane Weiner’s “On Being There.” Full disclosure, I’m helping Jane with her soon-to-launch Kickstarter campaign (more on that soon), but I’d recommend this regardless of that connection. Ricky Leacock was a legendary figure in documentary films, and we lost a mentor to many when he passed away last year. Jane’s film is an excellent tribute to him, and while it is a work in progress, it’s worth catching as it’s the last time you’ll ever see the film like this (a completely new version of the film is being completed now). You can also catch a few greats in the Leacock retrospective the fest has put together.

All in all, this is a great week to catch some amazing docs in NYC. The organizers have put together a great event, and it’s still growing and coming into its own, so we can only expect greater things in the future.

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Oh, Really Reed

Jeesh, Reed Hastings, you can really f-up a situation can’t you?! WTF man, as if the whole recent Qwikster debacle wasn’t bad enough, you get the opportunity to clean things up a bit in Sunday’s New York Times interview puff piece with you and you utterly screw that up as well.

Ok, fair enough, you suck at what might be the most important part of your job – public relations, but you did make a pretty cool service. I’ve been willing to forgive you, all along, and I’m still betting your stock will rise, against most pundits in the film world, but… you finally lost me today.

Andrew Goldman, the NYT interviewer, comes down pretty hard on you in the interview. He asks some tough questions, and finally gets to the meat of his argument when he points out that not only is your streaming collection woefully inadequate compared to your DVD selection, but that you’ll be losing your Starz deal soon, which includes Disney content such as Toy Story 3. What can cushion the blow (to his son) of losing Buzz Lightyear? he asks. Your response:

“I watch mostly independent films. I’m not in that particular demo. I’ll send you a list”

Oh, Really Reed. That’s your answer?

So, you defend your current crappy situation by appealing to indie film? That’s pretty ironic, isn’t it?

If you love indie film so much, why do you keep cutting the deals you give to indies? It’s an open conversation these days that you’re not renewing scores of indie film deals. It’s an open secret that outside of a few select indie aggregators, you’ve never paid that much for them in the first place.That’s fine, it is a small market, but don’t act like that’s why you don’t know – as the CEO of a publicly traded company whose very popularity hinges on being a repository of just about all films, indie and Hollywood – some better answer to the question. Jeesh. Yeah, I’m Reed Hastings, so f-ng busy watching indie films that I didn’t realize we’d be losing Toy Story 3, and don’t know why anyone would care.

So, do you really love indie film, or was this your publicist’s brilliant strategy for deflecting the criticism? I can almost hear her/him: “If they ask about Starz and Disney, say you watch indies and don’t know about that. No one watches indie films, but they have stellar street cred. It’s almost like pulling out a f-ing puppy, you become criticism/bullet-proof. People love to support indie films in spirit, but no one watches enough of them to actually call your bluff and point out that our indie selection is decreasing as well. It will be brilliant.”

But it’s not.

Luckily for you, your real customers – the majority – care about Real Housewives and other shows they couldn’t figure out how to DVR, so they need them streaming on demand. Your core customers, the ones you built your business on and who watch indies and classics and obscure titles, don’t realize that you’ve shifted your tactics and these titles are slowly disappearing. Your competitors can’t figure out that having 10K crap titles can’t compete with a mixture of good big/small content (and can’t afford to license it). You can be comfortable in your ownership of this space. You don’t need to change anything. You don’t need to listen to your core customers. You don’t need to listen to anyone. You’ll just do whatever you want while people continue to pay up.

Nope, no need to be strategic here. Once you’re the big kid on the block, who is going to disrupt this situation?

Oh, wait. I’ve heard this story before. This might actually get fun pretty soon.

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Having an (unintended) impact with a film

There’s often a lot of debate in the world over whether or not film can have an impact in the world. Well, today’s NYT shows the unexpected impact of the film Persepolis (Marjane Satrapi) on the upcoming elections in Tunisia.

Screenings of the film on a Tunisian television station have fueled a debate over religion vs freedom of speech, and many people expect it will lead to a victory for the more mainstream, but still conservative, Islamist party in the country. As the NYT puts it today:

“The episode began when a relatively small group of ultraconservative Islamists attacked the television station that had broadcast the 2007 film, about a Muslim girl growing up in post-revolutionary Iran, because of a scene in which she rails at God. He is depicted as she imagines him, violating an Islamic injunction against personifying him”

Public disapproval of the film has been strong enough to shape the debate over where the country is headed. As the article goes on to explain, it’s not that the film discusses other liberal values – people didn’t feel offended by shows depicting “racy scenes from French films or of couples kissing in public that might not fit with traditional Islam.” They were specifically offended by what they considered the blasphemous act of depicting visions of God. 

There seems to be much debate over whether the broadcaster purposefully showed the film to ignite tensions and stir debate over religious vs secular values, but according to the article, this has become a lightning rod issue in Tunisia.

Some consider the debate to be quite telling: “Some individual liberals observed with wry satisfaction that the film told the story of a supposedly liberal revolution that turned oppressive after Islamists took power in Tehran — bolstering the liberal argument that Tunisia’s moderate Islamists should not be trusted, either.”

I don’t know enough about politics in the region – or even religion in the region – to have much say in this debate, but I’m fascinated with how this little film can still have so much impact globally. Shows the power of the moving image – even if its not always in ways we expect.

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What I’d Change in Indie Film

Over at IndieWire, Ted Hope and Christine Vachon have been asking some questions about indie film leading up to their Masterclass. One of them is “if you could change one truly changeable thing about the film industry, what would that be?” I can’t wait to see all of the ideas, there’s already a few good ones in the comments, and they’ll be announcing the winner soon.

These are a few of my ideas for changing the film industry. I don’t submit them to actually win a trip to VacHope land (you can win a free ticket to their masterclass), but just to join/add to the conversation. Sure, they might not be truly changeable things, and I don’t have the money to make them happen, but they should be done:

1. I’d take 1/3 of all grant funding in indie film and re-designate it as funds for creative producers taking creative risks, to develop their next film. No proposal would be required, all nominations would be made by the crowd and grants would be decided by a panel of writers and/or directors.

2. I’d start a large fund for the support of artistically interesting narrative films that don’t fit any particular agenda. It’s too hard to get funding for a non-social-issue-doc right now.

3. I’d invest in IndieWire, specifically for them to reimagine what IndieWire should be today, given the state of the field and of current technology, allowing them the freedom not to worry about the current state of the market (advertising whims, Oscar campaigns, etc) and just focus on what the industry needs. Hint: We need more info that no one wants reported.

4. I’d start a large funding program for independent distributor’s marketing expenses – specifically, to increase their marketing and try some new things. All of this money might be wasted, or we might learn something about the value of good marketing.

5. I’d give grants to independent exhibitors to create a new, online social ticketing system that takes advantage of all the possibilities we see on the horizon for the next three years.

6. I’d invest in anything that the following people could agree on doing together (in alpha order): Chad Burris, Karin Chien, Mynette Louie, Scott Macaulay, Will Packer, Mike Ryan and Jess Search. They’d get $1M for two years start-up of anything that any 4 out of 7 of them agreed upon.

7. I’d offer a $5 Million dollar grant to any of the major film festivals in the world, with one condition – they get rid of their premiere policies entirely for at least three years.

8. I’d give every Black and Latin American female director who ever had a film accepted into any film festival a grant to make her second film. Too few of them get the chance, and it hasn’t been for lack of talent.

9. I’d pay a big lobbying firm to get Congress to pass three laws – 1) that the right of first sale applies to digital goods; 2) that all film companies must publicly and freely report all sales from all formats, not just box office results; and that we have real net neutrality on all devices, yep, wireless too.

10. I’d fine anyone who makes lists of things that need to be changed in indie film in order to fund all of these ideas.

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One from the arts – Jillian Mayer

Thanks to Artpapers Magazine, I’ve just discovered a new visual artist to follow – Jillian Mayer. I’m definitely a bit late to this game, but noticed that no one I follow/read has said much about her, and her work rocks.

Jillian is making some great art. It’s cool and popular too, but it still makes a statement. Check her work out. I’ll be following this artist, and am willing to bet she gets known in the film world before too long.

Three of my favorites:

I am Your Grandma:

Scenic Jogging:

Scenic Jogging by Jillian Mayer from Jillian Mayer on Vimeo.

How My Best Friend Died:

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