From the festival to you
If you're a film fanatic, there are some great experiences that can only come from attending a festival like South by Southwest.
Propelled by a passion for films and a rickety distribution system with a strong bias for new releases from major studios, film professionals are using everything from new technology to old-fashioned advocacy to keep movies that thrive among the festival crowd from dying in the world at large.
I spoke to several people involved in this effort during SXSW this week in Austin, Texas. Veteran filmmaker Joe Dante summed up the opinion of them all when he said, "The normal channels of distribution are in disarray to say the least."
Here's a rundown on how they're reaching out to you.
At the interactive seminar that runs alongside SXSW Film, IMDB founder Col Needham announced Monday that the film site plans to one-button stream every available title in its database of 1.3 million.
Dante came to the film fest with producer Elizabeth Stanley to present a big-screen showcase for their own website, Trailers From Hell, which boasts a half-million visitors a month.
The site started as a way to share Dante's personal collection of 35mm trailers for classic and exploitation films. With the addition of commentary tracks by Dante and other filmmakers such as Eli Roth and Edgar Wright, it connects viewers to behind-the-scenes talent in a similar way to a festival Q&A. It also reveals enjoyable movies that aren't on the general public's radar.
"The movies we all grew up with in my generation are mostly pretty marginalized," Dante said. "There's a lot of people who would enjoy these but don't even know that they exist. This would be a way for filmmakers who were passionate about films to talk about them directly with the public."
Added Stanley, "That's often how people come to things, through people they like."
IFC in Theaters, the IFC Films program that releases movies theatrically in New York and nationwide on Video On Demand on the same day, took a bold step at SXSW by selecting three films to premiere simultaneously at the festival and on cable systems. One is Joe Swanberg's romantic drama Alexander the Last.
As a viewer, Swanberg said, he likes the freedom of not being confined to a schedule set by theaters or festival programmers. "As a filmmaker, I wanted people to see the work," he added.
A crucial concern with this approach was the stigma attached to movies that premiere on a small screen. "How do we let the audience know this was our choice?" he said.
The answer was to petition a major news outlet to review the film the day of its release. On Saturday, the New York Times came through.
Tired of waiting for a local art house to get around to showing a movie you're jazzed about? With a new business model launched last Friday by Austin's B-Side Entertainment, for select films you can now take movie programming into your own hands.
As explained by Paola Freccero, president of B-Side's new distribution arm, the company's using innovative, low-cost marketing ideas and pre-existing core audiences to get its films around.
"We look for films that play really well across a variety of festivals," she said. "When we see a film hasn't found a distributor yet, and if we feel it has a strong core audience, we'll let people book their own screenings.
"They might do it in their own backyard, community centers, comedy clubs, music stores - anywhere the audience for that film lives," Freccero continued. "We let them keep the door, and that gives them incentive to really market the event as aggressively as possible."
The company's hopeful that profit will come from additional home viewing revenues generated by word-of-mouth, and all profit will be split 50/50 with filmmakers. The first release on B-Side's slate: RIP: A Remix Manifesto, a doc chronicling Girl Talk's rage against the copyright laws.
For more interviews from SXSW, click to the Bad and the Beautiful blog at ColumbusAlive.com.