The Good, The Bad and The Beautiful in Film Distribution This Week
This week Ovid announced a collaboration with Means.TV in which they would each promote their networks to their audiences. This is a long running successful strategy by YouTubers (who independent filmmakers could learn a thing or two from). Popular YouTubers regularly appear on each others channels - cross-promoting each other's audiences. I've been thinking of a variety of ways that filmmakers and those within our ecosystem could do something similar. I also believe that while there might need to be some bigger/broader initiatives - our success will really be built on "smaller" collaborations like the one between Ovid and Means.TV. I'm a particular fan of Means.tv because they are a worker owned.
Please share any movement/policies, programs, solutions that you are seeing or thinking of - I would love to hear about them!
Next is mixed bad news/good news: A letter from the UK Doc Film Council signed by many UK doc makers noting that doc filmmaking in the UK is facing an "existential threat." The letter goes on: “Production funding for independent docs is chronically low and support for development, let alone distribution and exhibition, is practically non-existent. Sustaining careers in these conditions is all but impossible aside for a relatively privileged few, which has direct implications for filmmaker wellbeing and the docs sector’s devastating lack of diversity.”
The good news aspect of this is that it is from an organization formed last year to help deal with this threat: the UK Doc Film Council. It received government funding in the UK to do so. Govt funding for this is unlikely in the US but I would suggest that it is time for organizations and philanthropists with interests in this area to do something similar here (and I'm looking to be involved in these initiatives). These new entities then need to connect on a global level. The tech giants are certainly functioning on a global level.
The Bad (and frankly the Ugly): While the collapse of Passion River and the pain and financial loss it cost its filmmakers - not to mention the time and review history lost for their films etc is not new news. however this week Kelly Thomas' wrote a post about the situation on Distribution Advocates Substack (which I recommend subscribing to). Unfortunately I am hearing from a couple filmmakers that another formerly storied aggregator hasn't paid them or even sent statements in over six months. They both surprisingly received a letter from an employee of that company suggesting that they take action against the company! Perhaps it might be time for a webinar with filmmakers discussing how filmmakers can respond when their distributor starts to fail.
And now for the beautiful, which perhaps is laying it on a bit thick - but it made the headline sing: Our release, My Love Affair with Marriage, which is a beautiful movie, is having super successful run so far selling out screenings in New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, Boston with sizable turnouts in all the other markets even outselling Taylor Swift in Glendale! This on top of a NY Times Critics Pick and a rave THR review and an avalanche of other press. What we are finding is that getting butts in seats is the hard work of community outreach (what we call Impact Event Theatrical) via domestic violence and women-centered nonprofits, animators and Latvians. Its nothing new to say that identifying specific audiences and engaging those audiences for a release is a path to success - but it is good to see that it continues to work and form a path for filmmakers. We have found this to be crucial for theatrical releases - even non-documentaries like this My Love Affair with Marriage.
FILM FATALES AND THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX OFFICE
WOMEN, LIFE, FREEDOM BY NASRIN SOTOUDEH
One of the films we released during the pandemic was Nasrin about the Iranian human rights activist Nasrin Sotoudeh directed by Jeff Kaufman. She has just published a book (from prison) Women, Life, Freedom: Our Fight for Human Rights and Equality in Iran for which she is receiving the 2023 Laurence and Lynne Brown Democracy Medal TODAY! Jeff wrote the foreword. The ebook is free, and a copy of the actual book is just $7.99. Jeff also did a wonderful job editing the book for Nasrin with Parisa who was the translator.
Super proud of my former assistant Rory-Owen Delany on the acquisition of his podcast about Leonard Peltier by Wondery+ (Wondery's subscription podcast service). The podcast series details the life of Leonard Peltier and injustices committed against him. Leonard, a Native American activist was falsely accused of killing two FBI agents in 1977. In 2000 he was proved innocent yet he remains behind bars today. You can now listen to the entire series, including four final unreleased episodes of season two on Wondery+.
I had such an amazing first trip to the Camden International Film Festival which is now one of my favorite festivals. Shout out to Ben Fowlie and Sean Flynn and the entire CIFF staff for a great fest - the perfect combination of incredible films, intimate gatherings and fun dance parties (I posted a video from the silent hurricane disco to Instagram last week). It was easy to reconnect with old and new compatriots - while preparing for a hurricane - (that ended up unfortunately cancelling the live North Points Pitch - 15 min into the introductions the lights went out - they went on to record them and upload them for online viewing - but disappointing for the participants after all that prep (and hats off to CIFF for all the prep/mentoring that they give the pitch participants)). The Distribution Town Hall (additional shout out to Abby Sun) which was my primary motivation for getting me to Camden was also disrupted - but then reconvened in two locations. A report is being prepared by the Sara Archambault of Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy (one of the sponsors of the town hall) which I hope to share as soon as its completed.
As part of my preparation, I read Chokepoint Capitalism by Rebecca Giblin and Cory Doctorow which is a must read for any artist wanting to understand better how we got where we are - and to take part in solutions. I was turned onto the book by Cory's interview on this episode of Gaslit Nation which has a quick summary of their argument - so a good entry level drug. While most of their focus is on writers and musicians - he does deal with video creators a bit with an excellent chapter on YouTube. However the problems we are facing are equally shared by all artists and nearly everything discussed in the book is applicable to indie film. More on this below.
Back to Camden - one of the highlights of the festival was Keith Wilson's performance "Moore for Sale" (bottom left photo) I love documentary as performace (pioneered by Sam Green whose work I love and others) and Keith's event was funny, engaging, thought provoking and profound. He said during the performance that it was going to be the only time it would ever be performed - but I think myself and a few others have hopefully convinced him otherwise. I was acquainted with Frank Moore since he was at many of the punk rock shows I was at in SF in the early 80s. His story is so incredible it should known by so many more and I feel Keith's performance is the perfect vehicle for this.
Here a quote that summarizes Giblin's and Doctorow's thesis as to where we are at: "Our exploration shows corporations have strategically achieved the conditions they need to take control of creative markets and use them to shake down creators: anticircumvention laws, vertical and horizontal integration, high costs of market entry, captured regulators, opaque accounting, and the power t o aggregate copyrights on an industrial scale and wield them against the very people they are ostensibly meant to protect. Combined with antitrust's blinkered focus on consumer welfare and the neoliberal economic dogma that a company's only purpose is to increase profits and maximize shareholder value, the outcome is inevitable: ever bigger corporations squeezing out an ever bigger share. That's why the choice between Big Tech and Big Content is no choice at all. Whomever creators throw their lot in with, they'll get essentially the same deal: the least the industry can get away with, and the promise it will be ratcheted downward whenever it's possible to do so."
The hopeful aspect of the book is that it not only lays out the problems that media artists face, but half of the book discusses potential solutions. Giblin and Doctorow encourage us to dream big and create plans that might seem unrealistic but are what should happen - by creating "ideas lying around." They argue that eventually there are crises (like the one we are in now) and the right has always been good about having these "ideas lying around" for those crises. For example neoliberal icons Milton Friedman and Robert Bork proposed ideas in the 60s and 70s that people thought were crazy and would never happen - and now we are suffering under the imposition of those ideas and resluting policies throughout the west and beyond. So we should think big. They illustrate number of ideas (some from adjacent industries) that can serve as inspirations.
One idea I found intriguing is laid out in Chapter 16 on Radical Inoperability. A small example of what they mean by this (this concept is related to a broader "right to repair" campaign going on now) is requiring streamers and others to put links back to artists' pages to give people an option of connecting with and supporting the artist. They give an example from music: What if Spotify was required to provide an artist's Bandcamp link whenever that artist is mentioned? What if Amazon was required to provide a link back to your website - along with alternative ways to consume your content that might benefit you?
Giblen and Doctorow suggest a two prong approach - one through government initiatives and regulation - like stricter enforcement of anti-trust regulations - shout out to the Biden administration for appointing activist heads of the FTC and antitrust division of the Justice Department who are now prosecuting Amazon and Google respectively. But it also takes organizing - and grass roots solutions. Very excited for the pending resolution of the WGA strike - but where is the documentary union? (I know the DPA is doing research and learn-ins about this).
Would love to hear your thoughts. Take a read and give me a shout.
BAY AREA THEATRICAL: KEYS BAGS NAMES WORDS
Keys Bags Names Words, the wonderful documentary about Alzheimer's and Dementia we are releasing had a sold out premiere 200+ at the Vogue in SF and huge attendances in NYC, Berkeley and Sebastopol. We are now over 100 screenings in 28 countries in the next month.
Find community screenings near you or sign up to host a screening here: