I just returned from Park City where I had the pleasure to judge the Slamdance Documentary Competition. I saw some compelling and inspiring work. Being a judge forced me to actually see films at a film festival for the first time in two years since embarking on the TOTBO project (usually I am lucky to see one film). In addition, I got to catch nearly all of “Gandu Asshole” – a stunning visual and narrative feast by first time Indian filmmaker Q that is headed to the Berlinale. Last but not least, I got the opportunity to see the finished version of the moving and brilliantly structured Kinyarwanda, a film I mentored in the IFP Filmmaker Labs.
It was a very exciting time at Park City. First off, more films have sold at this year’s Sundance Film Festival than in recent memory and that is good news for independent film as Ted Hope points out in his blog it “should give investors more confidence that you no longer have to rely just on foreign; the US acquisition climate seems quite robust again.”
However, I am concerned that filmmakers see these sales and think they can revert back to depending on the festival acquisition system to handle the distribution and marketing of any and all of their films. I hope all will analyze the elements that were most attractive to the buyers (name cast, compelling documentary subjects, past success with a similar film) before assuming that the old days are back.
I got the sense there is a growing awareness that while sales happen for some films, filmmakers understand that the system cannot and does not handle all films. In fact, these sales make up a small percentage of films on the festival circuit each year, much less than the films produced every year. More and more filmmakers are understanding the need to engage audiences on their own – or with partners – and craft unique distribution and marketing strategies for their films.
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