Today, too few independent films reach a broad audience, and despite some signs to the contrary, the situation is worsening. Outside of a few successful instances, truly independent work by exciting makers remains largely in the realm of film festivals, limited theatrical runs and institutional sales, brief (if any) exposure on cable or broadcast television and the extremely rare success on home video. In spite of — and often because of — recent developments, including the DVD, the distribution system for independent media remains in crisis, with few films successfully reaching a broad audience.
Although generally made with the goal of connecting to audiences in person, few films are picked up for distribution that involves screening for live audiences outside of a few select cities. For-profit distribution companies often release a film in a few major cities (
It has become obvious that the market for a diversity of voices has grown over the past several years, as evidenced by the success of blogs and the recent success of several documentaries. American audiences hunger for diverse, interesting work and are connecting with it in new ways.
The proliferation of festivals highlights two interesting items – that an audience exists nationally of consumers who want to connect to exciting independent and artistic films, and that festival screenings may be the best way to place a film into the cultural consciousness and promote a film. At festivals across
What if the same filmmaker could sell copies of their film at the festival? What if filmmakers handed out postcards to the audience, with a website where they could buy or rent the film and recommend it to a friend? What if they did this in every city they visited and mentioned the website every time they were interviewed? One can imagine a small success for a filmmaker who took this approach. Why do so few filmmakers and/or distributors do so? Because it doesn’t fit the model of the release window — a model that only works for a small number of films. Additionally, few filmmakers want to put their energies behind distribution of their film — generally, they want to make another film. Many distributors work with festivals as publicity for a theatrical release, or sometimes to allow filmmakers to satisfy their desire to connect with audiences before an institutional release on DVD. Almost none have made a concerted effort to use these festival screenings as nontheatrical tours of work, to help spur DVD sales. Even fewer filmmakers have taken this strategy, with most hoping that a festival tour will help them find a distributor, instead of helping them find an audience.
We now need a more systematized, comprehensive approach that uses film festivals as a tool to help filmmakers profit from their filmmaking - or at least to be able to make a living at it. DVD, film festivals and the internet have transformed the way audiences interact with independent material, but no one distributor, and very few filmmakers, have yet effectively addressed these changes. The independent film sector is in dire need of a distribution system that recognizes these new realities and devises a comprehensive, duplicable method for distributing such content to a wider audience.