During the time I was posting my last entry, I ran across a blog thinking about similar issues - Self-Reliant Filmmaking, by an old filmmaker acquaintance Paul Harrill. We exchanged some emails and links (see bottom of last post), and his most recent post essentially posits one possible scenario in response to the problems I've listed about filmmakers finding an audience (side note: he did this on his own, not in response to this blog, but it fits as an answer regardless).
Paul has proposed a MacroCinema network - an non-hierarchical system to build a circuit of microcinemas that filmmakers could tour. It's a great idea, and one that I've heard proposed before (once by Jem Cohen, an artist who has travelled to many a microcinema), but I think his blog is the first one that's trying to collectively build a workig system for such a network.
I think this is only one of the systems we need to think about building, but a great start. It would be even better if the organizers and programmers of regional film festivals would think this creatively; same goes for arthouse programmers; museum and gallery curators and the like. Our end goals should all be the same - to help filmmakers reach a broader audience (and maybe someday earn a living while doing so) and to help audiences find films which are usually not easy to see. Some cooperation will be key, but I think there's room for collaboarations along with actual business models - all of which accomplish the same tasks and that aren't mutually exclusive. In the meantime, I'm glad at least one other blog is thinking about these issues. If anyone knows of others, please bring them to my/our attentio in the comments. Thanks.