Friday, July 31, 2009

Filmmaker Demands Right to Lose Money

I moderated a panel yesterday for the New York Latino Film Festival entitled "Web Distribution, The Future is Here but how do Filmmakers Maximize the Movement?" We had a diverse, but all male, panel of experts - Warrington Hudlin filmmaker and founder of the new, Slava Rubin of IndieGoGo, Alex Rivera the filmmaker behind Sleep Dealer, entertainment attorney Fernando Ramirez and Josh Green of Emerging Pictures. The conversation was pretty far ranging about how to find your audience online, as well as new distribution strategies (not all online) and a particular emphasis on reaching the diverse audience that is America, especially Black and Latino audiences. Great conversation.

We also spent a fair amount of time bemoaning the state of the indie film marketplace and the fact that it's become even more difficult to recoup your investment on any film made for above oh, say, $50K. Alex Rivera noted that to make his film he needed $2 million to accomplish what he wanted to do artistically. His sale of the film post-Sundance and his net returns from that distribution were decidely less than this investment. Nothing new there, of course, it's the rare film that actually is the financial success that filmmakers dream about. But I liked what he said about it -

" Filmmakers need to demand the right to lose money."

The audience laughed, but he elaborated that not all films are meant to be profit centers. Some art will never remake their investment, but need to be made as they are part of our cultural heritage. Furthermore, as a Latino filmmaker, he feels strongly that he needs to put forth an image of Latinos in society that's different than what mainstream media portrays and what many people think of when they think about Latinos. He doesn't make films just to make money but because of a greater cultural and social need - as well as an artistic one.

He went on to say that funders - both private and governmental - need to respond to this need. He particularly bemoaned the fact that the NEA hasn't stepped up and told the audience that filmmakers need to start demanding that they help fill this role. Warrington countered that while he agreed with the sentiment, the history of the NEA - particularly who would end up making decisions of what gets funded - doesn't bode well for this, but agreed that funders need to fill this gap. Coming from a place where I've mingled with this world pretty regularly, I don't see much hope for this - funders now want to see "impact" and other buzz words and tend to support only social issue docs (worthy of course) as opposed to art or narrative cinema. I do like Alex's sentiment, however, and agree that artists should defend their right to not just create what the market will bear. (knowing full well, of course, that they may not make a living!)

image: Alex's website.

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