Monday, February 01, 2010

Diverse thinkers on the new era

I’ve been spending much of the last few years on the road speaking at numerous panels about new models for film, new media and distribution. I’m continually peeved to find myself sitting on a stage with a bunch of other white guys talking about the future. Usually, there’s not even a woman on the panel. I often bring this lack of diversity up publicly, because I find it so odd to find a bunch of white guys talking about the future - when we are decidedly not the future. What gives?

I found myself thinking about this again at Sundance in the panel entitled “The Doctor’s in the House” on distribution. Besides the moderator, Eugene Hernandez, there was no diversity on the panel. Now, I’m not faulting Sundance here - while their track record isn’t great when it comes to diversity, they aren’t the only, just the most recent example of this phenomenon. It’s much broader.

During the panel, I tweeted out the following:

“What, do only white people think about new models for film?? Wtf #sundance c'mon”

I got many responses, through Twitter and Facebook and offline as well. Perhaps the most thoughtful response was this one (actually two posts, combined back to back) from Miles Maker:

Lol! Sounds funny but I must say I attend way too many new era distribution and monetization strategy-oriented events & panels to discover there aren't too many folks who look like me. It's ridiculous that they don't add diverse experts--however in my conversations with filmmakers of color like myself, it seems to be the furthest thing from the majority's minds--they're fighting uphill battles to complete the film and headed in the wrong direction with it. It's crazy--sometimes I feel like I'm speaking another language.

It's not easy to find an experienced authority of color on emerging trends and technologies and hybrid models of self-distribution and marketing. At least one who's been there and done it. I know a helluva lot, but I don't have a body of work to show panel credibility. I feel alone in the forefront of filmmakers who look like me--which is okay until my advice is completely ignored or disregarded as lunacy Lol! Imagine these conversations 10 years ago anywhere and you get the idea.

The new models themselves are universal in theory provided the audience can be identified and targeted with the very same strategies. Consumer habits are colorblind for the most part--unless you consider emerging mobile platforms and distribution to smartphones (possible financial disparity among people of color?). At the end of the day, organizations like TAA exist to aid and assist us--yet the demand for filmmakers to possess a business skillset grows as complex and multi-layered strategies emerge....

Miles is very correct - there are (too) few people looking like him on these new era panels. He’s also correct that it’s not easy to find diverse figures of authority on these subjects, but this is the web folks, we should be able to put together this list easily, and I imagine it's not so small. So, I proposed in that Facebook thread that we put together a list of those authorities. Perhaps it will help programmers find some diverse speakers, or perhaps start a bigger conversation, who knows? I do know that I know of a few experts on the new era, and I know what I don’t know - i.e., there are many, many more. I also know we don’t need a white guy coming to the rescue (a la Avatar), but my hope is not to be the rescue but just to help start some change in our thinking when putting together these panels. Here’s just a few names, and please post more in the comments. Also please post your thoughts on this subject generally.

My starter list, which is too short would include the following great people. I know it’s still not diverse enough by far, but it’s a start and I welcome your additions (I also didn’t list anyone I haven’t met or seen speak personally, so this excluded some smart tweeters).

Shari Frilot - Sundance programmer and filmmaker, and as one of the leaders behind the New Frontier program, she sees a lot of artists trying new mechanisms, not just in their art but in their art’s exhibition;
Nettrice Gaskins - Nettrice is an artist, educator and pioneer in the new media space. We spoke together on a panel at the Technology in the Arts conference - along with her entire class participating in from Second Life - and she rocked. Great speaker, hint, hint conference organizers.
Thomas Allen Harris - Thomas is probably just becoming an expert on these new models, as he is now applying them to his new film Through a Lens Darkly - thinking beyond it as just a film and realizing he is doing a multi-media project that includes a film. He’s dreaming up some cool new ways to release his film as well. He also reminded me that he works with Ann Bennett as the multimedia producer on his project - another person to consider for panels.
Warrington Hudlin - Warrington has been a leader in the field for some time, but has lately been leading many conversations on the future of the field. He thinks about new models all the time.
Will Packer - I mentioned him on my 20<40 list as well, but it’s because of what he’s done in distribution and new era methods. He has moved on from the indie world, but the release strategy he built for Trois was amazing, and made them one of the highest per theater averages for weeks, and a million dollars on just 50 screens. Very much still relevant to today.
John Threat (John Lee) - famed computer hacker, WIRED coverboy and sometime filmmaker, John always has good ideas about new methodologies, new thinking and new business practices.
N.Christain Ugbode, Director of New Media at NBPC - Thomas Allen Harris made this recommendation to me, and he’s right. Ugbode is helping NBPC push into new delivery arenas and is a leading thinker in this sector. He’s also a filmmaker and producer, so he can speak to a variety of new era methods.
Ryan Werner - As a VP of marketing at IFC, and having been in the distribution business for...ever, Ryan knows every aspect. I can’t imagine the organizer’s didn’t think about him, so maybe he was too busy and sent his colleague instead. Anyway, he can speak both to the big guy’s model and other experiments.

That's nine, so I'll add Miles Maker himself, since he seems to be posting some great thoughts, and interviews on BlogTalkCinema on the subject and that will make ten.

Who else should be on this list?


wynns said...

Tirrell Whitley at

RowdyOrbit said...

Thanks for the post. Nice to read a great post about inclusion and not come from some type of disconnected action group.

I've also, attended a number of panel discussions off/online, WOW. I look for panel representation, none. Hoping the camera person is of color, no luck. How and Why? This is the net, right?

So to combat this, I'm throwing my name into the hat.

Jonathan Moore. Founder & CEO of Rowdy Orbit. Site dedicated to featuring original webseries for people of color. Bootstrap company, with a great product.

No more excuses.

Unknown said...

Cameron Bailey, Director of TIFF

I'd definitely like to see more women on distribution panels. Some suggestions:
1. Jenni Olson, Wolfe
2. Emily Doe, Wholphin
3. Michella Rivera-Gravage, Center for Asia America Media
4. Nicole Tse, Center for Asian American Media

All the best,
Maïa Cybelle Carpenter, Filmmaker.
President, Board of Directors of Canyon Cinema
Advisory Board, Lunafest, Clif Bar & Co.

Sujewa Ekanayake said...

Great post Brian. To many people seeing someone who looks like them doing something interesting will make that action more relevant. 2 filmmakers who are making & releasing DIY movies that might be of interest to a panel discussion re: future of indie film are:

- Princeton Holt
(you can find his prod. co's blog here:
-- he's produced & directed in at least one instant - around half a dozen features, most are available on DIY DVD releases

- M. David Lee III
(you can find David's blog here:, David's directed at least 3 indie features, is self-distributing a couple of them, distributing at least one feature through an outside co, blogs)

- Amir Motlagh - has a lot of experience in indie music making, touring, self-distro (at least one of his CDs is selling on Amazon now), making & licensing shorts (& making money from that activity), & self distributing DIY DVDs of his new feature Whale. Amir's blog is here:

- Angelo Bell - is self-distributing a feature, blogs, & is producing a web series:

That's just a few folks off the top of my head.

- Sujewa

Angela Tucker said...

Great post. I also wanted to recommend Arts Engine's Director of Technology, David Wright.

Brian Newman said...

Thanks for all the posts so far - all great ideas. On Facebook I heard from Yvonne Welbon, who is a filmmaker, professor, leader in the field who should definitely be on the list. You can find her info here:
She's also going to rec some other great people soon.

Unknown said...

Hey Brian,

Thanks for your post here, a very interesting and important insight and something we definitely thought of for our upcoming panel Sunday afternoon at UnionDocs in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Our panel focuses on documentary distribution and access, and we tried to bring in people from a variety of areas (distributors in addition to producers, filmmakers, critics, etc) to explore the issue.

While not 100% balanced, we are happy to include females and non-whites and made an effort to keep the line-up diverse. The conversation will prove to be a good one, exploring doc distro issues in a more in-depth and intimate way than is often done at festival panels. Wish you could be there!

Panelists includes Dennis Lim (editor Museum of the Moving Image Source, 2010 Robert Flaherty Film Seminar curator), Richard Abramowitz (Abramorama), Jim Browne (Argot Pictures, Tribeca Film Festival), Caitlin Boyle (Film Sprout), Ashley Sabin (Carnivalesque Films), Nicholas Jayanty (Reversal Films), & Andrew Mer, presented-moderated with Todd Sklar (Range Life Entertainment).

For tickets/info:


Patricia Aufderheide said...

Jacquie Jones, head of National Black Programming Consortium
Byron Hurt, maker of Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes and much more
Orlando Bagwell, filmmaker and program officer at the Ford Foundation

Anonymous said...

You might want to add Dawn Mikkelson to that list