Monday, January 31, 2011

Egypt, Tunisia, Social Media and Change

164297_501518534290_511364290_5849813_4735509_nphoto © 2011 Al Jazeera English | more info (via: Wylio)The events in Tunisia and Egypt (and now popping up elsewhere) have been nothing short of extraordinary. It is too soon to say what will ultimately happen there, but what has been most fascinating to me, and what I am only slightly more qualified to comment upon, has been what it has revealed about the United States government, and its complete and utter failure to understand what was going on, and is going to continue to take place, globally.

When speaking of the impact of digital technology, I often use Warren Buffet’s quote about the recent economic collapse - that “it’s not until the tide goes out that you see who’s wearing the swim trunks,” and that digital has been like a great receding wave, revealing many a bad business model, or unveiling many realities that had been hidden away. It’s not that anything has changed, but our ability to see and share just how screwed we’ve been has never been easier. I used to call Delta and complain about their customer service, and tell a few friends, and that is where things stopped, whereas now I can easily unite an audience in open revolt against the entire airline industry. It has also been a tidal wave in terms of the way it allows everyone to rapidly create and rapidly share media and have greater impact on events beyond bad customer service, and actually influence the way we live - people are empowered with new tools that allow them to connect, expose secrets, corruption and/or bad political models and to act and possibly alter the world.

United States diplomacy (and failure at it) has not just been exposed to the world by weighty developments like WikiLeaks, but also the more banal evolution of communication which our leaders still fail to grasp - the speed by which people can communicate to one another and suss out the truth of almost any situation. This is nothing new, really. Smart people of all political stripes have always talked to one another about this or that “secret” that no one in power wants known. Now, however, this moves at the speed of light, or tweet-speed, and the emperor’s wardrobe is ever more transparent. When Biden went on television and said that Mubarak was not a dictator, he somehow still didn’t know that everyone watching (and then tweeting) knew he was lying and that Mubarak was a dictator. Biden still thought he had some communicatorial authority, an ability to shape the conversation, but that has long since disappeared. We not only knew he was lying, we knew why he was lying and also knew how and why he had already lost his moral grounding in the need to push this lie. We also know that while once this quote would’ve been a possibly apocryphal story of the lapsed ethics of our leaders, traded over drinks amongst news junkies, or perhaps even a scene in a future documentary seen by the very few, it will now be hyperlinked to every story ever told about this event, never to be forgotten, solely by sheer ease of reference.

Likewise, we could all laugh heartily at Secretary of State Clinton’s calls for openness, because we knew well what the US thinks of openness due to its recent juvenile response to Wikilieaks and its ongoing commitment to upholding the secrecy policies of the previous administration. Not to mention the calls from even crazier quarters to push for an internet kill switch. It has made for a pretty entertaining few weeks of TV watching, blog writing/reading, twittering as we watch the world’s collective “leadership” flail hopelessly at the digital disruptions now hitting the political sphere after wreaking havoc on the music, print, film, media and retail spheres. True, Iran cracked right back down on its protests and Egypt was able to shut down the internet, but these stories are far from over. Just because “the people” are now more empowered doesn’t mean they will always win, but they won’t stop trying. Sure enough, the protesters have used their offline social networks - such as friendships and meeting in mosques - to continue their actions even without the internet (and were doing so before the Egyptian government shut down the internet).

What’s interesting is how these protests/revolution(s) came together. By many accounts, it appears that both uprisings started because of the act of one man - in Tunisia, a street vendor named Mohamed Bouazizi, wronged by government bureaucracy, who in desperation, lit himself on fire; and in Egypt where it was reportedly the beating death of Khaled Said. These were the flash-points that tapped into an ongoing, slow build of public resentment against an elite, all-powerful government that had a habit of not listening to its people. But the people organizing the protests and leading it forward have been the youth. Established anti-government coalitions (such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt), fell behind this movement and are now part of the mix, but the youth have led the action.

Malcolm Gladwell and Clay Shirky can argue all day whether or not social media helps spread a revolution, but something much more fundamental is going on here. Twitter, Facebook and other social media may not have started the revolutions, but they’ve been a part of it, mainly because of the most important factor in these revolutions - a growing young population very aware of the failures of the old regimes, often well-educated but frustrated by their job and future prospects, tightly connected to one another through social networks both new and old and, quite literally, with nothing much to lose. True, there are people of all generations involved in these protests, but the influence of a hyper-connected class of youth has been a very strong component of these recent events. They may be joined by many others, but youth unemployment and disaffection are at an all-time high, and guess what, youth media engagement is also at an all-time high. Unfortunately for world leaders, you can look around the world and see this same pairing in many a country, both despotic and democratic (or somewhere in-between).

The fact of the matter is, Egypt shutting down the internet was in some ways almost pointless. Unless you completely disconnect your population entirely, all the time, people are going to be social and find others like them online. They will communicate and form new networks and common likes and grievances, and discuss them. They are going to make media and share it, and often you won’t even know who its making fun of until it is too late. By the time a protest starts, the gig is up. Sure, China does a good job of censoring all of this chatter, but that hasn’t stopped people from spreading things like the story of Li Qiming, who after being stopped for a hit and run that killed one woman taunted “Sue me if you dare. My father is Li Gang!” (a high-ranking police officer). In the past this story would have been covered up, but it spread so quickly on the internet as a satiric quote in response to all kinds of corruption that the Government had to allow the story to disseminate and just now sentenced Li Qiming to prison. This story brings up the other undercurrent to these protests - the growing divide between the rich and poor.

As many others have pointed out, there’s a new global elite that hangs out together, builds companies together and rules the world together. As reported in The Economist, some 10 percent of the people in the world control 83 percent of the world’s assets. They are connected to one another, and yes, they are different than the rest of us. As the gap between the super-rich, merely rich, the somewhat rich and the poor widens, there’s a growing sense of inequity that feeds the sense that money and power are one, and this inevitably leads to backlash. Again, the people can talk about this, make media about it and share it and the story goes viral. By the time the “elite” wake up and try to change the conversation, it will likely be too late.

Interestingly, the new global elite also happen to invest heavily in the new technology economy and thus own most of the companies that make the real and virtual newfangled toys we play with. Many of these companies derive most of their value from the input of their users - Google and Amazon get smarter as you search and rate things - and while these products can make our lives easier and more fun, most of the real monetary value accrues to the companies and their shareholders.

What they haven’t seemed to realize until now is that while they may get rich and powerful sucking the data, dollars and power from the masses into these social networks, the masses might one day use these same tools against this very system. You connect the people and they might stop playing Farmville long enough to connect the dots. It is much easier now for the rest of the world to talk to one another and realize that, hey, regardless of political party or country, they’re all getting screwed.

Sure, these same tools can be used against protesters (and have been, in Iran, for example) and yes, you can shut off the credit processing to Wikileaks and the internet to all of Egypt, but once you’ve gotten people talking they don’t stop. Especially the young people. They switch to whispers, they use dial-up modems or phone in Tweets, pass notes through cell doors, but once they’ve shared the truth about the emperor (whichever “truth” they’ve chosen to believe), they don’t shut up.

The revolutions in Tunisia and now in Egypt are responses to very real oppression. You can’t overstate how different things are there from many other places in the world. The problems of disaffected youth in Europe, or the grievances of any given social network may pale in comparison (though not always), but it would be foolish to think that this political disruption won’t spread, in different fashion and at a different pace, to other parts of the world. There are many other countries with an educated youth that can’t find jobs, and that feel the older generations have squandered their future. There are many of different ages who agree with them. Even the magazines of the elite (it’s called The Economist for a reason) recognize that there’s been a growing gulf between the haves and the have nots and that historically, this has led to some bad things. Mix in the speed of communication and ease of connecting disparate groups that the internet offers and you’ve put an interesting spin on this old tale.

In America, the first of the groups to wake up to this reality were the youth who came out in droves for Obama. It’s hard to remember now, but he was a long-shot that only became the great hope after a lot of young, tech savvy people with time on their hands started pushing for him. Ironically, however, many of them now feel disillusioned and the torch has been passed to (grabbed back by?) the largely white, conservative, older, middle and lower class who form the Tea Party (the upper class just funds them). You couldn’t get a much different group than the protesters in the Middle East, but strange things happen in America. Many years ago, they would have been dismissed as just another John Birch Society, but through a mix of social media connection and activism, mixed with some old-fashioned (and borrowed) organizing, they’ve got their agenda on, well, ours. Back in the day, Rick Santelli’s rant from the Chicago trading floor would have inspired a small portion of the viewers of CNBC and perhaps some back-room discussions at think-tanks. Its impact would have only come after years or talking and organizing, but it formed an entirely new political party in the span of just a few weeks (a dire economy, Black president, Hispanic justice and openly gay senator helped fan the fire). Like them or loathe them, the Tea Party is just one harbinger of more to come.

The Tea Party is, to many onlookers, a strange, convoluted backlash to the changing face of America (I know that’s not how they see it, but that’s not the point). Look around America though, and there are a lot of other disaffected, upset people who aren’t represented in our political class or conversation at all (most of whom also raise the blood pressure of those in the Tea Party). They are talking, and while they may be stupefied and coddled by their American Idol and easy, consumerist access to anything they want, anytime they want, they are also starting to talk to one another much more often and that can only lead in one direction - more self- and group-awareness, and that usually leads to change.

In some cases, this will just mean little protests, as we see now with the LGBT community, and their supporters, fighting back against Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Soon, however, things could get interesting. What happens when the young wives of incarcerated men, usually flung around the country and very unimportant politically, can connect to one another online and form a voting block? What happens when Latinos, African-Americans, Asians and other people of diverse backgrounds (who also trend young) realize that not only are they now the majority in 10 of our major cities, but that their needs and desires aren’t being addressed by those gathered in Washington (or in Davos). Not all of this will lead to uprisings, or even slight protests, in every case, but it is going to make for something interesting.

The problems in the US are nothing compared to those suffered by people in the Global South, for just one example, but they also pale in comparison to even those in European countries with much less openness, or who have suffered worse through the recent economic crisis. There are legions of well-educated, under-employed people in these countries, and they’re all connected now. While some form of localized political unrest is highly likely in many places, it will be more interesting to see how people combine their common goals, grievances and wills across borders. We’re already seeing evidence of China, Iran and other countries blocking internet reports of the protests in Egypt, and this will likely spread as other regimes get scared. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg compared to more widespread coordination, which we’re only now seeing amongst those bent on global terrorism (or amongst those playing MMORPG, interestingly). What happens when more peaceful (or not), but better organized players connect, communicate and coordinate efforts? Who knows, but it’s something you can bet many government (and business) leaders will be thinking about for quite some time.

In fact, they already have begun thinking about this and planning. Lieberman’s internet kill switch is only a more obvious and public response to fears of people connecting and doing something (good or bad). You don’t have to think about this much to realize that if governments and corporations are meeting in secret to pass things like ACTA, to stop people connecting and sharing (pirated) music and films, they’re definitely having a few such meetings about what happens as this political disruption continues. The high-level interconnectedness of the political, military and corporate spheres was lain bare by the response to the WikiLeaks cables, and you don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to play all of this out a bit further in your head. Every new technology that has held the potential to bring more power to the people has been inverted and changed to reassert the control of the powers that be. This won’t be any different, though for at least a few more years it may appear that way, and that’s mainly just because the kids are moving faster with this stuff than the adults can process it all.

For now, however, we’re in a time of massive change to the political process and the people’s involvement with it. It’s too early to tell whether this will lead to something better or worse in Egypt, or even Tunisia, but it is clear that for a short window of time, the possibilities for changing the status quo are better than ever. It will be messy, loud and sometimes violent, but more often just pretty damn interesting. There’s a lot of young people connected and talking, and they want to be heard. They are fed up with the status quo and they can see through all that was once made to be misunderstood. They’re talking to one another and they’re getting louder. Cacophony is noisy stuff, but some of those in power better hope these voices don’t get more harmonious.
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Friday, January 28, 2011

Film Fests still matter

Hot Docs Film Festivalphoto © 2010 | more info (via: Wylio)
Apologies in advance to every film festival programmer, staff person and volunteer for my stating the obvious in this title and throughout this post, but trust me, I speak daily to filmmakers and film world people who argue that film festivals no longer matter. Sure, they might give you that a premiere at one (especially one of the top tier fests) can be helpful, but then they slide into the venom about how the rest don't matter, should be paying filmmakers (or paying them more if they already do) and yadda yadda. I don't just hear this from rejected and angry filmmakers, but even from some very established folks.

I'm not going to address the myriad complaints about film festivals here. That would take a book, or a series of podcasts. Instead, I'm just going to say why they matter to me, and I think to many other people - I just can't get that sense of discovery and excitement anywhere else. In fact, I am getting to the point where I don't even care about seeing a film on the big screen if it's not during a film festival. Yes, there, I've said it. Even though I live in one of the few cities with multiple options for watching indie films on the big screen, I often can't be bothered.

Why? Not because I don't like seeing films on the big screen, but because like everyone else, I have a lot of other viewing options that are, quite frankly, much better enjoyed at home. I have more choices than ever before, and better viewing equipment. Getting out to the theater takes too much time, and is often a disastrous, unenjoyable experience (whether at the art house or the multiplex): If I am paying you $13 for a ticket, you should be able to have more than one underpaid, clueless high school kid staffing your concession stand (where I'll spend another $13 for a coke) at prime screening time; likewise, I shouldn't have to put up with crappy seats or a subway running practically through the screen to watch that foreign arthouse picture.

When I am at a film festival, however, I have left my usual life behind and am dedicated to doing nothing but watching cinema. (Well, usually. This recent Sundance was nothing but meetings, but that's another story). I've usually got an All-Access pass, for which I've paid or (for many in the business) my company has paid, meaning I don't think about the cost, or didn't really pay at all. (Side note - it's interesting that most people in the industry who decry piracy have never personally paid to see a movie!) Unless I've been relegated to the ungodly P&I line at Sundance, I am generally able to get in to whatever I want, and not feel bad about leaving to go to something better.

I will drop whatever I am doing, or change what I was going to see, at the last minute for a film that has been recommended by someone I trust, or who looked trustworthy in the line for the popcorn. I also get a (often false) sense of being the first one to find a gem. Humans are selfish beings, we like feeling we have privileged knowledge and then gossiping about it. That sense of discovery, of being in on something that few others know about, is like a drug. I never get that feeling when I watch something later at the arthouse - it is old news, especially now when tweets arrive with reviews before the end of the film. While I love me some Twitter, it still doesn't replicate the chatter between screenings and at parties found when attending a film fest (it is coming close though).

Film festivals let the non-industry, average-Jane audience get this same feeling. In fact, I still believe this is why many in the NYC film industry hate(d) the Tribeca Film Festival - they could no longer hold their noses up when speaking with people about a film at some NY cocktail party and say "oh I saw that first at Cannes." It was a leveler, much more so than the NYFF (full disclosure - I've worked at the Institute affiliated with the Tribeca Fest, so I am biased). I'll never forget during that first year's festival, seeing my non-film-industry friends proudly wearing fest badges - that were just maps of the venues, not actual credentials - around town. They were a part of the fest community and wanted to show it off, whereas the industry hid them between entering venues!

In Park City this past week, I was constantly in meetings. I found myself with twenty minutes to spare at the top of Main Street, so I walked by Slamdance to say hello to the founders. Within seconds, each of them had told me I must see Gandu, that it was already twenty minutes into the film, but I should stand in the back and watch what I could. I walked in and watched maybe 10 minutes of the film and was blown away. I had "discovered" a voice, curated by the Slamdance programmers from the 3000 submissions, and I got that excited festival feeling again (...then I left for a meeting, yeah!). That only happens at a film festival. I've now tweeted and blogged about it several times, and I only saw ten minutes. I am quite sure a few of my followers will now watch this film they'd otherwise never hear about. My parents recently retired to Durham, NC and have started attending the Full Frame film festival and are positively giddy telling me about the films they've discovered and the filmmakers they've met. Guess what? They too will end up pushing a few of their friends to see these films later. This gets replicated at little fests like Flyway all around the world.

Now, many will argue that you can duplicate this effect with event-based releasing, and indeed you can capture some of it - the one night only, special event that you must attend to experience. I am a big fan of this, and I'm also a fan of the idea of releasing your film to theaters and/or VOD as quickly as possible after a festival premiere, but....

One of the great things we've (mostly) lost in indie cinema is the old ability to gradually release a film and build up word of mouth. The festival circuit has allowed for that audience building, but in our rush to maximize revenues and get it to everyone quickly, many people are switching tactics and skipping most of the festival circuit entirely. Trust me, I am not being old fashioned or sentimentalist when I say this will usually be a mistake. We need a lot more experiments with giving audiences access, but that shouldn't be to the detriment of one part of the model that works.

Do I think filmmakers should submit wildly to film festivals and play ever single one before releasing their film online and on VOD? No. Like everything in film, success will come from being more strategic. But this post isn't about windows and new models. It's about recognizing a couple of things. In an (internet) age of ubiquity, where what is most valuable is my time and attention, what is needed most are exactly what film festivals offer: curators, discovery tools, a communal, participatory experience and a sense of excitement. Good film festivals offer all of these. They always have. Sure, they need to get with the program and do more of this year round and a few other things, but if you ignore this, as a filmmaker, you do so to the detriment of your film and the audience's experience of it.

In thinking about the new paradigm for film, and in building it over the next few years, we should be thinking a lot more about how film festivals (especially the regional, non-industry ones) fit into the picture, because they're really good at providing what people want - now more than ever.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Sundance - The Kid's Alright

I just returned from Sun/Slamdance and have to say - I feel pretty good about the state of things in indie land. Last year, things seemed pretty grim and I thought that perhaps only Peter Broderick and Jon Reiss were figuring things out. This year, the energy felt different. I get accused of being a downer in some of these posts, and about the industry generally, but this post is nothing but happy, so put on your smiles!

Even the Sundance organization, late to every digital party thus far, has come up with a pretty good system for helping out indies. (Late? Yes, I had digital projection two years before them in Atlanta, they've botched their previous online partnerships, etc. etc.) Just today, they announced a new partnership with Facebook and Kickstarter, hired away the very smart Chris Horton from CRM and hinted at rumors of more distribution initiatives down the line. From what you can parse between the lines and from the bit (very little) I was able to pick up from behind the scenes, Sundance is doing this smartly. They aren't becoming a distributor, but instead are building on their strengths to help filmmakers. It's curatorial - starting with their alumni, but they hint it might expand later. It's educational - building on the labs to help train artists in how to best use Facebook Pages, for example. It's about bringing their brand and attention to their artists. No, none of this is new, but it shows a maturation of the space, and if Sundance does this right it will be good for everyone. The key here, by the way, is whether or not they keep fees low for artists, which they should.

Kickstarter is a big name, but their little competitor IndieGoGo launched a cool new partnership as well, by marrying their Distribber platform to Brainstorm Media, they can now offer any indie filmmaker the ability to get their film on every VOD platform for a fee. Yes, the fee is reportedly $10,000 and that seems high at first, but if you have an indie film that will make good money it might be a much better deal than the typical percentage splits of other middle-men. Sure, some little indie is going to do this and not make back the 10K, but I bet at least one will hit gold and fulfill their (Brainstorm/Indiegogo) stated wishes to be made to look stupid!

It was also clear that the business was back at Sundance - in every way. Audiences were up, press and industry screenings were too long for many to get into their choice films, sponsors were all over Main Street (alongside the bimbos in high heels in the snow, per usual) and the buyers have been buying films like crazy. It's too early to tell what the final deal count will be (I can't believe I am typing such lame words....), but everyone seems to agree that things are better. More importantly, however, in conversations with many of these "dead" distributors, as many in the DIY world have been proclaiming them, it is clear that yes, they "get" some things about the new world and many (not all) are hiring people to help build better audience engagement tools and test a few models. Yes, just like the music industry, we're still in for massive disruption, but not everyone is as dumb as they look (or recently looked).

I also heard from many new companies launching- some with "old" distribution models, many with new, and it seemed every Q&A had someone launching into a pitch for their new Facebook, Twitter, FourSquare, Quora, freakin-robotified new tie-in company. Many of these will no doubt fail, but I finally saw a bit of the energy of SXSW on the streets of Park City, and that was nice.

Even the little indies were doing well. Slamdance held another Filmmaker Summit, and despite there still being a couple people in the audience just learning about using the crowd (for funding, distribution, etc), it was also clear that 95% of the audience was smarter than the panelists this time around (okay, they're always smarter than me). Lance Weiler could talk about transmedia without an hour-long definition (that's his project in the photo above), and no one seemed to blink when Greg Pak showed off his comic book and we learned that the Ford Foundation was behind his transmedia vision (Vision Machine, that is). Hell, even Levi's is in the transmedia game with Miss Representation by Jennifer Siebel Newsom.

But probably my favorite thing was that the mood among the DIY indies was so upbeat. People were clearly ready to make their own new system, they have the tools and case studies to help them and were, frankly, completely unafraid of the new world order. I've always hung around this crowd a bit, so I get that people have been happily doing DIY for a long time, but this time it was clear that DIY had gone mainstream. People are slowly starting to "get it" a bit more and every single day I learned something new from a filmmaker doing something different. That's a good thing.

Another good thing this year was that Sundance had "31 documentaries, narrative features, and short films featuring diverse stories that include African and African American talent and/or directors in this year's line-up" according to the Blackhouse Foundation. I think the number of directors was 18, but I'm not sure; anyway, that's great for Sundance. I'd like to know the percentages for other diversity statistics, but it's great to see the nation's premiere film fest looking more like the rest of the country (note: they have had other good years for this too). While it remains difficult to convince Hollywood (or even Indiewood) to make certain stories, and there remains quite a power imbalance, the sentiment of the panel that I was on at the Blackhouse was clear - it's never been a better time to be a diverse filmmaker, make a diverse film and/or find its audience than now.

I was also pretty upbeat about the festival because I discovered a new writing talent in Alicia Van Couvering in Filmmaker Magazine. New to me, that is - she's the producer of one of the most popular movies of the indie world this year, Tiny Furniture, but hey, I don't get out much. Her article on a certain tendency of the American indie film (turn of phrase hat tip: Robert Ray and Truffaut) as of late is quite simply some of the best writing on indie film out there right now. This paragraph might be the single best paragraph on American Indie Film that I have ever read, in an article that comes darn close as well:

Let’s define the circumference of the navel at which we’re gazing (turn of phrase hat tip: James Ponsoldt.) Most Sundance films are directed by members of an extremely small urban artistic class seeking respect within their own tiny community. The reach of these films only occasionally spreads beyond the walls of the New York and Los Angeles neighborhoods where their makers reside. (italics mine) They are a concentrated example of a whole swath of American youth experiencing periods of extended adolescence — choosing careers late, marrying late, buying property late. Like some bizarre capitalist mutation on red diaper babies, these young people are encouraged since birth to find their inner specialness and sing their special song to the world. The fact that the world does not, in fact, want to hear their song, and worse yet, that they have no special song to sing, sends them reeling into a whirlpool of thwarted narcissism. It is, to be sure, the bubbliest of champagne problems.

What makes it even better is that she goes on to redeem this same tendency by showing that masterful filmmakers can make this a legitimate problem to explore. That said, the problem I have italicized above is a real one. It's why we need more diverse voices and it's why I am also glad that Gandu by Q was the only (bit of) film I saw while in Park City. Yes, unfortunately for me, I was in Park City for meetings, and even with a badge I only saw 15 minutes of one film (and 20 minutes past its start time) at Slamdance. I walked into the back, having been tipped off by some folks that it was gold. I am quite positive based on just those 15 minutes that this movie is brilliant. It was 15 minutes of pure amazement - punk, fun, exhuberant, black and white and with an amazing energy. It's a film from Kolkata, about kids in KolKata and it is unlike many other Indian films I've seen (but I am no expert). Here's the synopsis from Slamdance, and the director's bio:

Gandu hates his life. He hates his mother. She is the mistress of a local businessman. As his mother sells sex in the apartment the man has let them live in, Gandu picks the man’s pocket. In his dream, Gandu raps out the hate, anger, dirt and filth of his existence.

One day he finds a friend, a strange Rikshaw-puller, a devotee of Bruce Lee. Together, they dive into a dark fantasy. Smack, rap, porn, horror. And, within that, a glimmer of hope. This delirium meets with harsh reality checks, and the end of the mother-son relationship.

The narrative becomes fragmented and abstract, a head rush of emotion, graphic sex and finally Gandu the rapper getting a breakthrough. We do not know whether it is dream or reality. Surreal and bizarre come together, as the two friends lose their grip and the film takes over.

Director's Bio:

Born and raised in Kolkata. An arts graduate from Calcutta University. Worked in advertising for twelve years in India, Maldives and Sri Lanka. Directed over fifty, winning various awards on the way. Then, inspired by the independent films of Europe and Japan, retired voluntarily and shifted trade and city. Back in Kolkata, Q started a progressive art house namely OVERDOSE, a production, design and music company. He produces, writes, shoots and directs films. He works hard on his sense of humour to keep him afloat.

Here's an interview with him, which is also pretty amazing.

Gandu Q&A with director Q from Slamdance on Vimeo.

Here's the trailer:

Gandu Trailer from moifightclub on Vimeo.

Now that isn't the same niche as many American Indie Films.....or is it? A different take on the same theme of not wanting to grow up, and with a sex scene that's supposedly pretty hot (I missed it), perhaps this can find its audience here too. It plays Berlin next, and I bet it does well there.

So there you have wrap report from Sundance. My guess is this is gonna be a good year for indies.

Photo Credit: Me, of Saskia Wilson-Brown and Gregory Bayne exploring Lance Weiler's Pandemic experience at Sundance.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Park City Conversations

I'm off to Park City for Sundance and Slamdance, and I'll be speaking on two panels while there. The first is at the Blackhouse Foundation on Friday, Jan 21st at 2pm. Here's the description from their site:

"Hollywood has always been run “by the numbers” and for generations the studio system has relied on these formulas to predict not only box office, but what films, stars and directors get the green light. But what happens when the world begins to change? The early numbers from the 2010 U.S. Census are in and all signs point to a shifting landscape. The old “minorities” are becoming the new majority. So does Hollywood change, or will it be business “as usual?" Join the Blackhouse for this important conversation focusing on the changing landscape for filmmakers of color."

I'm really looking forward to that conversation, but they also have other panels, so if you'll be in Park City, download the schedule here.

I'm also excited and honored to be asked back to the Filmmaker Summit at Slamdance. Last year's was great, but the format has changed this year - less panels, but I think they will be strong. The Summit is sponsored this year by the Open Video Alliance, Workbook Project, IndieFlix, Banyan Branch and the Ford Foundation. Ford just announced a great new doc funding initiative, so register for free here and schmooze at the reception with Orlando Bagwell, who will be in attendance and speaking on the panel following mine. Here's the info on my panel:

Plz Retweet: How Social Media is Changing the Way We Make and Market Movies
Scilla Andreen (IndieFlix), Tiffany Shlain (Dir. Connected, Yelp), Brian Newman (subgenre media), Jenny Samppala (Banyan Branch), John Anderson (journalist), Lance Weiler (Pandemic 1.0)

The Twitter hashtag for this year's Summit is: #fs11. You also must register - it's free, but it will fill up fast, so register online now. For those of you not able to attend, the Summit will be streaming live, as it did last year, at, starting at 1:30 MST and ending at 4:30 MST.

If you are in Park City, I hope to see you there.
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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Festival Apps - Quick Thoughts

The annual trek to Park City is about to commence, and lo and behold, both Sundance and Slamdance have apps in the store! That's great, and I'm happy for them both, but I wish they were better - there's a few problems, and more to be explored. I love both of these orgs, so this is to be considered friendly criticism.

First, Filmmaker Magazine recently ran a review of the Sundance app, and you should read it because I am not downloading it. Why not? It ain't free. Yes, they argue on their site that the $4.99 helps support the Sundance Institute, and as a former exec of a few nonprofits, I can understand the need for support. But hello....this is a promotional app, it is there not just to help you, but also the filmmakers. Getting it downloaded as much as possible would be good for you and the filmmakers, and your audiences. Charging for it is ridiculous. Serious mistake, a missed opportunity to lead the field, and I hope they change this in the future.

But at least Sundance did one thing right and have the app for both iPhone and Android. Slamdance missed this opportunity with their app only being on iPhone (probably their vendor's only choice). Again, a missed opportunity - Android has now outpaced iOS in the marketplace and you need to be on both. Both should also have Blackberry apps. I know their system stinks, but I'm willing to bet a significant number of the film execs up in Park City, and those sitting it out for other things, are on corporate Blackberrys and would use the app.

These two quibbles aside, I am glad festivals are moving into this arena (a few of them, and some beat these two to it, I am sure). I'd like to see more, however, as these apps seem to be primarily based around what's going on at the respective fests. Self-promotion mainly. Sure, it's nice to get maps, see what's going on in town and mark your schedule (on Slam not Sun-Dance) and maybe watch some trailers. It would be better to be able to push out these reviews to your friends and followers. Even better if these folks could go ahead and add each of these films to their Netflix queue, or register to be notified when the film goes on theatrical (or other) tours. Even better if they gave you the option to share your interest and info with the filmmaker (opt-in, of course) so they could contact you when the DVD or VOD is available. Heck, it would be useful for filmmakers to just know how many people clicked to view their film, and from what zipcodes, but I bet most of this data will remain the property of the festival (or not be collected at all). I'd also like to see both fests extend these apps later to give new content year-round (their programmers reviews of films at other fests, for example).

Anyway, these are just a few of the thoughts that crossed my mind as I contemplated spending $4.99 on that Sundance app, but thought better of it. Hopefully, these apps will only continue to improve and might, in the near future, allow these festivals to extend their experience year-round and help filmmakers connect with audiences. When that happens, I might spend more than $4.99 (even though I shouldn't have to).
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Thursday, January 13, 2011

Futures Agency

As some of you may know, in addition to my solo consulting, I am a partner in a consulting firm called The Futures Agency. TFA was founded and is run by Gerd Leonhard, an excellent speaker, consultant and media futurist. I am joined there by many other excellent partners from around the globe. Well, TFA has also launched a new website, using Tumblr, and I highly recommend that everyone check it out for great updates on the future of just about everything, but especially media and entertainment. Here's one excellent post to start with, Outlook 2011 by Glen Hiemstra. You can also follow us on Twitter.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

What Happens When...a restaurant crowdfunds

I don't usually write up things that are in the NYT unless I am responding to an article or critiquing it. I figure that if something is in the Times, it will get enough traction that it doesn't need any more help from me. Today, however, I read about something that mixes two of my obsessions - food and crowdsourcing, and I think it is relevant to filmmakers too. In an article by Frank Bruni (whose food writing has improved now that he's no longer THE food critic) about pop-up restaurants, he reports on the efforts of John Fraser, the chef of Dovetail, to open a temporary restaurant in SoHo called What Happens When.

The article is worth a read if you like restaurants. He's taken over a space for just nine months and knows that even if he can extend his lease monthly, it will eventually end (the building is being demolished). He can experiment. Have fun, see what happens when....How Fraser is doing this, however, is quite brilliant and barely mentioned in the article (because it wasn't the writer's point) - he's crowdfunding part of his budget and even crowd-sourcing the ever-changing theme of the restaurant. Every month, they will change everything about the restaurant to fit a theme. The layout, the design of the menus, the food...everything. Anyone who donates to the campaign, no matter the dollar amount, can suggest a theme for the restaurant. They'll pick one each month and give you credit. Everyone who donates gets their name on the wall at the restaurant too. Those who donate more get premium gifts, with $2500 getting you a lot of cool things plus dinner for two.

This is the first time I've heard of a chef using Kickstarter. I've seen it used very successfully by filmmakers, artists, musicians and even product designers, but to my knowledge this is the first chef doing it. Everyone who uses Kickstarter gives something back in return, which Fraser is doing as well, but I looove that he's taken the concept further by also letting the crowd give input on the theme. Note that he's not just randomly letting the crowd decide, he (and his team) make the final decision, and they interpret how to roll out the theme. That's smart. Creativity works better that way, but it does allow the audience/crowd/consumer to get some say in the process. Those who have a theme chosen will undoubtedly tell others about it, and this will bring more business as well. Smart. Other artists should think about how to use this idea in their campaigns - you can still be the artist, but getting some more participation might help when it comes time to exhibit that art (film, music, whatever).

I also really like that he has partnered with a composer, photographer and two designers to make this happen. He gets additional creative input, but I bet more than a few customers will show up just because they like that composer's work, or are his friends. Sure, every restaurant works with designers, but what's different here is that they are a central part of the team. They are part of the advertising, and part of the fundraising and (presumably from how things are written) they are creatively and economically involved in many aspects of the idea. Wouldn't it be great if this is how we thought of our crew on a film - as partners, not just someone hired for the month (or day, and yes, I know this partnership notion is sometimes true for films too). Wouldn't it be great if every restaurant had a composer making music that fit the food, instead of just blaring whatever the hostess picked that night?

Anyway, I like the way Fraser is approaching this new venture. I also like the space he chose - the former home of Le Jardin Bistro on Cleveland Place in SoHo - which was one of my favorite spots in the neighborhood (does anyone know where that woman went??). I can't wait to see how he transforms the garden each month. I'll definitely be supporting this on Kickstarter, and I think filmmakers can learn something from his approach. Check out his video below:

Monday, January 03, 2011

UnLogo - a great new project!

After my last post, I received a couple of comments telling me to check out Jeff Crouse's UnLogo project. I did, and thought it was worth taking out of the comments and adding this as an actual post. I could write more about it, but Jeff's video about the project is short and sweet and makes everything pretty easy to understand. Jeff (whom I've never met) has some other great projects on his site as well - my favorite being the Godblock app, certifying that a website is free of messages of religious indoctrination. Check out his other projects after you watch this video.

Unlogo Intro from Jeff Crouse on Vimeo.

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