A little smaller this year than last year due to budget cuts, Silver Docs in its eighth year remains a favored festival for filmmakers, sales agents, distributors and audiences. Panels on funding, the craft of story telling, and the ins-and-outs of distribution were well attended. Screenings sold out to such films as Freakonomics and The Red Chapel.
Unlike SXSW, where the emphasis is on the intersection of technology and DIY distribution, Silver Docs industry panels focus on novice filmmakers. I was joined on a panel moderated by Byron Hurt with Louise Rosen, Diana Holtzberg of Films Transit International, and Cynthia Fenneman, President, American Public Television to discuss Letting Go of Your "Baby" … or Not. Distribution in 2010, What is a Filmmaker to do? In a market with fewer commissions, less funding, and a plethora of films for distributors to choose from, is it better to work with an agent or go solo; work with a distributor or go the DIY route?
As a distributor, I advise all filmmakers to seek advice, from peers, agents, friends or family. Ask questions early on and plan your strategy long before your film is at rough cut. Build your audience using social media tools and grass roots outreach. Define your festival strategy. Solicit the advice of agents; understand that a savvy, established agent will have relationships with programmers at TIFF, Sundance, Sheffield, SXSW and IDFA, to name a few.They will know the deadlines and festival programmers' preferences and will share that knowledge with you.
At Kino Lorber, acceptance into a prestigious festival, or an award, can be the deciding factor in acquiring a film for release.
A year ago we screened The Red Chapel at rough cut stage. At the time, our analysis was that the challenge of releasing a subtitled doc about two Danish comedians who infiltrate North Korea would be very challenging. We look to release films that we can successfully premier in New York city theatrically, ensuring a review, and then continue to show across North America at independent theaters and calendar houses, windowing with sales to the educational market, television and eventually, direct-to-consumer and then into retail and digital. Our output deal with Netflix's Watch Now allows us to make all of our theatrically-released films available direct to the digital world, as well as via VuDu, Amazon, Hulu and cable VOD. When The Red Chapel won the World Cinema Jury Prize at Sundance, it was no longer an obscure foreign doc but a critically recognized film that premiered at MoMA's New Directors and played to a sold-out audience at Silver Docs.
So before you approach a distributor, start to build your audience and develop a festival strategy before you even start filming. Consider working with an agent such as Diana, from whom we recently licensed The Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould or Josh Braun of Submarine, who brought another festival favorite to us, Winnebago Man, which opens July 9th at the Sunshine in New York and will roll across America throughout the summer.
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