Last week, indieWIRE ran a provocative piece by Anthony Kaufman about the financial woes of THINKfilm, one of my favorite indie distributors. Kaufman detailed the cash flow problems at THINKfilm, which were causing acrimony between the distrib and many of its filmmakers, who were alleging that the distributor hadn't paid what it owed to them, as well as to advertising companies charged with marketing films under THINKfilm's banner.
Now indieWIRE has a follow-up piece up by Eugene Hernandez, which says that director/producer Alex Gibney, whose film Taxi to the Darkside won the best documentary Oscar this year and was supposed to receive a major theatrical push by THINKfilm following its win, is seeking more than $1 million in damages from the ailing distributor.
While THINKfilm did pay the film's producers the minimums guaranteed by their contract on May 5, Gibney's complaint alleges that THINKfilm failed to disclose that it did not have the financial resources to support the film's theatrical push following its Oscar win, and "jeopardized the success of the film by failing to abide by the terms of contracts it entered into with public relations firms and advisers and failed to pay such firms for work done and expenses incurred."
I must admit, I feel very torn by this whole debacle. Gibney is one of my favorite documentary filmmakers; with Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room he brought a whole new spin to the exposé documentary, and Taxi to the Darkside, while not exactly what you'd call a "mainstream audience" type of film, was very much deserving of its Oscar. It's also worth noting that Gibney's a talented producer as well -- his influence on Charles Ferguson's much-lauded No End in Sight, one of the best documentaries about the Iraq War, is very much evident in the style of that film. Gibney's a smart guy, and I know he'll land on his feet, but I'm sure that doesn't take the sting out of what he'd hoped would be a bigger financial success for Taxi to the Darkside, for which he was relying on THINKfilm to provide the marketing push and distrib the film needed.
On the other hand, THINKfilm has been one of the most prolific distributors of indie films in recent years, championing films like Half Nelson, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, Spellbound and War/Dance (for which producer Albie Hecht, according to Kaufman's piece, is currently in arbitration with the distributor) and garnering numerous Oscar nods for the films it's represented. Oscar nods are great, but the films still have to be marketed and distributed, and the filmmakers still have to get paid; while THINKfilm has excelled at the former, it seems to be struggling over how to accomplish the latter.
I hope very much that the folks at THINKfilm are able to straighten things out at their end, reach agreements with all the filmmakers and advertising firms with whom they have disputes, and come out with their heads above water, in a position to continue championing films. With the folding of Picturehouse and Warner Independent, the world of indie filmmaking is feeling a massive crunch right now, and the last thing indie filmmakers need is to lose THINKfilm, whose president, Mark Urman, is a pretty brilliant guy and a real champion of independent filmmaking.
Indie film fans, what are your thoughts on all this? Read the full stories over on indieWIRE -- last week's on THINKfilm generally and today's on Gibney's dispute -- and then let us know what you think. Is Gibney in the right, and should THINKfilm pay him more if they did not, as he alleges, market and distrib the film as promised? Or should Gibney, and other independent filmmakers whose films are under contract with the distributor, give THINKfilm a little breathing room to get back on its feet, lest we lose it entirely?