Indie Roundup is your weekly guide to what's new and upcoming in the world of independent film. This week: a special festival edition. Pictured, clockwise from upper left: One Too Many Mornings, International Film Festival Rotterdam, El Sol, Red White & Blue.
Fest Scene. As our extensive coverage of Sundance 2010 reflects, the festival has kicked off the year in style, inspiring genuine enthusiasm for new American independent films. Sundance is not the only place to discover exciting new work, though, and relatively few of the festival's selections win distribution deals, leaving everyone else to fend for themselves.
Enter The Film Collaborative, a new "non-profit, full-service provider." As reported by indieWIRE, the outfit "aims to provide a range of what it describes as 'affordable' distribution, educational and marketing services to independent filmmakers, but it will not take film rights." The latter is an important point for filmmakers, obviously. The Film Collaborative says it's "opening up a new landscape of distribution opportunities free of extraneous middlemen and unfair contract terms." Hmm, if I'm reading this correctly, The Film Collaborative is a middle man, and most of their services are fee-based, but I guess the idea is that one middle man is better than many middlemen.
Meanwhile, Cinetic Rights Management's FilmBuff, self-described as a "digital movie label," has launched a channel on the Babelgum mobile platform, according to a prepared statement by the company. Babelgum has a downloadable app for phones (if they happen to be smart, like iPhone and Android), and FilmBuff will make available past Sundance titles such as Slacker, The Order of Myths, and The Unforeseen on their channel; 'indies to go,' as it were.
After the jump: The YouTube experiment! Strange cartoons and slacker revenge at Rotterdam!
Festivals Online. Way back in June 2008, our own Christopher Campbell reported that YouTube launched a new section of its site titled The YouTube Screening Room, meant to showcase four short independent films every two weeks. A year later, I wrote about YouTube's plans to premiere more feature-length movies.
Last week, the site began making available current (One Too Many Mornings, Homewrecker) and past Sundance titles (the superb Children of Invention, The Cove, Bass Ackwards) for rental and/or purchase. Christopher Campbell pointed to Brendon Connelly's article at /Film about the "disappointing" returns, with rental totals ranging from a high of 303 to a low of 241 over the long weekend.
Sure, that sounds disappointing, but in comparison to what? Those totals would fill an auditorium at a multiplex. True, that represents only one auditorium for one screening, yet it's about on par with the low end of what some independent films earn in a weekend with a dozen screenings at a single theater.
What the YouTube experiment points to -- in conjunction with the apparent dearth of deals at Sundance amidst the usual complaints that 'there's nothing commercial' -- is the growing importance of alternative distribution avenues. If a filmmaker only realized returns of a few hundred dollars for all his creative efforts, that's not going to help him make more films. But if the filmmaker makes a few hundred here, a few thousand there, another few hundred here, another few thousand there, eventually that adds up.
Nowadays, if the next Kevin Smith makes his first feature for $27,000, maybe he doesn't become a millionaire and buy Ben Affleck's old house in Hollywood. Maybe, though, he gets to make another movie, thanks in part to all the new channels and distribution alternatives that are popping up.
The International Scene. Of course, there's always the traditional film festival route to get your work out there, and that's not going away anytime soon. The International Film Festival Rotterdam doesn't get nearly the press notice that it deserves, at least in the U.S., but it's a vital event that takes special joy in showcasing discoveries from around the world.
The Bright Future section features 22 world premieres, including both documentaries and narrative features. Ayar Blasco's El Sol (The Sun), from Argentina, features "black humour, nasty words and intelligent rubbish in a unique cartoon for adults," according to the description by the festival. Twitch has more information on the film, including a teaser video.
Hsu Ronin's The Annunciation, from China, follows a newly-married couple from the rurals who have moved to the city looking for work. "He really wants a child, she wants to make him happy," the notes read. "But how does she convince him that his sperm isn't helping?"
Ten world premieres will screen in the Spectrum section; for me, the most notable title is Simon Rumley's slacker thriller Red White & Blue. "The gruesome shadow side of the kindness of strangers," says the synopsis. "An initially natural portrait of the cool and promiscuous Erica from Austin turns into an intense film of revenge." The film was shot on location in Austin, Texas, last summer, and is the long-awaited follow-up to Rumley's The Living and the Dead, which Scott Weinberg praised nearly three years ago.
Rumley began his film career by making a trilogy of films about British youth culture. (They haven't been released in the U.S., but are available through U.K. DVD retailers.) Those films are fascinating, down to earth, and gritty with flashes of devastating wit, and display an evolving ambition on Rumley's part. The Living and the Dead was a leap ahead, initially discomfiting -- I had a deep-rooted, instinctual revulsion, based on personal experiences at the time -- and eventually very disturbing and, dare I say, haunting.
So I'm very much looking forward to his latest effort, which stars Noah Taylor and Amanda Fuller and was produced by Bob Portal, Tim League (Alamo Drafthouse / Fantastic Fest), and Doug Abbott. More information about the film is available at the official site.
More information about Rotterdam is available on their site. The festival runs through February 7.