Nothing like some depressing news to start off a Monday. B-Side Entertainment, the company that's been distributing indie films and making incredibly useful interactive online guides for a number of film festivals, is closing its doors. Filmmaker magazine reports that the Austin-based company laid off most of its staff last week and is now trying to find homes for the movies still in B-Side's pipeline.

The reason is the one you hear a lot these days: the funding ran out. B-Side's CEO and founder, Chris Hyams, said the venture capital firm that had been backing them pulled out in late 2009. "We have spent the last four or five months looking for [an] alternative.... But we reached the end of our cash before we could secure new investment. We had to shut the company down."

To use the official economic term, this sucks. Let me here recount some of the ways this sucks.

1) B-Side's "Festival Genius" software was aptly named. Anyone who's ever gone to a film festival has been tormented by the schedule. If you see Film A at Time X, you'll miss Film B, which starts at Time Y. But maybe you can catch Film B at Time Z later in the week -- oh, but then it conflicts with Film C. The Festival Genius would help you work out a feasible schedule for participating festivals, and it had social-networking elements too: share your schedule with friends and colleagues, rate the movies after you've seen them, and so forth. It was a niche tool, sure -- it's a small percentage of the world's population that goes to film festivals -- but for that niche, it was a miraculously ingenious and easy-to-use solution.


It was growing in popularity, too. It started with a lot of the smaller fests, but then bigger names like South By Southwest and -- just last month, for the first time -- Sundance started to use it. All told, B-Side was working with some 250 fests. The good news is that Hyams is confident the Festival Genius technology will find a new home and festivals will be able to continue using it.

2) B-Side was exploring non-traditional distribution methods to get more films seen by more people. After the Festival Genius thing took off, B-Side got into distribution, focusing on movies that might have disappeared altogether otherwise. They used their built-in audience -- those Festival Genius users -- to determine which movies were worth saving, and then to spread the word about special screenings. This was much less expensive than the usual system of booking movies for one-week runs in art-house theaters, and there was less risk involved for the exhibitors.

When a distributor goes out of business, the films left on its "to-be-distributed" list often disappear. B-Side is hoping to avoid that by finding new owners for its remaining titles. But considering these were mostly movies that would have had a hard time getting traditional distribution, that's going to be tricky.

1) Finally, lest we forget, B-Side employed a staff of people who probably needed those paychecks. This is bad news for them, and for the thousands of indie-movie buffs who appreciated their services. We hope they'll be back on their feet before too long.