Is there gold in them thar niches? That's the question I have been thinking about after talking this week with Chris Hyams and his team at B-Side Entertainment. B-Side is the Austin-based tech and distribution company that developed Festival Genius, an insanely useful Web service that enabled festival goers to trade recommendations on films while also easily plotting their festival schedules. The company gave the service away to over 200 festivals while it collected the data on viewer tastes. B-Side had developed a few different ways to make money, including a service division that provided marketing services to filmmakers engaged in grass-roots distribution. But they also intended to leverage the data they had been collecting in order to effectively and efficiently promote the films they'd acquire through a new distribution unit. The plan was to replace the large P&A spends of competing companies with no P and no A campaigns in which digital screenings would occur through alternative venues around the country, and these screenings would be promoted by fans on its network.

As I detail in my article, B-Side ran through its cash from two separate VC financiers before its ideas could gain enough traction for the company to sustain itself. Now, the company is shutting down while its principals look for distributors to take on their films and another company or organization to take over Festival Genius.

The bigger picture question I have, and it's not one solely related to B-Side, is whether this aggregation of us - all the different pockets of our independent community - is still a viable strategy for a start-up company, or whether Facebook's 400 million-user dominance of the social network market and Netflix's deep catalog of indie films means that we have already been aggregated by other companies. Can new tech businesses be built around independent film, or is that term simply too broad in this late stage of the game? Should we be building new structures or simply figuring out ways to strategically leverage platforms that have built for us? Or, would such a strategy cede all that valuable data to companies whose interests are not aligned with ours?

Just questions that I've been pondering in the wake of the B-Side news.

A couple of links I recommend:

-- Stephen Saito has a good piece on the untapped potential of B-Side's theatrical model on the IFC Blog.

-- And for a thorough Sundance market recap, including lots of business and distribution news, check out Anne Thompson's wrap-up, which has lots of information threaded throughout.

Finally, we selected Kimberly Reed as one of our "25 New Faces" back in 2007, and now her film, Prodigal Sons, hits theaters, opening at the Cinema Village this weekend. Rick Moody, the novelist and author of The Ice Storm, has written an amazing feature on Kim in Details magazine. Check out the opening this weekend at the Cinema Village in New York, which is being co-sponsored by the IFP and Filmmaker. For more info or to buy tickets, click here.

See you next week.


Scott Macaulay

ShowBiz Expo New York, March 28

ShowBiz Expo is the largest trade show and conference for the entertainment industry. It's THE place to see what's new in products and services for filmmakers, attend informative panels and workshops, and connect with other industry professionals. IFP is partnering with ShowBiz Expo New York, March 28 at the Hilton New York City, so make sure to stop by the IFP booth. For FREE exhibit floor registration, visit http://theshowbizexpo.com/register/. For a special 25% discount on panels and workshops, use code SHOW25 at checkout. If you're on the west coast, ShowBiz Expo Los Angeles is April 24-25 at the Los Angeles Convention Center. For exhibitor info, please call 212.404.2345 or visit http://www.theshowbizexpo.com/es_overview.html.

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An introspective documentary about identity, family relationships and cultural genealogy, Prodigal Sons traces the fractured relationship between director Kimberly Reed and her brother Marc. Marc was the first child, the adopted son, but Kimberly, who was born Paul McKerrow, was the familys "golden child." Paul never felt comfortable as a man and moved away to start life anew as Kimberly, while Marc, who suffers from complications from a brain injury and has short-term memory loss, never mentally escaped his own past. Their reunion is prompted by a truly startling discovery: Marc is the great grandson of Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth. Interviewed for this week's Director Interviews, Reed, who was profiled in our annual 25 New Faces list in '07, believes her film can relate to many who return to their hometown after years of being away. "We all grow up and leave home," she says."And then you come back and have to figure out how you're going to renegotiate your relationship with this place that remembers you one way, but you're different." Read our interview with the director below.

Teenage girls face a lot of pressure and mixed expectations from society. Be smart, but not too smart. Be sexy, but don't be a slut. Give new people a chance, but don't be friends with the wrong person. Toe to Toe, from writer-director Emily Abt, is a fresh look at female friendships in high school and the experiences of bridging a gap across racial, class, and social boundaries. Jesse (Louisa Krause) is a rich white girl whose promiscuity makes her a laughingstock of her female peers while Tosha (Sonequa Martin) is a working-class black girl who is pushing herself to get accepted to Princeton and escape her surroundings. Both are attracted to each other because they're both outcasts in different ways: Jesse as too "trashy" for the rich girls, and Tosha as the exotic "ghetto girl" amongst the rich girls. In IFP's 2006 Independent Film Week and screened at Sundance in '09, Toe to Toe takes a honest look at the inner workings of female friendships without resorting to cliches and the two lead performances are both excellent.

Starring Brian Geraghty of The Hurt Locker fame, Easier with Practice is a personal drama about two brothers (Geraghty, Kel O'Neill) taking a road trip as one of them, Davy, promotes his novel in a series of readings. Throughout the trip, Davy keeps getting mysterious phone calls from a seductive woman who keeps him on a short leash in an eroticized tele-relationship built on fantasy and misperceptions. A winner at the Edinburgh Film Festival and nominated for two Independent Spirit awards, Kyle Patrick Alvarez's feature debut gets under your skin with some damn good acting.

The Art of the Steal, directed by Don Argott, details the startling political drama of Dr. Albert C. Barnes, a wealthy man who used his fortune to collect art by artists like Cezanne, Renoir, Picasso, Matisse, amongst others. He bequeathed in his will that his art should never be loaned or sold, and left it in the care of Lincoln University, who would maintain it forever in an elegant private museum in a suburban neighborhood. But 40 years after his death in 1951, Barnes's collection became an art-world football when failing finances at the collection prompted a series of events that have seen it now in the process of being moved to big new downtown tourist district galleries. In the current issue of Filmmaker, Scott Macaulay wrote, "[The film's] true subject is much larger than a local museum controversy: [Arfott] is ultimately describing the fate of art appreciation in our Googled, watch-it-now culture. In a time in which the directive to independent filmmakers is to make their films available whenever and wherever the audience wants to view them, Argott is sticking up for the enriching pleasures of scarcity, dedication and viewing environments that are as finessed as the artworks themselves."


This week on the blog, Scott Macaulay finds the DSLR cinematography guide, exclusively talks to the heads of B-Side (pictured left) about their sudden closing, and takes a first look at Elijah Drenner's American Grindhouse, which plays SXSW next month.

To read more posts from our blog, click here.

IFP's Independent Filmmaker Labs is the only program in the U.S. supporting first-time feature directors with projects at the crucial rough cut stage, before they are submitted to festivals. The Labs are a free, week-long workshop in New York offering personalized feedback and advice on all aspects of the post-production process, audience building, and distribution strategies in the digital age, followed by continued support from IFP as the project premieres in the marketplace.

More than half of Lab alumni have gone on to premiere at major festivals - including Berlin, Sundance, SXSW, Toronto, and Venice, and have enjoyed theatrical releases, been broadcast nationally, or released on DVD. Among recent alums, Zeina Durra's 2009 Lab project, The Imperialists Are Still Alive!, produced by Vanessa Hope, premiered in the U.S. Dramatic Competition at Sundance 2010, and director Tarik Tapa is a double Independent Spirit Award nominee this year for Zero Bridge, a 2008 Lab project alum. Criteria and lab applications are available here.

By Damon Smith

As a theme in Western art, sibling rivalry is as ancient as the Hebrew Bible or the internecine blood feud that shapes the destinies of two sisters in Sophocles's Antigone. In her utterly absorbing family portrait Prodigal Sons, which won the FIPRESCI prize at the 2009 Thessaloniki Documentary Film Festival, Kimberly Reed revisits this archetype with honesty and courage, grappling with questions of identity as she details how life-changing transformations have affected her relationship with adopted brother Marc McKerrow, a soulful hard-luck character who has long felt he was living in her shadow. read more


Seattle International Film Festival
Deadline: March 1
Festival Dates: May 20 - June 13

Ohio International Film Festival
Deadline: March 1
Festival Dates: June 1-4

New Orleans Film Festival
Deadline: March 5 (Final Deadline: April 9)
Festival Dates: Oct. 14-21


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