The big news in the independent world this week was the Tribeca Film Institute's announcement that it would launch a virtual film festival alongside this Spring's Tribeca event. A select group of films will be available under the Tribeca brand on VOD around the festival, with many premiering day-and-date. Additionally, a group of viewers paying $45 will receive a premium pass allowing them to watch Tribeca films as the festival unspools.

The initiative is several steps beyond Sundance's recent foray into day-and-date online distribution, where five titles were available via YouTube during the festival, and already it's generated a huge amount of discussion. Eugene Hernandez in indieWire asked whether Tribeca will become The New Miramax, a trusted brand that rains reputational value on its films and filmmakers. David Poland, on the other hand, titled his story, Festivals Raping Filmmakers . . . Or Just a Friendly Reach Around, arguing that it's just another aggregator play.

According to the reports, Tribeca sponsor American Express will be contributing to a promotional campaign for the initiative, and the scale and effectiveness of this effort - and whether it's able to promote individual films as well as the larger festival brand - will be something to monitor.

Ted Hope raised many questions inspired by Tribeca's announcement in a must-read post at his Truly Free Film site. (The comments section is worth threading through too.) Ted writes, "I worry that the lack of prior promotion, non-existent window, and filmmaker-led marketing will lead Tribeca's bold step forward to mirror the popular (and negative) wisdom that came from the Sundance YouTube experiment (i.e. Fail!). This is totally avoidable. For Ted, the VOD play should occur only after audiences have been identified and built using the many promotional and social-network tools available to filmmakers today. He makes this excellent point: "It's is not as if we are lacking in good films to view. It is not even as if we are lacking in good films to view instantly. New films compete against the entire history of filmmaking. What new films offer that the classic movies don't is the opportunity for an audience to engage with one another in a new and unexpected way all at the same time. The launch of the conversation is a key component in the launch of a film." 

Ted raises many compelling points in his piece, so I suggest you read it along with the other links above. I just want to add one thing from a magazine editor's perspective.

Every film tells a story but, when it comes to the press, every film is a story. One hopes that the narrative that spins around a film is an enticing one, or at least one that doesn't actively dissuade an audience from seeing the movie in question. I guess I'm speaking in part of buzz, good and bad, but it's more than that. I'm talking about the storyline that a film's release unfolds as it is announced to the world, marketed, released, and then offered in various ancillary markets. To use an outsized example, on a story level, Avatar may be a futuristic eco-version of Dances with Wolves, but the popular narrative that formed around it was that James Cameron obsessively pushed the limits of technology to create an exciting film-going experience that was both new as well as deeply old-fashioned in its ability to restore a sense of child-like cinematic wonder. You could be less interested in the plot of Avatar but you still wanted to see for yourself if Cameron succeeded or failed in his effort.

The problem so far with the announcements of these various new distribution platforms is that discussion of one element always seems to get left out: the films themselves. The films are introduced to the press and to audiences under the rubric of these new distribution initiatives, thereby setting in motion a storyline that is followed by not only journalists like me but also tech-savvy audiences interested in what is new. And the problem with these storylines? You can participate in them without having seen the films. The film's hooks live outside of the films themselves. You can judge the results of Sundance's YouTube experiment by reading about the number of downloads or revenue instead of discovering for yourself how great - or not - the films were.

Does anyone rent a film on VOD or download from a site because they want to be part of a business-school experiment?

As Hope argues, filmmakers must lay the groundwork for their films to be successful on these platforms. If they fail to do so, they are allowing the industry business narrative to define their films as something other than art. One producer who has gone this route with a movie said something to me like "Nobody really talks about our film, they only talk about the way we distributed it."

These days, it's impossible to ignore the storylines the industry places on our films. But filmmakers can launch their own narratives alongside - or, one hopes, before - their films are designated as test subjects for a new distribution model.

Why would someone want to see your movie? What story will your distribution tell? What synergies exist between the content of your film, its distribution, and your audience? How will you, not a festival sponsor, create a meaningful distribution storyline? While the media is obsessed with the business elements of these stories, don't let your film and its hopefully rich content become an afterthought.

Two other notes. Two other notes. We're at work on the Spring issue of Filmmaker, where this subject above will be dealt with at greater length. You've got about two weeks to subscribe in order to guarantee getting this issue in the mail. Click here to receive Filmmaker in the mail, and you'll also receive a link to the digital edition of the current issue

Second, Filmmaker will be at SXSW next week, and we'll have a special standalone Website up alongside the festival. Additionally, I'm on a panel on Monday the 15th about the best ways to manage your film's release. If you're there, please say hello, and if you have any SXSW-related news, you can email me at editor.filmmakermagazine AT gmail.com.

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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A surprise nomination in this year's Oscar Best Animated Feature category, The Secret of Kells, co-directed by Tomm Moore and Nora Twomey and written by Fabrice Ziolkowski, takes a fantasy story set in medieval times and illustrates it with vivid storybook imagery that recalls many a young adult novel filled with dragons, wizards, dark armies, and enthusiastic and plucky child heroes. Young Brendan's home is under siege from barbarian raids, and he is selected by a respected master to go on a dangerous quest where he faces his fears through an enchanted forest to find a crystal that completes the Irish Book of Kells. From the producers of Kirikou and the Wild Beasts and The Triplets of Belleville, The Secret of Kells, which has won awards at numerous animated film festivals, is a bright and spirited action-adventure film that takes the audience on a twisted but magical journey.

If you remember the fictional Nazi propaganda film Nation's Pride in Inglourious Basterds, you'll have an inkling of the kind of movies that Hitler enjoyed during World War II. These films were required viewing for the SS, and Harlan: In the Shadow of Jew Suss, a documentary directed by Felix Moeller, draws a shocking portrait of Veit Harlan, a German filmmaker during WWII whose epic films were used as weapons of war to encourage people's hatred against Jews and justify Germany's war. Harlan claimed that his films were edited by the SS, but nevertheless, he was charged twice with war crimes, though later acquitted. The documentary not only speaks of his controversial legacy, but the effects it has had on the future generations of his family.


This week on the blog, Jason Guerrasio announces the films selected for this year's New Directors/New Films, including closing night film, Xavier Dolan's I Killed My Mother (pictured left); Scott Macaulay gives his take on the best of the Rotterdam Film Festival as its selections hit BAM; and a fascinating study from The New York Times goes into how today's editing of films is related to the brain's natural frequency to process information.

To read more posts from our blog, click here.

IFP's Script to Screen Conference, presented in partnership with the Writers Guild of America, East, explores new opportunities available to independent filmmakers and directly connects aspiring and working screenwriters to the decision-makers of the film, television and new media business. Featuring some of the most prolific industry innovators and iconic screenwriters in independent film today. Join Catherine Hardwicke (Twilight, Thirteen), Brian Koppelman (Rounders, Ocean's Thirteen), Peter Hedges (What's Eating Gilbert Grape?, About a Boy), Sophie Barthes (Cold Souls), Monty Ross (Do The Right Thing), Ry Russo-Young (You Wont Miss Me), Debra Granik (Winter's Bone), Anne Carey (Adventureland), Lisa Cortes (Precious) representatives from Focus Features International, BlueCat Screenwriting Competition, Tribeca All-Access, Vox3, Slamdance Film Festival, Sundance Channel, Filmmaker Magazine, and many, many more! Tickets and schedule now available here.

By Brandon Harris

The desire to be an opera singer is a career path that the broad majority of Americans would treat probably treat with some skepticism. If you come from Harlem, that skepticism is probably more palpable than most places. Yet the protagonist of Bill Jennings's winning first feature Harlem Aria finds himself in just such a predicament. read more


Maine International Film Festival
Deadline: March 15
Festival Dates: July 9-18

Philadelphia Independent Film Festival
Deadline: March 15
Festival Dates: June 23-27

Brooklyn Film Festival
Final Deadline: March 17
Festival Dates: June 4-13


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