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March 7-13, 2007

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Day of Distribution, Media Matters and Jaman Online

By Michael S. Gant

On Friday, March 2, a panel of sometimes discouraged and discouraging critics and PR types informed wannabe filmmakers that mainstream media outlets were cutting back on their coverage of film festivals and indie product. This was especially distressing news coming from Dennis Harvey, who covers festivals for Variety, the so-called Bible of the industry. If Variety can't get to everything, what chance does a young director have?

On the upside, Harvey and Marla Lewis Halperin of Magic Lamp Releasing, Elliot Kotek of Moving Pictures Magazine and Jason Guerrasio of Filmmaker Magazine, did indicate that the Internet has made niche marketing to a "virtual theater" of interested viewers a great new way to get seen. In this brave new future, some films will never achieve the "holy grail" of theatrical release and yet will be seen by substantial audiences on DVD or download from the web.

One aspiring filmmaker in the audience may have already gotten a leg up. After being coached by festival maven Halfdan Hussey on how to wow people with a solid pitch, the director excited everyone with his idea for a film about his aunt, who had survived a harrowing stretch in the Yukon wilderness 40 years ago after a plane crash. The idea was referenced repeatedly throughout the afternoon's events.

After the panel dispersed, Gaurav Dhillon of Jaman spoke about new models for Internet distribution. Jaman is a website devoted to distributing feature films from around the world (with a strong component from Cinequest). The downloads are relatively inexpensive rentals, and the profits are evenly disbursed to filmmakers, and there is no fee for being on the site.

An added feature for Internet users is the possibility of chatting and blogging about movies as they play out on the computer screen. If someone else is watching, a dialogue can develop.

The idea is tantalizing, even if, as a Mac user, I have had very little luck making the site work quickly enough to be useful.

One sceptic in the audience mentioned a similiar startup that crashed and burned a few years ago, but Dhillon remained optimistic, pointing out that the rapid pace of broadband penetration gave Jaman a better shot at success.

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