Digital brands woo Sundance filmmakers with new platforms

Thu Jan 23, 2014 12:27pm EST
Email This Article |
Share This Article
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
| Print This Article | Single Page
[-] Text [+]

By Piya Sinha-Roy

PARK CITY, Utah (Reuters) - When newcomer filmmaker Cutter Hodierne won the Sundance Film Festival special jury prize for his short film on Somali pirates in 2012, he decided to release the movie on video-hosting site Vimeo, charging viewers $1.

The film caught the attention of the immersive journalism media company Vice, which teamed up with Hodierne to co-produce and co-finance a feature-length version of "Fishing Without Nets." This year he returned to Sundance with that film and entered the highly selective U.S. drama competition.

Hodierne's successful exposure illustrates how companies such as Netflix, YouTube and Vimeo are stepping in to provide filmmakers with a new platform for distributing films, expanding alongside the traditional path of theatrical release.

This year, movie studios have been slow to snap up some of the buzzed-about Sundance films. So far, only a handful of films have been acquired by studios. The hot film of the festival was opening night movie "Whiplash," which attracted strong bidding and was finally bought by Sony Pictures Classics for $3 million, according to a source with knowledge of the deal.

None of the films acquired yet have hit the eight-figure level, unlike last year when Fox Searchlight purchased quirky Steve Carell comedy "The Way, Way Back" for $10 million.

Netflix, a video rental and online streaming platform, premiered documentary "Mitt" at Sundance a week ahead of the film being released on the website, drastically cutting down the time between a festival premiere and subsequent release.

For independent filmmakers, who often debut at Sundance, Netflix offers an opportunity to capitalize on the buzz generated from the festival and release to a wide audience without having to wait for a studio to distribute to theaters.

"It's an unreasonable request to expect independent films to continue playing in the cinemas as the primary source to connect with the audience," said Keith Kjarval, producer of closing night film "Rudderless."   Continued...

A general view shows Main Street bustling with activity before the opening day of the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, January 15, 2014. REUTERS/Jim Urquhart