A big chill passed through the Sundance Film Festival and it didn’t come from the Park City ski slopes. According to Boston Globe scribe Ty Burr, who covered the annual ?indie? festival cum market conference, the entertainment industry remains verklempt over distribution issues in the age of digital downloads, shrinking marketing budgets and an audience whose mantra might well be ?It’s my way or the superhighway,” which is likely one and the same.
Everyone agrees that the standard models of indie theatrical distribution and exhibition are broken; everyone at Sundance and in the industry is grappling with how best to replace them.
Some are even sure they have answers. Consultant and panelist Peter Broderick touted a brave new world of “hybrid distribution,” controlled directly by the filmmaker that combines website direct sales, video on demand, Internet and TV deals, cellphone distribution – and, yes, a theatrical release when and if necessary. Much of this is already in place, Broderick pointed out, and, in some cases, has proven successful. What look like microprofits to a studio can be extremely macro to an independent director.
The most unsettling thought, though – the real game-changer – is that the movie theater audience may have gone away for good. Said panelist Mark Gill, head of the independent production company the Film Department, “My son doesn’t care what format [a movie] comes in. He cares how fast he can get it and if it can come to where he is.”
That may be the hardest lesson to take in at the close of Sundance 2009: That everything learned in the past quarter-century means absolutely nothing going forward.
Indeed, such thoughts betoken a coming renaissance for independent filmmakers, who have long possessed the means of production (thanks to technologies such as the one you’re using to read this) but have often been stymied when seeking traditional theatrical distribution. Moreover, as studios continue to slash their ?indie? divisions, indie acquisitions will flat-line. Fortunately, the revolution can be downloaded. It bears repeating: ?You can’t win, Darth. If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you could possibly imagine.?