Last night saw the fourth (and most successful) Doc Heads night in London, with another strong programme of shorts and a great evening of bar talk – hats off to Prime Focus for shouting a generous tab. The intimate Brick Lane venue results in a pleasant cramming of bodies, letting you meet people with the turn of a head. I discovered the ladies toilet is also a hot spot for meeting new filmmakers (who knew?). Maybe the next Doc Heads will see people pitching ideas over toilet doors and leaving cards in hand towel dispensers.
The DH team pride themselves on showing quality docs, whether they were made last week or five years ago. This is great for those of us who missed gems like Karaoke Soul (Joshua Neale, 2007) the first time round. Neale’s film stood out last night for both its expressive characters and original style; with tracking shots and a use of music that wouldn’t be out of place in an artfully contsructed feature, Karaoke Soul reminded me of British cinema at its best. The film looks at locals in a Lancashire town who share one interest – the escapism once a week of singing karaoke at their local pub. Following a young mother, a visually impared Queen fanatic and a single father who channels remorse through the lyrics of others, Karaoke Soul is a humble portrayal of the healing powers born from expression and creativity. It’s down to personal taste, I know, but I’m a sucker for films that show a darker, more cynical underbelly through a lens that’s beautiful but not beautified. Other films in the programme were Pinny Grylls’s lovely Peter and Ben (2008), Eva Weber’s Steel Homes (2008) and Tom Swindell’s Felix’s Machines (2009) – an inspired choice.
On to festivals…
This week, one of the most important festivals in the UK film calendar announced it’s line up. I recommend you snap up tickets to London Short Film Festival‘s Night of the Living Docs strand, which last year proved to be a marathon of films well worth staying up for. They’re screening some good’ns – I recommend catching Hunter (2009) by Federico Urdaneta, Kirran and the Hatchmaker (2009) by Amy Rose and Photograph of Jesus (2009) by Laurie Hill. Bunking down in in the Roxy Bar & Screen for a night of doc indulgence sounds like the perfect antidote to a cold January night. And whilst we’re on the topic of London festivals, I’d like to remind you that submissions for East End Film Festival are still open.
Finally, I thought I’d post something a friend of mine wrote in response to D-Word’s five day forum debate with Jon Reiss, author of Think Outside the Box-Office – The Ultimate Guide to Film Distribution and Marketing for the Digital Era. Tom’s response was a little sceptical, but refreshingly so. As Debra Zimmerman said at Doc/Fest a couple of months back – aren’t we all a little tired of talking about “new models of distribution?” I know, I know – we can’t ignore the white elephant, but it was interesting to hear Tom’s frustration (and fear) of what DIY distribution means to some filmmakers. On one hand it undoubtedly brings power back to the filmmaker (at last!), but with that, it also brings added responsibility and a fear that maybe we’re all going to end up forcing our films into a formulaic marketing spaghetti machine, resulting in thousands of blogs, Facebook pages and Twitter feeds around people’s projects, eventually filling our heads with an indistinguishable noise. Maybe he has a point. Though, I’m also a believer in the utopian undertones that these discussions bring. I shall stop rambling, and pass you over to Tom.
In his filmmaking opus Think Outside the Box-Office – The Ultimate Guide to Film Distribution and Marketing for the Digital Era, Jon Reiss (Bomb It, Better Living Through Circuitry) has created an impressiveencyclopedic tome that attempts to navigate its way through the murky waters of DIY film distribution. In the new year he plans to expand this into a tools website, where filmmakers will be able to share advice, including the names of ‘safe’ organisations to work with.
Through the documentary forum site The D Word, Jon is currently engaged in a five-day forum debate on the importance of DIY and other alternative distribution models. The questions raised have been varied and plentiful, with a general emphasis on the the individual importance of networking and hosting sites, whilst also accommodating more specific queries on the best DVD replication companies.
It’s hard not to admire Jon’s fresh approach to marketing and distribution, alongside other digital trailblazers such as Peter Broderick, Lance Weiler and Ted Hope, who are injecting new life into the old model. However, I find myself feeling somewhat detached and cynical at some of these changes; my own anxiety to this changing landscape is in part due to my lack of knowledge in this area. When first reading about the posibilities of DIY distribution, instead of seeing it as a potential life raft, I couldn’t help but view it as a distraction from what I think is most important – the film. In one of his forum posts, Jon states that your marketing strategy needs to kick in ‘as early as possible,’ a view that is all well and good if you have a team of people, however, if you’re one little person trying to deal with the day to day stresses of filmmaking, the reality is that you don’t have time for this. I also worry that premature promotion of a film (this, Jon suggests, should begin before the first shoot) will create a pressure to meet audience expectations that might not be present when the project is wrapped.I say this from experience. The film I recently finished endured so many changes, that anyone who had shaped certain expectations in their head would have been sorely disappointed when it was finally shown. I don’t pretend to know what the solution is – I’m very much a novice – however, my gut instinct tells me that a film needs room to develop organically, rather than being molded by the expectations and hype of a faceless audience. Maybe I’m just anxious about learning a whole process, but I figured someone should hear about the filmmaker’s fear in this ongoing debate