Martin Scorsese, Steven Soderbergh, David Lynch and many others debate the digital revolution on launches a month of conversation around the upcoming documentary release Side By Side today. Each day a new exclusive clip will post from one of the film's prognosticators that couldn't be squeezed into the final cut of the film. The clips will offer a daily opportunity to follow the debate on the digital revolution that is portrayed in this seminal film.

Side by Side, produced by Keanu Reeves and directed by Chris Kenneally, explores the complex and divisive conversation currently taking place around the transition from traditional filmmaking to the new digital revolution. Keanu Reeves asks the question – Will film survive? He takes the audience on a tour of the past and the future of filmmaking. Since the invention of cinema, the standard format for recording moving images has been film. Over the past two decades, a new form of digital filmmaking has emerged, creating a groundbreaking evolution in the medium. Reeves explores the development of cinema and the impact of digital filmmaking via in-depth interviews with Hollywood masters such as James Cameron, David Fincher, David Lynch, Christopher Nolan, Martin Scorsese, George Lucas, Steven Soderbergh, and many more.

With such a contentious subject, everyone had a lot to say. We will continue the conversation on—home to the Future of Film blog, a platform that explores our changing industry on a weekly basis—as well as across social media all month. Check the site daily for exclusive clips from Adam Valdez, Barry Levinson, Bradford Young, Craig Wood, David Fincher, David Lynch, David Stump, Dennis Muren, Dick Pope, Dion Beebe, Donald McAlpine, Ed Lachman, Ellen Kuras, Greta Gerwig, James Cameron, Jost Vacano, Lena Dunham, Martin Scorsese, Michael Ballhaus, Michael Chapman, Reed Morano, Robert Rodriguez, Steven Soderbergh, Vilmos Zsigmond, Wally Pfister and Walter Murch.

Tribeca Film will release Side by Side via on-demand platforms on August 22. The film will also open in select cities theatrically, including Los Angeles (August 17), New York (August 31), Boston (August 23), Seattle (August 31), Chicago (September 15), Tacoma (September 18), San Francisco (October 18) and other cities to be announced.

For more information on the film go to and

Animated Docs: One of My Fave Genres

Whether it is "Doc Ellis And The LSD No No" or "I Met The Walrus", I have a unique spot in my heart for Animated Docs.  It may just be  because on the surface it doesn't seem to make sense: how can truth be animated? But then, ultimately my mind rebels against itself and determines that it makes more than sense: it makes truth.

Today's installment, further enhancing my affection for the genre as a whole is, Sascha Ciezata's (iT'S ALIVE! ANIMATION) "When Herzog Rescued Phoenix"

When Herzog Rescued Phoenix from Sascha Ciezata on Vimeo.

Peter Broderick: "The Power of Free"

As always Peter Broderick's latest newsletter is a must read -- this time it's about the documentary "Hungry For Change" and how the directors' incredibly success with the film is precisely because they gave it away for free, online. Once again, Peter's been nice enough to let me share the newsletter here with you. I can't recommend enough that you sign up for Peter's Distribution Bulletin. The extraordinary million-dollar success of HUNGRY FOR CHANGE marks a new era of opportunities for independents. It illustrates how "free" can be used to achieve broad awareness, generate revenue quickly, and build a worldwide audience.

The release of HUNGRY FOR CHANGE was unprecedented. The film: - premiered online (having never screened publicly before) - was available worldwide - was absolutely free (for 10 days only)

The results were remarkable: - 453,841 views around the world during the 10 day premiere - over $1.02 million in sales of DVDs and recipe books in the first 14 days

HUNGRY FOR CHANGE is a documentary that challenges the myths perpetuated by the weight loss industry and shows how to develop a healthy, lifelong diet. It is the second film by dynamic husband-and-wife team James Colquhoun and Laurentine ten Bosch, who I started consulting with in 2008 when they were beginning to distribute FOOD MATTERS, which went on to sell over 230,000 DVDs (see Distribution Bulletin #14). James and Laurentine are based in Australia but came to Los Angeles last week, where they told me the inside story of their historic "Free Worldwide Online Premiere."

James and Laurentine have learned how to tap the power of free. They've been experimenting with the possibilities of free for four years, first with FOOD MATTERS and now with HUNGRY FOR CHANGE.


Free Public Screenings - Instead of following the industry norm of charging organizations fees to hold screenings, the filmmakers took a risk and allowed anyone who registered to host a screening for free. The FOOD MATTERS website encourages the hosting of screenings:

"As part of our vision to provide life-transforming information that is accessible to all people, we are excited to allow free screenings of Food Matters around the globe."

The website provides a free screening resource pack, which includes handouts, posters, and other publicity materials. James and Laurentine believed that the cost of lost screening revenues would be much smaller than the benefit of positive word-of-mouth from a greater number of screenings, resulting in increases in visitors to the website, mailing lists sign-ups, and DVD sales.

Free, Dynamic Website Content - The filmmakers regularly added content to the FOOD MATTERS website, making it a valuable resource for their audience. This included videos that were freely available to all visitors to the website who registered, which simply consisted of inputting a name and an email address.

Free Online Screening - In December 2010, FOOD MATTERS DVDs were put on sale from the website for one week at half price. This resulted in 4600 sales, the best week in 2 1Ž2 years of sales. In October 2011, the filmmakers took a more radical approach with even better results. They allowed all comers to watch FOOD MATTERS for free for 8 days. This stimulated direct and indirect sales of 9800 DVDs, twice as many as were sold when it was offered at half price. Even more impressive, over 37,000 people joined the mailing list during this event.

As James explained, when you offer a film for free you get sign-ups from a good percentage of everyone who views the film. When you are having a sale, you only get the customer information from those who actually make a purchase. "For us, we're about creating a long-term relationship with our followers and not just selling to them," noted James.


After their successful experiments with free, particularly the online screening of FOOD MATTERS, James and Laurentine decided to go all the way with HUNGRY FOR CHANGE. They were aware of some films that had been released free online, such as Michael Moore's SLACKER UPRISING, but knew of no major ones that had premiered online.

Pre-Release Marketing - They chose the term FREE WORLDWIDE ONLINE PREMIERE and released the trailer for HUNGRY FOR CHANGE on March 1, 2012. This was followed by two more eblasts with additional video content, including the first 4 minutes of the film, during the 21 days leading up to the premiere. They also partnered with the experts featured in the film. These experts had their own followers and shared in both the promotion of the free online premiere and the revenues from sales they referred.

Global Reach - The Free Worldwide Online Premiere was an instant hit. On its first day (March 21st) there were 45,211 plays. Tens of thousands of people watched the film each day. The premiere ended with a bang with 58,292 plays on the final day (March 31st). Altogether there were almost half a million views from more than 150 countries across the globe in just 10 days. These are astonishing numbers for an independent film that had never been seen before, had no paid advertising, and was not available through any retail channels.

Subscribers - There were 229,000 sign-ups in 14 days, a significantly greater number than FOOD MATTERS had gained in the previous 4 years. James estimates that less than 30% of the HUNGRY FOR CHANGE sign-ups were FOOD MATTERS subscribers, which means that at least 160,000 were new subscribers, almost doubling James and Laurentine's already substantial online following.

Revenue - Everyone who viewed HUNGRY FOR CHANGE was given access to three special offers: the DVD for $34.95, the new recipe book for $49.95, or the DVD and the recipe book for $74.95. Each order came with free bonuses and free shipping. In the first 14 days, over 20,800 orders were placed totaling over $1 million in sales. Although most purchasers had already seen the film for free, many wanted to buy a copy for themselves or purchase it as a gift for family or friends.

Access - Beyond broad awareness, revenues, and sign-ups, there are other important benefits of free. It removes a major barrier between filmmakers and audiences. If the film is available at no charge, at least temporarily, it is accessible to everyone. From the beginning, James and Laurentine have been motivated by a strong desire to get their message out to more people. Free allows their films to be seen even more widely and enables them to build relationships with viewers.

Good Will - Another major benefit of free is good will, which has allowed the filmmakers to develop a truly interactive relationship with their audience. They talk directly to their followers who tell them what they want. This knowledge has enabled them to make and market films that meet their followers' needs and continue to be seen by more and more people. -----

Taking free to a new level has also expanded awareness of James and Laurentine and created new opportunities for them. They are now writing a book for HarperCollins, which will be published this fall to coincide with the retail release of HUNGRY FOR CHANGE.

© 2012 Peter Broderick

Peter Broderick is a Distribution Strategist who helps design and implement customized plans to maximize revenues for independent films. He is also a leading advocate of crowdfunding and crowdsourcing, championing them in keynotes and presentations around the world. You can read his articles at

Jennie Livingston on her Documentary "Earth Camp One" Part 1

Earth Camp One is a work of creative nonfiction about how I lost four family members in five years. The film is also about a hippie summer camp in the 70s in Northern California, the connection between those two things being that when you’re young, you want to break away from your family, find different cultural markers. What happens when they leave you? The film also has animation about different conceptions of the afterlife. Earth Camp One  is about my experience of grief and loss and about a broader understanding, or exploration, of how our society’s denial of mortality leads to everything from people feeling isolated and alienated when they’re going through something which is THE universal human experience. To national policies (wars) that, in not just my opinion, are predicated on a core belief that  no soldiers and no civilians can die because, actually no one dies. 

Right now I’m nearing the end (Friday night at 8!)  of a Kickstarter campaign to raise money to get to a rough cut on the film. I’ve applied for a billion grants where people I don’t know go into a room and look at my project and come out and tell me “yes” or “no,” (usually no, and by email) so it’s incredible to build a web page, put a video on it and have 400+  people say “yes!” by backing the project. It’s pretty mind-blowing, that “yes.” All the endless reservations, differences in taste, politics, and sensibility that kept various granting organizations or corporations from supporting my project are absent. Of course they may be hundreds of people viewing my video and reading my text who loathe it, but fortunately Kickstarter and Indiegogo have no guestbook for people who looked and left. Whomever might’ve rejected my project and moved on, I’m blissfully unaware, checking my email and racking up the next 15 backers who write me messages about how much they love the excerpt, and the idea of the film, and can’t wait to see it!

There are a lot of precedents for the kind of first-person documentary I’m making: just about anything by Ross McElwee, Agnes Varda’s The Gleaners and I, Thomas Allen Harris’s That’s My Face, Ari Folman’s Waltz with Bashir, and films by Alan Berliner, Jem Cohen, Doug Block, Su Friedrich, and others. I am not inventing a genre, just finding an authentic voice and structure within it. But finding money to make it is another story. Earth Camp One has been turned down by just about every place you could go to for documentary funding, but it’s GOTTEN funding from The Guggenheim Foundation, Netflix, Chicken & Egg, The French American Charitable Trust, and like most nonfiction projects that aren’t works for hire, it’s produce-as-you-go. This one is tricky because there really is some kind of aversion, amongst funders, to work in the first person. I’m not fond of the term “personal doc” as it implies you’re telling the story as therapy or for a small group of friends. No one called Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking or Dave Eggers’s A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius “personal books.” Films in the first person can be self-indulgent, but so can the majority of Hollywood blockbusters. What could be more self-indulgent than the studio exec, whose main purpose in life is to keep his job, so  that he green-lights a series of movies whose primary quality is that it looks like every film that came before them?  
I think at least some of the discomfort that people have with films in the first person goes back to a time when men controlled printing presses and universities, and women were barred from running presses or getting an education. Women had one form of writing: the letter. Their language was personal, it was domestic, and they took their “I-statements” very seriously because the personal realm was their realm . They might dare to think about literature or politics or industry, but they didn’t speak about them: they were allowed to reflect on one thing and one thing only: their own experience. 

I can’t help but think that the extent to which first person speech, in film, is considered too personal, or not appropriate to fund goes back to the sense that someone speaking in the first person speaks with a small voice, with a domestic voice, as opposed to with the authority of the state, the church, the university. Whether the filmmaker is Alan Berliner or Agnes Varda, there’s still a sense that if you are talking about yourself, it must be personal, and if it’s personal, it can’t be universal. Or, as a woman in the audience at a recent screening of Tiffany Shlain’s Connected, one of my favorite films of 2011, said, when I pressed her to tell me what she thought, “I think films like this one are self-indulgent because documentaries should be about something important, and if you’re talking about yourself, it means you think you’re important.” I appreciated this woman’s candor, but I think her views are not only unconsciously sexist, I think there’s an unfortunate sense that what’s important must be outside ourselves! And I would argue that what’s universal is not always what’s rubber-stamped by experts or confirmed by mass appeal,  but is always a good story well-told: and that Joan Didion is no less universal than Toni Morrison: and that Tiffany Shlain is no less universal than Steven Spielberg: the difference is the form, not the authority of the speaker nor the weight of the story.
Jennie Livingston works in both fiction and nonfiction. Her films include Paris is Burning, Who's the Top? and Through the Ice. She lives in Brooklyn, NY. This summer she directed a video for Elton John's Las Vegas stage show, a series of portraits of New Yorkers to accompany the song "Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters."


Jennie Livingston on her Documentary "Earth Camp One" Part 2


So, speaking of filmmakers who combine first person speech with observations of the world, I was (and still am as I write this) deep into my Kickstarter campaign for Earth Camp one, and thought I’d go to the opening of  DocNYC  last Tuesday night not only to see the new Werner Herzog film Into the Abyss but to ask Herzog if he would endorse my film Earth Camp One’s Kickstarter campaign.    

What, are you nuts? you’re asking. Well maybe in general, yes, but not in this case: when I was 22 I wrote Werner Herzog saying I wanted to make films and I wanted to work for him, and he answered my letter. 
He wrote: so you want to be a filmmaker? Have you robbed a bank? Can you hold the attention of a group of 2 year olds? Have you climbed a mountain? A whole series of riddle-of-the Sphinx-like questions written out by hand on blue onionskin air mail paper.  I wrote back (using a typewriter: this was two years before I got my first Mac Classic with a grant from the New York State Council on the Arts!), sending him some of my "street" photographs and telling him about  the film idea that would eventually become Paris is Burning. He wrote back: I’m coming to New York, let’s have dinner! And we did! He took me to Hop Kee in Chinatown and told me to make my film, to steal a camera if need be. And we've crossed paths and gotten together a couple of times since.
I thought  last Tuesday, he might, in the spirit of that dinner long ago, say something into my friend the filmmaker Hima B's camera, something I could post right here, like “give money to Jennie’s film now” or “I’m Werner Herzog and I endorse this Kickstarter campaign.”
So Hima and I go into the Skirball Center and the first person we see is Werner.  I also see the crowd and realize this is a pretty big premiere. The wrong time to ask for anything. We say hello. Then everyone goes into the theater. Forget the endorsement, enjoy the film.
Well I did enjoy the film. The subject, death row in Texas, was compelling enough. There was an amazing interview with a retired executioner and a surprise ending having to do with smuggling some very unusual contraband OUT of a prison.  It was, for Werner Herzog, an uncharacteristically emotional film. At the film’s center wa s father-son relationship, not something you see much of in Herzog!
At the reception afterwards, the Poland Springs was flowing and I was feeling very free. I thought, what the heck?  I met Werner's daughter, a photographer who had a gracious and bemused air towards the people pressing in to talk to a man who'd earned cult status for 40 years and 60 films. I told Werner about this campaign and about Kickstarter, how and why crowd-sourcing works. He said, “I barely look at the Internet.  I don’t even have a phone.” He said that  raising money that way is asking for a handout and I shouldn’t do it.  “Well, how should I raise the money to edit my film?” I asked? “You should be a bouncer in a sex club!” he told me. ( If you think I’m making this up to be colorful, go here, 4 paragraphs down.) 
Bouncer in a sex club? I flexed my muscles in a bouncerly way. FYI I’m 5’5” and 120 pounds. “Werner, you think they’d hire me?” He saw my point. “You should work in a brothel!” (I hoped he meant as a decorator or pornographer.) He advised “you should work out in the real world, earn money, and make your film for $10,000. You should be self-reliant!”
Now I don’t disagree that it’s honorable to earn money with the sweat of your brow and put that money back into your art. But the film we saw at DocNYC was funded by The Discovery Channel. No doubt Herzog was paid, the editor was paid, the producers were paid, the composer and the musicians were paid. The budget was not $10K.
Am I begrudging a filmmaker whose work I hugely admire the status he's earned? Certainly not. Look, there are a lot of ways to flex muscles. It’s like the difference between third and first person. By supporting my film my backers on Kickstarter are acknowledging we can’t depend only on corporations or on artists’ savings to get good culture made. And from my point of view, their pledging is a great reason to wake up in the morning and feel I’ve got a shot at finishing a film I’ve been working on, on and off, for 10 years.  And I know that even if a veteran filmmaker like Werner Herzog hasn’t heard of Kickstarter yet, I choose to believe that, in the deeper recesses of his own heart, he would endorse any filmmaker who's doing what it takes to make a film.  I might feel shameful for a filmmaker of Herzog’s generation to write everyone he knows and ask for $10 or $1000 to get in the editing room, and although I didn’t grow up on the Internet (I grew up on the telephone!)  I’m glad I’m flexible enough to do what needs to be done to make a film, and if crowd-sourcing is one tool in the toolbag right now, I’m happy to use it. Plus, there’s something amazing about the people for whom you intend the film giving it props before it’s even done. It’s very satisfying. It’s radical and democratic and actually makes you realize that you are making your work for people. Actual people. 
A final word on Herzog. Into the Abyss contains a remarkable portrait of a woman whose brother and mother were murdered. Then a few other family members died and she didn't leave the house for four years. Got rid of her phone, afraid of the news that could come with each ring. I told Werner that my film was about that kind of loss in my own life [though fortunately not that kind of depression]  and he said “well make the film, but get it over with!”   I completely agree. 
As of writing this I have 2 days left in the Kickstarter campaign. It ends Friday night and 8 and I hope it works, so I don’t have to work as a bouncer in a sex club.

Jennie Livingston works in both fiction and nonfiction. Her films include Paris is Burning, Who's the Top? and Through the Ice. She lives in Brooklyn, NY. This summer she directed a video for Elton John's Las Vegas stage show, a series of portraits of New Yorkers to accompany the song "Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters."

Guest Post: Leah Warshawski on "Navigating Rejection With Grace"

The process of getting a film made is a long climb through rejection, neglect, frustration, and even some hostility. Those that "know", tell you that it is impossible -- but still tens of thousands of films get made every year despite this knowledge of the "experts". Being a filmmaker takes incredibly thick skin. But it not just bullheaded arrogance that is needed to navigate through the difficult climb to completion. You need to turn rejection into a tool.

Today's guest post by first time feature filmmaker Leah Warshawski captures these necessary lessons well -- and even for the seasoned pro are crucial reminders of how to get it done without losing perspective.

My father is my hero. He is also my toughest critic, most trusted advisor, and has recently transitioned into our team’s biggest cheerleader. Naturally (as his daughter) I feel a particular kind of “pressure” to finish our documentary Film Festival: Rwanda ( 4 years in-the-making in a way that warrants his respect. My father, Morrie Warshawski (, teaches workshops on filmmaking and fundraising, with an emphasis on documentaries and the hordes of people crazy enough to make them. His books have become “manuals” for creating (and funding) successful documentaries.

So making my first feature documentary should be easy, right? Somewhere in my subconscious, I naively assumed that growing up around my Dad meant I had a head-start on some kind of “super-fundraising osmosis.”

You can imagine my surprise four years ago when I excitedly called my Dad from Seattle to tell him the good news - I had decided to make a film about a new generation of Rwandan filmmakers on the opposite side of the world. “Well, are you sure that’s a good idea? Could you pick somewhere a little closer to home,” he said with hesitation. My heart sank. Partly because I knew he was right. Partly because (like every other filmmaker I’ve ever met) I had never felt so determined and passionate about anything else in my life so far.

Four years later it turns out my Dad was right. We have made three trips to Rwanda, completed production, and are in the middle of a Kickstarter campaign ( to finish a rough cut. It has not been easy, but the challenge and process have been worth the struggle. People always assume I have a clear path to funders and grants because of my Dad's connections, but I can tell you (after 2 years of rejection letters from almost every major documentary grant organization) that is far from the truth. The reality is that I’m still applying for grants and still being rejected, but our film has brought my father and I closer through our mutual understanding of how difficult and rewarding the process is - and that is priceless.

So how do you gracefully navigate rejection and still get out of bed in the morning? Very carefully. I’ve learned a lot from my father and I feel obligated to pass along a few things that have helped me the most over the last four years, in case you don’t have a professional fundraiser in your family.

Rejections are opportunities:
You spent weeks and months working on grant applications and isolating yourself from everyone you know. You’re angry, sleep-deprived, and you couldn’t drag yourself away from the computer long enough to go for a 15-minute walk. How can you not follow-up and ask for an explanation?! Use your rejection as an opportunity to contact the organization through email. Not everyone will give you feedback, but most people (when asked nicely) will at least respond to your email. That relationship will be helpful the next time you apply or have questions. Everyone respects “professional persistence.” You may even get a nice surprise when someone replies with constructive criticism on your application! Use that to your advantage and make your application better for the next round!

Social media = The best friend you’ve never met!
Make a Facebook page for your project and spend 10 minutes a day recruiting new fans. Post to other people’s walls, ask everyone on your mailing list, and keep it simple and useful. Thanks to the magic of Facebook, I made a friend for life when a woman noticed our project and offered to host a fundraiser without ever meeting us in person first! We ended up making a few thousand dollars from her event and she remains one of our most enthusiastic supporters.

Switch it up:
Let’s face it - rejection is never pretty. No matter how much you prepare for the letter, it doesn’t get easier. And when you go into a dark place to hide after the mail comes, you expect your parents to give you a few words of encouragement, right? I thought that was standard fare before my father gave me some advice that changed the way I navigate rejection. He said, “Just expect that you’re not going to get any grants and then maybe one day you will get lucky - and that would be a nice surprise!”
As filmmakers we have an abnormal sense of perseverance and somehow believe that if we work harder it means we are also smarter and better than everyone else who applies for the same grant. Switch up your thinking, and understand that nobody owes you anything - we are all in the same boat.

Don’t forget to come up for air:
…because the rest of your life depends on it. Someday you will be done making your film and all that time you used to spend writing grants and fundraising can now be spent with family and friends. Force yourself to get some air, go outside, and take the time to cultivate relationships. We all know that those are opportunities to fundraise as well and that you never go out without mentioning your project... and you never know who you might meet on your walk around the I did. He’s now my future husband. Oh, and I’ve convinced him to be the post-production supervisor for our film!

-- Leah Warshawski

Leah Warshawski is based in Seattle, WA. She is a global film and television producer who is currently raising funds to complete her first feature documentary - Film Festival: Rwanda. Visit her project at:

Finding Inspiration In The Lives Of Others

Today's guest post is from filmmaker Peter Sillen.  His documentary bio-portraits will be screening this week in NYC at the IFC.

The kind of inspiration that makes you want to go out and make a film about someone is tough to pin down. It’s definitely not something you can plan. It’s funny that both Speed Racer: Welcome to the World of Vic Chesnutt and I Am Secretly An Important Man were essentially inspired by albums. In the case of Speed Racer, it was Vic’s, “Little”. For I Am Secretly An Important Man, it was Jesse Bernstein’s record, “Prison.” Arthur Aubrey's photo on the cover of the Prison CD got my attention. Steve Fisk's production and sound design was a perfect fit for Jesse's raspy voice. Many things came together on that record but it was Jesse's writing that grabbed me most. 20 years later both albums hold up as well as they did the first time I listened to them.
Both of these films began with a letter. With Vic I got pretty lucky with timing. He was about to go into the studio to record his second album “West of Rome”. I basically used those sessions as a way to enter his everyday life. He was this incredible force just oozing with creativity. Every time we’d turn on the camera it just kept getting better and better. We were all pretty young and figuring out what we were doing. The film is sort of a time capsule of that moment.
The film on Jesse started the same way, with a letter to Leslie Fried, Jesse’s widow. She was open to the idea of a film. The only problem was I didn’t have Jesse to film (he died the year before, just shy of his 41st birthday).  I Am Secretly An Important Man, is a film that has seen many starts and stops over the 17 years it has taken to make. The long process informed the film a great deal. There are subtle themes that I never could have picked up on when I was 26. Although, I never imagined it would take so long to make, the older I got, the more I became in tune with Jesse and his struggles.
For most documentary filmmakers, I think the idea that everything is constantly changing plays heavy on their work. It certainly does for me. I see a person or a place that somehow to me represents this moment in time were everything comes together  (usually against the odds).  They’re really the ones that are documenting their experience. I’m just inspired by the work or the situation to try to help capture that moment for others to experience, because as Vic put it, “they’re fleeting moments and they don’t last forever”.

tuesday night link:
i am secretly an important man in NYC link:
Peter's  website:

Peter Sillen is a New York based documentary filmmaker. Working mainly in 16mm film, Sillen creates portraits of an array of individuals who live and work outside the stereotypical 9 to 5 environments. With a low-tech approach to documentary film and sensitivity to his subjects and their environment Sillen’s work gives an unobstructed view into the lives of a number of uniquely talented artists and trade workers.

A SMALL ACT – The Little Things Count

Guest post by filmmaker Jennifer Arnold. How much do the little things count when it comes to staying visible?

My first documentary feature, A SMALL ACT ( ), opens at the Quad Cinema in New York today. I started the film three and a half years ago with very few resources. DIY filmmaking is hard. We all know that. You have small budgets. You have small crews.

So how can you stand out when you have very little? The biggest lesson I learned while making this film is to leverage any small triumph into something bigger. Use every resource and relationship you have, no matter how small they are. Eventually, all those small things can add up.

Trust me, I started out with nothing, but this film has already been seen by almost a million people and it’s actually changed some of their lives. As this blog points out, there are well over 38 (are you up to 76?) things wrong with indie film today, but that shouldn’t stop any of us. Indie film is daunting, but you can still start small – who knows where you’ll end up.

I promise I’m not going to make this post into a big ad for the film, but the plotline sort of parallels our distribution journey, so bear with me for a moment. A SMALL ACT follows Chris Mburu who was the top student in his Kenyan village, but without money for school fees he had little hope of a future – until a total stranger, Hilde Back, sponsored his early education through a “sponsor a needy child” campaign. She paid roughly $15 dollars a term to keep Chris in school and unbeknownst to her, this tiny contribution paved the way for Chris to go all the way to Harvard Law School. Today he’s a human rights officer for the United Nations. Chris decides to find his sponsor and thank her by starting his own sponsorship program to educate a new generation of kids in his village. There’s a lot more to the story than that, but the core idea is that it only takes one small act to completely change the course of your life (or your film) and there are programs out there that can give us DIY filmmakers a real chance.

We started production as a crew of two. I wrote, directed, did sound and produced. Patti Lee shot the film, produced, did on-set assistant editor work and also cooked lunch for the postproduction crew everyday. We had two great investors, Jeffrey Soros (producer) and Jane Huang (executive producer) but we were still editing the film in the garage with no idea how to get the film done, let alone distributed, and then we got our first (of many) lucky breaks.

We got into IFP’s Spotlight on Docs, which is part of Independent Film Week. I think people probably know what that is, but just in case, it’s a market where filmmakers pitch unfinished projects to distributors, sales agents and other helpful people. It was here that we met Lisa Heller from HBO (another lucky break) and Louise Rosen our foreign sales agent. We wanted the film to be theatrically released, but we also wanted maximum eyes on the project – we got both. I should also mention that the first time we applied for Spotlight on Docs we were rejected, so for anyone out there who hasn’t gotten into this (or any of the other programs out there) – keep trying!

We got a lot of momentum from Spotlight on Docs; we also started making pre-sales (to HBO and ABC Australia), which allowed us to finish our budget. Originally we hadn’t planned on applying to Sundance that year, but with the little momentum we had, we decided to give it a shot. Not only did we get in, we premiered in documentary competition and once again we were the little guys. There were 16 films in competition, I think half of the other filmmakers had won or been nominated for Academy Awards. They all seemed like massive big shots to me. But we had HBO behind us, something that was leveraged from a short meeting at Spotlight on Docs. We had good word of mouth; yes, I asked all my friends to please spread the word about the film. We ended up with standing ovations. Bill Gates and George Soros both showed up to screenings. Roger Ebert wrote a wonderful piece about our film and WAITING FOR SUPERMAN and – the most exciting thing of all – audience members, though totally unsolicited, started handing over donations to the education fund featured in the film.

Over the course of Sundance (10 days) $90,000 dollars was donated to the fund. This was our next lucky break. A lot of people started talking about the impact the film made. Sundance Documentary Fund (which had given us a grant) invited me to attend the Skoll World Forum and talk about film and social impact. A trailer for the film was shown at a TED event. HBO helped launch a major outreach campaign. Each good thing led to the next.

We did a limited theatrical release in April and a HBO broadcast in July. Viewers donated $400,000 dollars to the Hilde Back Education Fund and pledged another million for new students as the fund expands. This got even more people talking, and little by little, we decided to broaden our release into something bigger.

We’re launching the “What’s Your Small Act Campaign?” which is a mix of community screenings and a slow rollout in traditional theatres. We’re starting with the Quad and if our numbers are good we’ll expand. Once again we’re the little guys. There are a lot of great films out there right now and we’ve got no P&A money and no team of people. But being little has worked so far. We’ll see how it goes this week!

A SMALL ACT has been selected by the NYTimes as "Critic's Pick".  You can view the trailer here.

Movies I Have Wanted To Make #1

I have a list. Okay, I admit I have many lists. And there are subsets of those many lists. And occasionally some of those subsets even overlap.

On the list of True Stories I Would Like To Find A Movie To Make Incorporating Some Of That Truth In is a small subset incorporating those true Sports stories. There's also one that incorporates true Drug tales. And yes, as you might have guessed, there is more than one crossover between the two of those subsets.
Now I also admit it did not occur to me to turn those over to animation. I am glad someone did have that inspiration -- even if they did beat to it in terms of portraying one of those key moments of intersection.
The animated documentary is quickly becoming one of my favorite film forms too: Waltz With Bashir, Ryan, I Met The Walrus, Chicago 10, and now this:

Thank you James Blagden and No Mas TV!

And thank you J. Max Ruschak for the tip!