OK, not sure why I committed myself to trying to blog every day at the festival. It is near imposible when sleep is short and time is focused on films and filmmakers. And for me at least, film reviews need some distance of time to digest and reflect. But I will at least write a few paragraphs even if they don't fully encapsulate the day quite yet.
Day Two of Full Frame started off with breakfast with D-Word Community members. Founded by Doug Block back near the turn of the century as an online community for documentary filmmakers, D-Word now has thousands of members from around the world who converse in a virtual forum about numerous topics related (and indeed often unrelated) to documentary film. Block continues to co-host the community while at the same time making his own films. He actually has two in the festival -- one he directed called The Kids Grow Up and one he produced (and directed by Amy Hardie) called The Edge of Dreaming will be screening on Saturday. But it's still Friday and only 8:30 am - not primetime for most documentary filmmakers. Still about ten D-Worders show up for the breakfast and a chance to expand the virtual community into a real one, a mainstay of most documentary festivals. There would be other D-Worder sightings during the festival, including the occasional realization that there are as many lurkers as there are active posters to the online forum...a reminder that one's reputation often precedes oneself.
Following the enthusiastic morning conversation, I decided to continue hearing some talk for a while, so went to one of Full Frame's panel discussions, this one called State of the Doc Part I. The panel was moderated by Michelle Byrd, the former Executive Director of IFP and featured a mix of filmmakers (Rick Goldsmith, The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers and Gita Pullapilly, The Way We Get By) and industry (Christopher Horton from Cinetic Rights Management, Dylan Marchetti from Variance Films, and Molly Thompson from A&E IndieFilms). So what is the state of the doc exactly? Well, as is common on these panels, it's anybody's guess. Goldsmith represented an older (but not necessarily deader) model of distribution but still noted that there is "no normal" for documentary with every film having its own path to success. Pullapilly represented a newer model for distribution and felt that the reality was that films had to be seen as products as well as films, making a business plan essential.
In the case of Goldsmith's film, he split up the rights with different entities handling U.S. theatrical, U.S. broadcast, international sales, and the educational market. He also saw the importance of knowing one's audience -- in his case, the theatrical and broadcast run would probably be watched primarily by Baby Boomers who have living memories of the Vietnam eria. But he also noted that a film like his would have a healthy educational audience and noted that New Day Films, a distribution cooperative to which he belongs, is one of the few educational distributors which has not seen the same downward trend in educational pricing as other more traditional educational distributors.
In the case of Pullapilly's film, grassroots outreach was essential and the film relied greatly on word of mouth through social networking as well as the buzz from festival screenings. As is common with many first time documentary filmmakers, Pullapilly and director Aron Gaudet had difficulty raising much in the way of funds until they got to post-production. Getting P.O.V. on board was an important step but what really made a difference was relying on the film's location of Maine as a place for some unexpected additional support. Most crucially were funds from a Maine-based bank to pay for the cost of negatives and film prints so the film could be shown at theaters around Maine -- and eventually at theaters nationwide. While the film benefitted by some great press from the New York Times and Washington Post, Pulapilly admitted it was important to know your audiences and how best to reach them. She gave the example that, in trying to reach military family communities who would be a natural audience for the film, they arranged for screenings at theaters on or close to military bases. Yet they discovered that these theaters did not sell as well because families with children rarely went to the movie theater for anything other than children's films. That said, these audiences were among the first to be requesting the film through Netflix.
I also saw three films but will write about them more in my next blog entry. Need some more time to digest...