Saturday, September 11, 2010

Tiff 2 days in

I think most local filmmakers have a love-hate relationship with Tiff, aka the Toronto International Film Festival.  I know I do.

I hate it when I experience all the hype around film and filmmakers and I'm not part of it, (and so far, I've never been a part of it by having a film in the festival.)  But I love that one of the world's largest and most successful film festivals is in my town.

This year I decided to embrace the festival by forking over the least amount of money for an industry networking pass which gets me into everything BUT movies.  What's the point of that, I can hear, from the bleachers.  Well, it IS about cost, for one thing.  But for another, most of the films worth seeing usually get released shortly after the festival and you can then see them without standing in line and paying 20 bucks.  Also, when I have bought a pass that included films, I then felt obligated to try and see as many movies as I could to make the pass worth my while and frankly, despite the hype, (and I know this is heresy), most of the film just aren't worth it.  Not that the festival films are bad, (though that does happen), but they are also rarely better than Sunset Boulevard or Lawrence of Arabia, despite what's written in the BIG BOOK about them.  (For those who haven't attended Tiff, the big book lists all the films, devoting an entire page to each one.  It's a nice souvenir, but not something you want to carry around.)

So I've been spending my time at the filmmaker's lounge attending panel discussions and have found the first two days quite fruitful.  One big message is that it's important, as Marguerite Pigott, who works for one of Canada's pay TV channels told me, to "know where the puck's going, not where it's been."  The big message is that traditional forms of distribution are really dead to most indie film makers and we need to see them akin to winning the lottery.  Yes, buy a ticket, but don't depend on it to pay the rent.  Instead, we have to assume we're going to self-distribute.

Here's the problem for CANADIAN independent filmmakers:  the business model that our funding system, (since we don't have studios or a recognized means of private equity investment), which means Telefilm Canada and/or provincial funding agencies for feature films requires a distributor be attached.  Yet these dinosaurs aren't going to be doing much for our films as the online space expands and audiences see their films on computers, streaming to their flat screens or on on their phones.  That revenue stream can't be used to support a funding application to the government-based funding agencies, which are our de facto studios.

Does this mean that as the rest of the indie film world finds the new way to reach their audiences via self-distribution, Canadian independent film makers are going to be forced to support an outmoded distribution model that frankly, has never worked in English Canada anyway?

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