Tribeca and Sundance Film Festivals Plan Big Growth -

The New York Times on rumored plans by Tribeca and Sundance festivals to increase their distribution efforts:

Tribeca plans on Monday to announce a significant expansion of its fledgling movie releasing arm, Tribeca Film, which was founded last year as a test in releasing movies both digitally and in theaters. Tribeca Film plans to increase its annual output to 26 pictures, up from 11.

So of the roughly 5000 feature films that get made each year, fifteen more will have greater hope of seeing distribution. Let's be generous and assume that 500 of those films (the top ten percent) are actually worth watching. A plan for an additional fifteen seems like a drop in the bucket. Not that I'm criticizing Tribeca (or Sundance, who declined to comment for the article) for making the effort, but the problem seems larger than that.

Personally I'm more and more of the opinion that Ted Hope's fears are true: that the explosion of independent film (enabled by ever-cheaper movie making technology) has created an endless series of first-time hobby filmmakers. The career filmmakers will still emerge, but it will be harder and harder to distinguish who they are until later in their lives, and it will be harder for them to hang on through the onslaught of hobbyists who make one film and then decide that independent film is too hard.

I was also amused by the reporter's definition of the festival world, which seems to encompass only the top ten or twenty festivals nationally. In particular I chortled at the assertion that Sundance is unlike other festivals in that is a non-profit (most fests are non-profit) and that SXSW is "in the minority" in not having a department dedicated to distributing films that play at the festival. The festival directors I know are mostly busy figuring out how their events will survive from year to year to worry too much about what happens to the films afterwards. Not that they wouldn't love to help more, but distribution beyond the festival bounds isn't really in the mission statement of the vast majority of film fests.

Watch Twitter and the indie film blogs for much discussion about what this means to indie filmmakers (as a species, not much) and possibly a resurgence of the old "festivals should give filmmakers a cut of the ticket revenue" idea, something I wrote about back in 2008.

In short – it's always nice to see big festivals try new things, but a new model of compensation to flimmakers for their work is unlikely to be the result.