Film Festival Purgatory

Film Festival Purgatory

I woke up this morning to find myself tagged in the image above, an instagram post about “Radiation”, our most successful film from a festival standpoint, but our least successful film in terms of distribution. While it showed at over 40 international festivals, almost no one ever saw it outside of that circuit. This has happened to a few of our films and it’s always quite frustrating.

We’ve made, or nearly completed, a dozen feature length films. Some of those films have been fairly widely seen because we got them distributed in some form or another. This cohort includes “Half-Cocked”, “Horns and Halos”, “Battle for Brooklyn”, “Who Took Johnny”, and “All The Rage”. A few others have barely been seen outside of the festival circuit; the above mentioned “Radiation, as well as “Code 33”, and “Working In Protest”. The ones that have gotten seen have only found distribution because we took on the burden of getting them out. With the others we simply didn’t have the means, connections, or energy to do it.

Our first film, “Half-Cocked“, was rejected by 35 film festivals before we finally decided to throw it in a van and show it ourselves at rock clubs using a a sixteen millimeter projector. The sound was terrible, but showing it in these space was extremely fitting and we got it seen all over the world- including a tour of Spain during which we shot our follow up feature “Radiation”.

While “Half-Cocked” got no festival love, “Radiation” was invited to over 40 international festivals including Sundance, SXSW, Buenos Aires, Taipei, and Bangkok which we attended, and dozens which we did not. Unfortunately, since we blew the film up to 35mm for festival screenings we had no way of getting it screened in rock clubs, so its intended audience never got to see it except at a few underground film festivals. We made it before digital distribution was possible and, while making a 35 mm print helped with our festival life, it limited our ability to get it seen outside of fancy theaters with 35 mm projectors.

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Ironically, it almost got a big distribution push, but the upstart company, Palm Pictures (a division of Island Records), that wanted to put it in theaters would do so only if Film Forum, an important NY theater, agreed to show it. They did not, and that was that. It had seemed very possible because reps from Palm came to the New York Underground Film Festival on a Friday night and different reps showed up in SXSW in Austin the next day. Separately, the insisted the film was perfect for them. Double bonus sad trombone points because Suki actually worked at Film Forum for several years selling pop corn. We are in the process of getting it re-scanned right now so that we can have a real high quality digital copy of it. A year ago we projected the 35mm print at the Quad and it was kind of awesome to re-visit it. In any case it was such a wonderful way to wake up- having someone randomly find it on Kanopy.

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While Radiation was a fest hit, it also hit home with a lot of musicians. When we showed it at the Chicago Underground Film Festival one of the first questions came from an incredulous Eddie “King” Rosser of the rock band Urge Overkill, who had recently been struggling with a drug problem. “How did you make that?” He was incredulous. because the film felt so real to him. He couldn’t wrap his head around how we’d captured the essence of what it was like to be on the road with no money, no support, and no understanding of what you were doing. It’s incredibly disorienting physically and emotionally. Having been in a band for nearly a decade, and having toured with our previous film, we had a pretty good idea. Unfortunately, it was a bit too underground for the mainstream distributors and not underground enough for the underground to fully embrace. This is a problem we’ve had for 25 years now.

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We were so burnt out from the process of making our first two films on film, which was arduous and expensive, that we grabbed a video camera and made our third feature a documentary, “Horns and Halos“. That film hit some speed bumps at first because it was a film about a discredited bio of GW that had its final shoot day on Sept 10, 2001. However a year later it showed at Toronto FF and we self distributed it successfully which helped it to get it short listed for the Oscar. We also sold it to HBO, who then agreed to give us money to edit our second doc feature “Code 33

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HBO had been very supportive of “Horns and Halos, especially since it got shot-listed” and it felt like our career was on a good path. Our partner on Horns, David Beilinson started up this documentary about a police sketch artist which rolled into the longest episode of Cops ever. David followed cops as they canvassed with a sketch and a few days later the perp hit again, and DNA connected him to a slew of other cases. All of a sudden were were a part of the largest manhunt in South Florida history. We shot for many months before we were able to close out the story. The trailer we cut got HBO on board. We threw together a rough cut and showed the executives because we thought they wanted to be involved. They didn’t. They thought it our rough cut was boring and cut us loose. We went ahead and finished the film and it got invited to some bigger festivals like Miami, SXSW, and Silver docs. It also got incredible reviews. When an HBO exec was blown away by it he came up after and asked about the executive’s credit. We explained that they had passed on it the film after putting up money for editing. He was downcast because once they’d said no, they almost never changed their mind. Outside of those festivals no one saw it. It was the Cops movie that had never gotten made. It was so far ahead of it’s time that it got lost to time. However, you can see it on Vimeo. It’s been there for 8 months and racked up about a dozen rentals.

While we kept getting a bit more resistance from festivals we eventually got our next few films, “Battle for Brooklyn“, “Who Took Johnny“, and “All The Rage“, seen a bit more widely. While distributing “All The Rage” we also began showing our film “Working In Protest” which got some decent festival play but hasn’t sold a single copy since it was put up on Vimeo on demand about 8 months ago. It’s always a crap shoot when you fund and distribute your own media or art. Without high level festival play no one will about a film, which means it doesn’t exist in the larger world. If it can’t get written about no distributor will even consider it. Since we have self distributed all of our own films they exist in this tiny pocket of awareness. So, it becomes our responsibility to not give up on them- which is why it’s so nice to wake to a post like the one about Radiation. It’s out there and I believe eventually people will find it and Code 33.

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