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August 2, 2007

Goin’ down to Oxford Town

Beadie and Jess hand out the Britdoc awards

Onward to rainy Oxford, England, and the 2nd Annual Britdoc Festival. There were two dozen UK and international documentaries screening, but it seemed the focus was really on the workshops and the pitching forum. The forum consisted of 12 panelists (mostly commissioning editors from large television networks, like HBO, etc.) and a procession of filmmakers each got seven minutes to pitch the new film they’re working on, in hopes of getting feedback and funding from the various networks. After three pitches, I had to leave the room. It wasn’t that the ideas behind the films were bad, but I thought the pitches themselves were rather poor, and the panelists fell over themselves to praise the one I thought was the worst. And some of the filmmakers were asking for $750,000 to $1,000,000! Amazing.

It was at this point that I got a little depressed. Blame it on the rain, or the sight of filmmakers begging for money in front of an audience. But my blues were quickly washed away by a few Jameson’s (kids, don’t try this at home) and Punk Rock Karaoke! It’s a Britdoc tradition.

AJ Schanck unites the kids

The sign-up sheet was already full when I got there, but that didn’t stop me from pogo-ing along with a host of filmmakers acting out their punk rock lead singer fantasies. AJ Schnack brought the house down with his rendition of the Sham 69 classic “If the Kids are United”. During the past five months of touring, I keep running into what I’ll refer to as the “Indie Doc Class of 2007″, made up of other directors who’ve had films on the festival circuit this year. AJ with his Kurt Cobain film, Jennifer Venditti with Billy the Kid, Jason Kohn and Manda Bala, and others. It’s always great seeing them and comparing notes on the different festivals and how their film releases are coming along, but our conversations usually devolve into rants about travel and nightmare airline scenarios.

The next day I attended “Steal this Film”, a screening of Jamie King’s doc-in-progress and a discussion about new models for digital film distribution and production. It was the best panel I’d seen all week, with plenty of argument between King and representatives from the film studios, like Lion’s Gate, who of course are opposed to file sharing. I was amazed at how the studios are still in denial about the realities of digital technology, and the fact that there’s no stopping people from trading files (films, music, fonts, whatever). Instead of trying to sue individuals who file share, the big studios should spend their resources coming up with business models that reflect the way technology is used today, instead of clinging to outdated concepts of copyright law.

That said, I’m personally not too thrilled when people upload copies of the films my company has released. But at least I recognize the reality of the situation, and I’m trying to think creatively about other ways to make and distribute films. I don’t think the studios are ready to make that ideological leap. They kept saying things like, “If everyone’s sharing films and not paying for them, then films like Spiderman 3 won’t get made because we won’t have the money.” And that’s a bad thing??? Really, would it be the end of the world if studios couldn’t make 200 million dollar blockbusters anymore (and spend that much again of marketing), and they had to go back to more modest budgets? Would our civilization actually collapse without the next Pirates of the Carribean film? Argh…

Other highlights: the pub quiz (our team won), the Harry Potter-esque dining hall at Keble College, and all the Britdoc staff, a truly terrific bunch of doc lovers.


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