My distribution system will belong to the filmmakers themselves – Dan Wolman
“For something real to happen in India you need a group of determined and able people to give their time and energy,” says renowned Israeli filmmaker Dan Wolman. Being actively involved in both the commercial and independent streams of cinema, Dan recognizes and highlights the need of a reformed distribution system for independent filmmakers.
Over an email interaction with Pandolin, he tells us about setting up this system, its goals, the way forward and most importantly how Indian filmmakers can play a vital role in bringing this revolution within the independent distribution system in our country.
How did the idea of an independent distribution network for indie filmmakers germinate? What triggered this process?
I am an old timer and have been making films for many years. At the age of 26, I was lucky to find people who backed my first feature “The Dreamer”. It dealt with an unusual subject – old age. Soon after it was released, I realized that with the subjects that interest me it will be very difficult to raise money and continue to make films. But, the will to go on was burning inside me and so, over the years, I worked in two parallel paths. One, as a hired gun for commercial producers (“Maid in Sweden”,”Baby Love” and others) and two, low budget independent personal films such as “Floch”, “The Distance” and “Tied Hands“.
When it came to distributing my films, I went with regular commercial distributors with both types of films. What triggered the process to develop my idea of an independent distribution network was the digital revolution and the ability to project films with acceptable quality using computers and relatively inexpensive projection tools. But in the background what triggered me personally was the bitterness, anger and frustration that swelled up inside me over the years at the distributors and middlemen who made it so difficult for me to show my work to the public and get paid for it.
Being a filmmaker yourself, what are the challenges that you have faced while taking your films to your target audience?
Most interpreters and critics judge a film by it’s success at the box office. I think it’s wrong. The kinds of films many of us independent filmmakers make are aimed at target audiences and not at the masses. You will not judge a poet based on how many books he sold. My personal films deal with people on the edges of society, old people, death, poverty… My target audience consists mainly of people like me who care about these subjects and are interested in them. I never had money to advertise my films on billboards, newspapers and T.V. but with internet this changed. I found out that the most effective way to reach my audience is through chain letters. In these letters I define the kind of film I made and ask those interested to pass it on to friends whom they think might be interested. In the case of my last film “Gei Oni” the letter I sent reached tens of thousands in my country and contributed to the success of it’s distribution.
How has the independent cinema scenario evolved around the world in recent years? At this time and current situation, what would you say is the single most motivating factor for independent filmmakers?
I am a protege of New York underground filmmakers who were active in the sixties. I am speaking of John Cassavetes, Jonas Mekas, Shirley Clarke, Kenneth Anger, Andy Warholl and others, who to my mind were pioneers of independent cinema. It’s important to remember that there were fewer filmmakers then because making films was much more expensive. The two most motivating factors today are obviously digital technology which allows us to make our films and project them inexpensively and internet which allows us to advertise and broadcast them at almost no cost.[pullquote_right]It’s more about getting the public know about our existence and what is special about us. People have to find that our films interest them and that our distribution system channels it’s income back to the filmmakers themselves.[/pullquote_right]
Please tell us about the steps taken towards the establishment of this system and your plan of action? What are the goals that this independent distribution network will seek to accomplish?
Non theatrical distribution has always been there along with regular theatrical distribution. Nothing new about that. There are many distributors and middlemen who distribute independent personal films. The big difference between the system I propose and the ones that exist is – that my distribution system will belong to the filmmakers themselves. It will share the information it gathers with fellow independent filmmakers and help them distribute their films by themselves.
I don’t see any conflict between the two parallel distribution systems. I think they will compliment one another. But maybe I’m wrong – obviously distributors and middlemen who now work in the nontheatrical market will see our new distribution network as a threat.
Also, acceptability commercially, will still be a big problem? This may be one of the solutions but there is still a lot of work to be done. Could you list a few important ones?
I agree, a lot of work has to be done. Our distribution network has to compete with others. It’s not only the question of money and cost. It’s more about getting the public know about our existence and what is special about us. People have to find that our films interest them and that our distribution system channels it’s income back to the filmmakers themselves.
We have to personally be in touch with our potential audiences and venues and this means a lot of work. We have to encourage groups, companies and institutions. Once I’ll form the legal entity for our distribution company I plan appearances on national television, press conferences and more.
How was the response to your first gathering in Tel Aviv and what were the conclusions that were drawn? Do you plan to travel to other countries as well to meet filmmakers across? Please tell us about your next steps.
In the first gathering in Tel Aviv I explained the kind of distribution company I envision and a friend (Avi Shemesh) spoke about his experiences forming a similar company which has to do with film rights. Filmmakers are extremely excited by my idea and ask me to move fast and start with it right now.
Over the last month, I and a few friends met with lawyers, accountants and film experts just to learn the subject. Personally, I am a busy filmmaker and the last thing I want to do is to become an organizer or an administrator. But, I feel that this idea is special and important and I don’t want it to die. I believe that if we’ll succeed, many interesting, original and experimental filmmakers will be able to find audiences and get paid for their films. So, I have decided to devote time to this.
Like with everything else, one needs some seed money to start. We will need an office, phones, computer, travel expenses, legal and accounting services etc. To my regret I am not rich and cannot help with this. I have written to some film foundations and governmental offices explaining the importance of developing such a distribution network and asked them to help me at the first stage.
Whether I succeed in raising money or not, I plan to start by picking two or three interesting films which are not commercial and start distributing them my own way.
What is your advice/message to indie filmmakers in India? How can they participate and become part of the system?
For something real to happen in India you need a group of determined and able people to give their time and energy. One has to start somewhere. I am an outsider and maybe what I’ll say is completely not acceptable and not in place, but since you asked here is a thought: India is famous for it’s film societies. I personally have been invited to show my films at such societies in different cities. I think it’s very important to meet with the heads of these societies and explain to them that they could make a difference and their venues and members could be the springboard to a new kind of “other cinema” in India. If they would adopt a policy where every three weeks they would show a film by an independent Indian filmmaker and find a way to compensate and pay him or her – and invite filmmakers to meet their audiences and discuss their films with them – it could be a great beginning.
I plan to come to India sometime toward end of December this year. I’ll be in both Delhi and Mumbai and would gladly attend meetings with independent filmmakers if organized.
If things change, if the network is established, what changes do you see within independent cinema, its makers and audience?
More personal and experimental films will be made – more audiences will be exposed to these kinds of films – we, filmmakers, will be paid for our work.
To know more about the movement and share your thoughts with Dan Wolman, visit: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Revolution-in-distribution/227157784098863