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Silverdocs Documentary FF

Online Dailies Coverage of SILVERDOCS: AFI/Discovery Channel Documentary Festival taking place June 21-27, 2010 at the AFI Silver Theater


The Sobering State of Documentaries


Saturday, June 21------As SILVERDOCS enters its final weekend, one is both encouraged and discouraged by the assessments of many professionals who have appeared on panels as part of the parallel International Documentary Conference.

While the sheer number of films here (over 120 screened, over 1500 submitted)) is evidence of a spike in documentary production around the world, the performance of recent films at the box office has made for quite a sober event here. "We are experiencing the bursting of a bubble in the documentary world that we have already gone through with the dot.coms and the housing booms", veteran distributor Ira Deutschman of Emerging Pictures proclaimed at a seminar yesterday on documentary distribution. "We now just have to return to an understanding that documentaries are a niche business."

Echoing that sentiment, in yesterday's Los Angeles Times, writer John Horn has written a rather pessimistic article on film documentaries' apparent loss of box office muscle. Pointing to such recently critically acclaimed documentaries as  BIGGER, FASTER, STRONGER and YOUNG@HEART, both of which released in the past few weeks, the box office numbers have been way below expectations. And with several leading film distributors either being phased out (Picturehouse, Warner Independent Pictures) or in financial trouble (ThinkFilm), the prospects of a return to the recent Michael Moore/AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH era of box office bonanzas seems highly unlikely.

However, there are bright spots on the horizon. Day-and-date releases (where films open at theaters at the same time that they are available on Video On Demand platforms on cable and satellite television) seems to be showing promise and is one of the cornerstones of the policies of IFC Films, which was the only American company on a buying spree at last month's Cannes Film Festival. "I like the IFC model", lawyer and producer's rep Steven Beer declared on the same distribution panel. "Clearly, documentary films have got to maximize their audiences right away to make any kind of profit....the remaining question is how do you market the films so that the public knows about them and has an appetite for going to see them in theaters or purchasing them to view at home."

The potential of on-line downloads or purchase of dvd copies over the internet is also of great potential. Savvy filmmakers can generate interest in their projects among a core audience of enthusiasts via social networking sites and topical organizations with motivated members. Alternative distribution guru Peter Broderick of Paradigm Consulting gives a talk later today on how this internet model can generate more monies for filmmakers than any standard distribution deal.

For the filmmakers, programmers and professionals attending SILVERDOCS, it is a mixed bag of excitement about the quality of the films on screen here and the realities that there are now fewer distributiors to pitch and a shrinking audience ready to see their films in theaters.

To read the Los Angeles Times article in its entirety, log on to:,0,1600628.story

Sandy Mandelberger, SILVERDOCS Dailies Editor 

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About Silverdocs Documentary FF

Sandy Mandelberger
(International Media Resources)

Online Dailies Coverage of SILVERDOCS: AFI/Discovery Channel Documentary Festival, taking place at the AFI Silver Theater in Silver Spring, Maryland from June 21 to 27, 2010.

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