Rising expectations for the future of film distribution paved the way for a pair of important industry moves within the independent movie industry today. Word that SXSW Film Festival head Matt Dentler would leave the increasingly important South by Southwest festival to join a new arm of Cinetic Media aimed at repping digital rights came alongside the announcement that Janet Pierson is replacing him in Austin. Dentler will serve as head of marketing and programming operations within the new Cinetic Rights Management (CRM) unit, while fellow board member at the local Austin Film Society, Pierson has been named the new producer of the fest and conference that runs alongside the popular annual SXSW Music event.
“Matt has been a totally brilliant and inspired leader at SXSW,” Janet Pierson told indieWIRE today about her predecessor and good friend, in a telephone conversation this afternoon from Austin. “My thought is this will be a hard act to follow, but I’ve been a fan and supporter [of the festival] since its inception and it will be great to be a part of its continued growth.” Dentler will start at Cinetic on May 1st.
“Janet’s got really good taste,” Dentler told indieWIRE today, in a separate call, noting that Janet Pierson already has a strong track record as a programmer of films for the festival. “Not only has she been involved with the festival in its programming,” he noted, but as a good friend, “She knows a lot about what my job entailed — I’ve unintentionally prepared her for what it was all about.”
Monday’s announcement stirred greater interest in Cinetic’s new division, which company founder John Sloss said Monday is aimed at working with just the sorts of independent filmmakers for which SXSW has become an important home in recent years. In the words of an announcement, Cinetic noted that CRM will “aggressively exploit content opportunities” in the digital market, ranging from sales negotiation and strategy, organization of digital encoding logistics, marketing support, as well as accounting and reporting. Dentler will work closely with Janet Brown, CRM’s chief operating officer, to program titles for various new media platforms (ranging from VOD outlets to online distributors like iTunes, Netlix or Amazon). Core aspects will include marketing and montezing the relationships between the filmmakers and these emerging distributors.
“I’ve been saying for awhile now, seeing the worlds of new media and film overlap at SXSW, that there is a whole realm of possibility that the industry has yet to define. Young up-and-coming filmmakers are not finding a tradtional distribution deal, and I hope to help service that,” explained Dentler, who joined SXSW as an intern more than ten years ago, rising to become head of the film fest back in 2003. “I was tired of watching great films come and go, and I’m excited to be at Cinetic so that I can put my money where my mouth is.”
Asked to summarize CRM for iW, Matt Dentler explained simply, “It’s taking what I consider to be the gold standard of indie film representation and creating an extra aspect that is going to explore avenues that [filmmakers] think about and know about, but don’t know how to explore.”
Twenty years ago it was the Piersons — in particular Janet’s husband and business partner John Pierson — who emerged to shepherd indie films into distribution. The two were famously married at New York’s Film Forum, where Janet Pierson once worked, and the couple emerged as mavericks on the American independent film scene. Both Piersons are credited with helping usher into theaters milestone films such as Michael Moore‘s “Roger & Me” (1989), Richard Linlater‘s “Slacker” (1991) and Kevin Smith‘s “Clerks” (1994). They also launched the IFC TV series, “Split Screen.” The couple and their two children themselves then became the subject of a documentary in “Reel Paradise” (2005) by Steve James when the family moved to Fiji for a year and operated an independent cinema in a remote village. After returning to America, the Piersons left their Upstate New York home for Austin, TX after John Pierson, author of 1995’s “Spike, Mike Slackers and Dykes,” accepted a position in the film department at the University of Texas at Austin. Janet Pierson also immersed herself in the local film community soon after, joining the board of Richard Linklater’s Austin Film Society.
“I’ve been involved with film for so long and in so many different ways,” noted Janet Pierson, reflecting on her time in the indie community, “I’ve seen festivals change and grow, replacing the old art film world that I came of age with. So, it’s particularly fascinating to be a part of that evolution. My work both before John and with John has been championing work and connecting film with audiences. That’s why I’m particularly delighted [with this position]…It’s the perfect job, I can’t imagine anything more perfect for me in Austin.”
Meanwhile, elaborating on CRM, Texas filmmaker Richard Linklater’s longtime attorney John Sloss noted that Cinetic’s emerging unit is increasingly important amidst distinct changes in the marketplace for independent films. Reflecting on the tough market at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Sloss cited a, “recession of revenue streams from traditional media,” while adding that the, “corresponding revenue streams of digital have not filled in the hole, but they are going to…”
“It’s a changing landscape,” prefaced Cinetic partner Rob Nathan on the iW call, with Sloss adding, “As pay TV deals recede and as the DVD revenues plateau these are the [areas] that are going to rise.”
With Sloss tapping Dentler to make the move to NYC, SXSW moved quickly to reach out to Janet Pierson for the position, even catching her a bit off guard she admitted. “On Thursday I was surprised to get a call from [SXSW founder] Louis Black saying that Matt was leaving for a great opportunity in New York and asking if I’d take over. The offer came out of the blue… As someone who loves film and has made it a part of my life here, I thought why not step in.”
Asked about any immediate changes at the festival, Janet Pierson said she still has yet to meet with the staff, but joked again about filling Dentler’s shoes. “I want to make a button that says, ‘I’m not Matt’ at SXSW 2009.'”
“I have my 25th anniversary this year, so everyone knows how I feel about my wife,” concluded John Pierson, in remarks to indieWIRE today, regarding his wife Janet’s appointment at SXSW. “I [also] want to give Matt the biggest thoughtful pat on the back. It’s a lovely two-part story, and everyone should be happy about it.”