The first time I ever saw Frownland, was on DVD. It was a rough-looking dub of a 16mm work print, that I watched on a medium-sized television, but it was on DVD. Frownland, Ronnie Bronstein’s debut feature film, is always gonna have a special place in my heart. That may sound odd considering this is one of the least sentimental films you’ll see all decade. It’s a jarring, demanding, and astonishingly funny film. I had the pleasure of being the one to program Frownland for its world premiere, at SXSW 2007. Before its premiere, on a Sunday morning at the original Alamo Drafthouse downtown, I had a suspicion that it would be met with mixed reactions. Nevertheless, I believed in it. It reminded me of many American independent films that I admired, yet it didn’t feel derivative or unoriginal. Some members of that premiere audience walked out after the first five minutes, but many people stayed to watch, including filmmaker Joe Swanberg and producer/journalist Scott Macaulay. These two men would end up becoming vital supporters for the film, while it played a few more festivals and picked up an award or two.
Over two years since that premiere, Frownland has become a prime example of divisive contemporary American independent film. It’s almost become a genre, as in “That was a Frownland.” Awards and some international distribution aside, no American distributors were able to get the film in theaters. Frownland would spend 2008 playing special screenings at various venues, but nothing close to a commercial home. “There must be a way to get it out there,” dozens of us kept commenting. It signals the birth of a new American filmmaking voice in Ronnie Bronstein, who spent many years perfecting the film, and the dark but funny vision deserved to see retail. While you should always try to watch it on a film print (which I later did), Frownland is now back on the format that launched its journey: DVD. A new boutique distribution company, called Factory 25, has finally stepped up. True to what Frownland is, this is more than your typical indie release. This month, at The New Yorker, Richard Brody discusses some of the details of the package, which comes in two versions: DVD only and a DVD/LP combo which contains the soundtrack. Why an LP, and not MP3 or even CD? Did I mention this was shot on 16mm?