Documentary filmmakers Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing ("The Boys of Baraka," "Jesus Camp") took their latest film, "Detropia," to the Sundance Film Festival in January. When no suitable distribution deal materialized during the fest and the months afterward, the duo decided to take advantage of the Sundance Institute's brand new Artist Services program, which helps Sundance alumni (they had "12th and Delaware" at the fest in 2010) with financing, distribution and promotion for their films.
Months ago, Grady and Ewing started a Kickstarter campaign to raise $70,000 for a self-distribution strategy that starts in theaters this week and expands to digital channels in January. They spoke to the Sundance Institute (full disclosure: the writer is my wife) about this new DIY avenue, how the Artist Services program aided the effort and the ways in which the movie inspired their approach.
Here's Grady from the Q&A:
"It’s creatively a departure for us so we took a risk with 'Detropia' from the get go. Also, a takeaway that we both got from the film was: Don’t rely on the status quo and don’t rely on just following other people’s patterns. In this day and age, it’s too competitive. It’s too quick changing. There’s too many options and too much product out there to get a purchase on [the audience]. So, we just thought, ‘Why don’t we take our own advice and get in there?’ Because, before, I think it would have been too intimidating to reinvent the wheel. But now you’re putting the pieces together. All the pieces exist. And you can figure it out for yourself."
Despite their increasing popularity in recent years, documentaries remain a tough sell for traditional distributors, so filmmakers working in the non-fiction world have been as eager as anyone in the business to experiment with new strategies and partnerships for getting their films in front of audiences. Festivals and streaming VOD channels still provide the best access to docs, but a targeted theatrical release can both be a success in its own right and juice the film's prospects on the other platforms.