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by Eugene Hernandez
June 9, 2008 5:00 AM
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New Digital Revenue Stream? TFI Unveils Ambitious Online Outlet: Reframe

A screen grab from the Reframe website.

Hoping to launch a viable new revenue stream for a wide swath of independent films and filmmakers, the Tribeca Film Institute has unveiled Reframe, a curated online outlet with its sights set on filtering some 10,000 films and videos via the Internet. Opening its digital doors today, Reframe is backed by a million dollars in grants from the MacArthur Foundation, and includes a partnership with CreateSpace and Amazon aimed at digitizing and delivering -- on DVD or via Amazon's Unbox service -- films from leading indie, documentary, foreign and experimental filmmakers.

While primarily focused on bringing libraries of titles to the educational marketplace, the new website is also wide open to any aficionados of so-called niche or alternative cinema who may arrive at the site. DVDs and downloads are available for sale at a variety of price points, with filmmakers taking substantial percentages from purchases.

Due to the high costs of converting older films to a digital format, Tribeca Film Institute executive director Brian Newman warned on Friday, "We are literally losing our digital heritage." The prohibitive prices for digitizing film keep the content from being accessible via the potentially lucrative network of classrooms and institutions, so Newman initiated the Reframe project nearly two years ago before his organization -- previously known as Renew Media -- was aquired by TFI.

Some 500 films are already available for sale on the site, including numerous titles from filmmakers like Sally Potter ("Orlando," "Yes") and Ken Jacobs ("Tom, Tom, The Piper's Son"), with a total of 1500 currently in various stages of preparation ahead of their debut on the site. Content runs the gamut from shorts and avant garde film, to television and documentary, with a notable focus on foreign langauge and American arthouse cinema. Numerous films are linked via Amazon's commercial site, so Reframe is also selling films ranging from documentaries by The Maysles Brothers, Errol Morris, and D.A. Pennebaker, recent American indies by The Duplass Brothers, Andrew Bujalski and Joe Swanberg to foreign cinema by Godard, Greenaway, Wong Kar-Wai and many others.

Newman added that he is not necessarily looking for new work that is just hitting the film festival circuit, but rather is hoping to lure filmmakers who have a library of content for which they already own the rights. More details on what Newman vows will be a "transparent" deal structure is available on the website. Reframe is covering the digitizing costs for work available in video format and providing a master to the filmmaker, while work originating on film can be digitized at a discounted cost.

With "one of the more generous splits in the field," Newman told indieWIRE that filmmakers selling digital downloads of their films via Reframe will keep 50% of the revenues, while there is a tiered structure for DVD sales revenues.

Site visitors can dive into list of filmmakers and films, or they could be guided by curators and bloggers, including John Hanhardt (Consulting Senior Curator for Film and Media Arts - Smithsonian American Art Museum) and Kathy Brew (Curator, Former Managing/Co-Director - Margaret Mead Film & Video Festival), among numerous others. Visitors are also encouraged to create their own profile and lists to share.

Chatting with indieWIRE on Friday, Brian Newman emphasized that Reframe is meant to be highly curated so that it can offer, "quality content." While that's a "slippery term," he reiterated that Reframe is not for user-submitted "YouTube films."

As for the ambitious goal of hitting 10,000 titles in its first year, Brian Newman is optimistic. "It's a goal, not set in stone, but I think it's feasible."

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