The director of "I Am A Sex Addict," winner of the IFP Gotham Award last year for Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You, has been caught in the crossfire of a day-and-date distribution battle between Mark Cuban, the film's distributor IFC Films, and cable system Comcast. Filmmaker Caveh Zahedi wrote yesterday on his indieWIRE-hosted blog that Mark Cuban had ordered his Landmark Theaters circuit (the country's largest for arthouse and independent films) to cancel this Friday's debut booking of the film in Berkeley, CA. Cuban has decided to block IFC Films from booking movies that are part of its new IFC First Take theatrical/cable VOD day-and-date initiative into Landmark Theaters in a Comcast market because Comcast will not carry Cubans two cable networks (HDNet and HDNet Movies). "Landmark is the most accepting of day and date," Mark Cuban told indieWIRE today, "But we aren't going to subsidize what amounts to our competition."
Likening the situation to being held hostage and caught in a turf war, Zahedi told indieWIRE today that he is quite disappointed by the situation, particularly given the amount of work that had already been put into the opening at a Landmark theater in Berkeley. The indie film, an autobiographical comedy about the life of a man who becomes addicted to prostitutes and sex, will still debut at the Balboa Theater in San Francisco tomorrow (Wednesday, April 4th) and a replacement booking at the Elmwood Theater in Berkeley will replace the Landmark showing starting Friday. Zahedi has been documenting the ups and downs leading up to the theatrical release on his increasingly popular weblog.
"It is too bad that Mark Cuban is taking such a narrow view of it," Caveh Zahedi told indieWIRE in a conversation today. "It is misguided...but I understand it. It seems like he is trying to make public his fight with Comcast. I am sympathetic to his attempt, it seems like there must be some solution."
On his blog, Zahedi appealed to Mark Cuban to reverse the cancellation, after Cuban asked Zahedi to tell IFC Films to drop the Comcast part of their distribution plans for the film. Reached by email today, Mark Cuban told indieWIRE that he realizes such a request might be difficult and added that neither Landmark nor IFC stand to make much money from the theatrical release but, "Comcast gets to promote that they have movies in their VOD program that are currently in theaters. While I don't think it takes away from attendance, I do think it creates financial value for both IFC and Comcast."
"I'm not going to allow Landmark to subsidize that relationship," Cuban told indieWIRE in the email. "If Comcast was a partner, I would because it would be a win win for everyone. But they aren't, so we won't." Cuban also explained that Landmark will continue to book IFC's day-and-date releases in Landmark Theaters that are not in Comcast markets.
"We have the utmost respect for Landmark," IFC Films' president Jonathan Sehring told indieWIRE in a brief conversation today. "They are our partners in many venues and we hope to resolve this amicably." IFC was apparently caught off guard this week by the decision, having a well-established relationship with Landmark Theaters. On a comment posted in Caveh Zahedi's blog though, Cuban said that IFC knew of his issues with Comcast and their relationship with IFC. And he seems particularly stung by IFC's decision to launch a day-and-date program with Comcast after they blocked his networks from their service. The IFC program is also carried on parent company Cablevision's cable network.
"Remember, HDNet Films has done the most, and the most visible day-and-date releases," Cuban told indieWIRE by email. "We don't want to enable a cable distributor to say to their [subscribers] that they have an alternative day and date program and have that program enabled by Landmark. That would be crazy on our part." He added that he has no animosity towards Comcast and explained, "Until then, we have to protect and support those distributors that do carry our products that reach Comcast subscribers...the decision with Landmark is one way to do that."
The situation may very well be a topic for discussion at a special "Distribution Now...Distribution How" seminar hosted by IFP and Filmmaker Magazine and moderated by the publication's editor Scott Macaulay (Monday night at ImaginAsian in New York City). Participants will include Zahedi, Debra Granik (director, "Down to the Bone"), and Jay Duplass (director, "The Puffy Chair") talking about the challenges facing indie films in reaching audiences. IFP and Filmmaker Magazine will also support the release of "I Am A Sex Addict" with grassroots marketing support and they will put $8 from every $10 panel admission towards the film's box office, guaranteeing audience members a ticket to the opening weekend shows.
Gary Meyer, a Landmark Theaters co-founder who now runs the Balboa Theater in San Francisco explained in an email conversation with indieWIRE today, "For IFC and filmmakers like Caveh, I am saddened by Cuban's position. He is hurting the very sources of programming they need to feed them product." Continuing he added, "If 'Sex Addict' does business, Landmark's film buyers will fight to reopen the doors."
The shrinking windows between theatrical and DVD distribution have been a concern, Meyer explained in the email response to indieWIRE, adding that he has actually supported IFC's program. "From a business and public exposure perspective, these plans make sense so that one marketing campaign potentially reaches people who would never get a chance to see these small films where they live."
"But what it means for the future of cinemas is a bigger question," Meyer concluded.
ABOUT THE WRITER: Eugene Hernandez is the Editor-in-Chief & Co-Founder of indieWIRE