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Sundance's Distribution Contingency Plan Announces First Set of Films

Photo of Bryce J. Renninger By Bryce J. Renninger | Indiewire January 18, 2012 at 1:27PM

Thanks to a deal between New Video and Sundance Institute's Artist Services program, Sundance filmmakers may be able to rest easier this coming week.  It was announced that thirteen titles from the Sundance archive have signed deals with New Video to be available on digital distribution platforms on March 1, and some of the Sundance 2012 class may not be too far behind.
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An image from Eric Strauss and Daniele Anastasion's "The Redemption of General Butt Naked." [Image courtesy of the Sundance Film Festival.]

Thanks to a deal between New Video and Sundance Institute's Artist Services program, Sundance filmmakers may be able to rest easier this coming week.  It was announced that thirteen titles from the Sundance archive have signed deals with New Video to be available on digital distribution platforms on March 1, and some of the Sundance 2012 class may not be too far behind.

A few weeks ago, the New York Times reported on a new distribution plan initiated by the Sundance Institute and digital distributor New Video.  The deal allows all past and present Sundance Festival titles and all film projects affiliated with the Insitute's labs, so long as they have not signed away thier digital distribution rights, to sign the deal with New Video.

Amongst the titles included in the first batch are 2012 Oscar doc shortlist title "Semper Fi: Always Faithful," Diane Bell's Independent Spriit and Sloan-Award winning "Obselidia" (Sundance 2010), Christian Frei's "Space Tourists" (Sundance 2010 World Cinema Directing Prize winner), and Eric Strauss and Daniele Anastasio's "The Redemption of General Butt Naked" (Sundance 2011 Excellence in Cinematography Winner).

Chris Horton, the Associate Director of the Sundance Institute Artist Services and Joseph Beyer, the Director of Digital Services, spoke with Indiewire about the program.

The distribution program works like this: The Sundance Institute's Artist Services program has explained to all incoming films the option of a one-size-fits-all New Video distribution deal.  The contracts are standard, but filmmakers are allowed to choose which of the six available platforms (iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, Hulu, Netflix, SundanceNOW, YouTube) they would like to use to make their film available.  

Horton told Indiewire, "Our lawyer worked for a long time to get us everything we needed in this standard deal:  maximum ownership and maximum control for the filmmaker."  

The project has already proved a boon for many Sundance alums.  "Tom Noonan," Horton said, "called us telling us he just got the rights back to two of his titles ('What Happened Was...' and 'The Wife').  We worked with him to make this work, and he announced that the distribution deal was happening on his Facebook page.  There were hundreds of likes.  It was profound to see that.  It was clear to him that it was incredibly meaningful for him for his work to have a digital premiere."

As more Sundance alums find out about the program, they have been contacting Artist Services for more information, and often have to dig through the legalese of their often pre-digital contracts to figure out if they have kept the rights to their digital distribution.

Sundance Artist Services, a department brought in by Sundance Institute head Keri Putnam (who was appointed in February 2010), has a three-pronged strategy for helping festival- and institute-affiliated filmmakers navigate the business world they are thrust into.  In addition to distribution, the second goal of the department focuses on helping Institute filmmakers crowdsource for funds (Sundance Institute was Kickstarter's first curatorial partner, and they host a Kickstarter School workshop).  The final goal for Artist Services to provide extra marketing and promotional support.  The Institute helps projects by placing them on the Institute website, their social networking accounts, and more.

As for the Artist Services' next initiatives, they have a number of projects on their longterm radar.  Among them: helping Sundance filmmakers secure theatrical distribution.  Horton noted, "The program is modular.  It is scalable.  As new opportunities come up, we will incorporate as many opportunities for filmmakers as possible."

The Sundance Institute/New Video deal differs from the structure of the deal New Video struck with Tribeca Enterprises for their Tribeca Film home video imprint.  Tribeca Film is a part of the distribution deals as a distributor.  This new Sundance initiative provides Sundance branding for the films released under the plan, but Sundance is not otherwise a part of the distribution contracts.  The Sundance deal was made through the Sundance Institute's Artist Services branch, which does not consider itself a distributor.  This distribution structure should not be confused with Sundance Selects, which is owned by IFC.

A complete list of the films (and the platforms on which they will be available) available now (and in the case of the Netflix deals, to be released on March 1):

Advise & Dissent (Director: David Van Taylor) — A riveting, in the trenches look into the politicized Supreme Court confirmation battles. iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, SundanceNOW, YouTube. (2003 Sundance Documentary Film Grant)

Chasing Ghosts: Beyond the Arcade (Director: Lincoln Ruchti) — In 1982, Ottumwa, Iowa's Twin Galaxies arcade served as the shining beacon of pixilated pop culture, attracting the best of the best in the highly competitive world of arcade video gaming. iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, Hulu, SundanceNOW, YouTube. (2007 Sundance Film Festival)

Clear Cut: the Story of Philomath, Oregon (Director: Peter Richardson) —Conservative logging barons and liberal urban immigrants collide over how college scholarships are distributed in this skillful documentary. iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, SundanceNOW, YouTube. (2006 Sundance Film Festival)

Jess + Moss (Director: Clay Jeter) — Sarah Hagan (”Freaks and Geeks”) stars in this lush, playful, award-winning coming of age story. iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, SundanceNOW, YouTube. (2011 Sundance Film Festival, Best Feature 2011 Prague Fresh Film Festival)

Lord Byron (Director: Zack Godshall) — This New York Times Critics Pick about a Don Juan from the Bayou charmed audiences and critics at last year’s Sundance Film Festival. iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, Hulu, SundanceNOW, YouTube. (2011 Sundance Film Festival, 2011 New York Times Critics Pick)

New Low (Director: Adam Bowers) — Adam Bowers wrote, directed and stars in this winning comedy about a neurotic twenty-something choosing love between the best and worst girls he’s ever known.. iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, Hulu, SundanceNOW, YouTube. (2010 Sundance Film Festival, Winner 2011 Amsterdam Film Festival)

Obselidia (Director: Diane Bell) — Winner of the 2010 Sundance Film Festival Alfred P. Sloan Prize and Excellence in Cinematography Award, “Obselidia” is part road movie, part love story, and endlessly fascinating. iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, SundanceNOW, YouTube. (2010 Sundance Film Festival, 2011 Independent Spirit Award Nominee)

The Oregonian (Director: Calvin Lee Reeder) — Lindsay Pulsipher (“True Blood”) stars as a girl on the run in this creepy selection from the Midnight section of the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, Hulu, SundanceNOW, YouTube. (2011 Sundance Film Festival)

The Redemption of General Butt Naked (Directors: Eric Strauss and Daniele Anastasio) — A brutal warlord who murdered thousands during Liberia's horrific 14-year civil war renounces his violent past and reinvents himself as an Evangelist, facing those he once terrorized. iTunes, Amazon Instant Video. (2011 Sundance Film Festival Winner, Excellence in Cinematography Award)

Semper Fi: Always Faithful (Director: Rachel Libert) — A retired Marine fights for justice on behalf of U.S. soldiers and their families exposed to toxic drinking water while stationed at North Carolina’s Camp Lejeune Marine Corps Base. iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, SundanceNOW, YouTube. (2010 Sundance Institute Documentary Film Fund Grantee) 

Space Tourists (Director: Christian Frei) — Through the story the world’s first female space tourist, this documentary shows us the intersection of human enterprise and commerce in the final frontier. iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, SundanceNOW, YouTube. (2010 Sundance Film Festival World Cinema Directing Award Winner)

The Wife (Director: Tom Noonan) — Therapists and patients confront each other in this delirious, realistic relationship drama. iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, SundanceNOW, YouTube. (1995 Sundance Film Festival)

What Happened Was… (Director: Tom Noonan) — Tom Noonan’s directorial debut about a skewed vision of a first date. iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, SundanceNOW, YouTube. (1994 Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Winner)

This article is related to: Filmmaker Toolkit, Sundance Film Festival, Sundance Institute, Obselidia, Lord Byron, Space Tourists, Tom Noonan, The Redemption of General Butt Naked