Film Noir

Distribution is the key to box-office success. Here's how black filmmakers can capitalize on the existing Hollywood network and some innovative alternatives.

a distribution deal. “It is not a genre they [distributors] felt black audiences would accept,” explains Brewster, a psychiatrist turned filmmaker. Other black films have had similar experiences at prestigious festivals, gaining acclaim but no distribution channel. Black film festivals have gained popularity in recent years and play a crucial role in securing distribution for black films. “They [black film festivals] are important because they give black audiences a chance to validate our own films,” explains Eugene Haynes, director of Urban Acquisitions and Productions at October Films. “Cannes and the rest are good exposure for black films, but distributors can’t get the audience validation that would make it worth their while because we aren’t well represented in those venues.”

The Milano African Film Festival (in Italy), the Pan African (Los Angeles) and the African Diaspora (New York) film festivals, are just a few of the black festivals held through out the year. “Black journalists and and professionals in the industry who saw our film at these festivals began to sing our praises, which started a buzz in the black community. That’s how we got our film distributed,” adds Brewster, whose film was eventually picked up by Kino International, a small independent film distributor based in New York. In 1997, the Acapulco (Mexico) Black Film Festival (ABFF) and the Urban World Film Festival (UWFF), held in New York, were the two latest additions to a plethora of black festivals held around the country (see sidebar).

Hav Plenty attracted the Edmonds’ attention at the ABFF. They later arranged a private screening and signed on as executive producers.

Talbert’s A Woman Like That won the Best Dramatic Feature award at the UWFF, but didn’t attract a distributor. Two weeks later, the determined director entered the film in the Independent Feature Film Market (IFFM) in New York, one of the country’s premier events showcasing independent films, and was nominated for the Gordon Parks Independent Film Award. At press time, Talbert still hadn’t found a distributor and was considering alternative outlets for his film, including cable television.

Prints–copies of the film sent to the various exhibitors, Cineplex Odeon, Sony Theaters. AMC, etc.–cost between $1,500 and $4,000 each. Therefore, releasing a film simultaneously on 400 screens, considered a limited release, could cost a distribution company over $1 million for prints alone. It also requires considerable marketing and advertising efforts to get a film noticed in today’s competitive movie market. In 1996, the average P & A budget for major studio releases was $16 million, giving them an enormous advantage in the marketplace. Smaller distribution companies, such as Kino, and black-owned KJM3 and New Millennia Films, often provide the only distribution outlet for nonstereotypical black films. “We don’t have the same money [as the majors], but we have to be in the ballpark to be able to help filmmakers who are spending $1-$3 million for their films. We have to be able to offer them the opportunity to recoup their investment, and a $50,000 P & A budget

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