As the market for independently made documentaries continues to dry up, regional film festivals have become essential to filmmakers hoping to sell their docs.
At this year’s Sarasota Film Festival, which kicks off on March 25, 36 documentaries are part of the lineup. Over 25 of them are seeking distribution. They include Luke Lorentzen’s “A Still Small Voice,” Alexandria Bombach’s “It’s Only Life After All” about the Indigo Girls, Ben Braun and Chiaki Yanagimoto “AUM: The Cult at the End of the World” and Bethann Hardison and Frédéric Tcheng’s “Invisible Beauty.” All four films premiered at Sundance in January.
“From Submarine’s point of view, we’ve always encouraged great regional festivals like Sarasota, the Berkshires, Woodstock and the Hamptons partially because there is the possibility that awards voters are there,” says Submarine Entertainment sales agent Josh Braun, who reps both “AUM: The Cult at the End of the World” and “Invisible Beauty.” “There’s the possibility of industry being there in the form of a judge or on an industry panel.”
He believes “these regional festivals may be gaining a more importance because the market is challenging right now.”
Now in its 25th year, SFF has, according to Braun, grown in stature. “It has been around long enough that and enough filmmakers, producers, sales reps, and other industry people have attended and realize like how enthusiastic the audience members.”
Observes Mark Famiglio, president and chairman of SFF: “We have a sophisticated audience here who are real cinephiles.”
SFF is the second festival Hardison and Cheng will be attending with “Invisible Beauty,” about Hardison and her fight for representational shifts in the fashion industry.
“It’s been a priority for us in the past few months to submit the film to as many regional festivals as possible – and also to work on an international strategy,” Hardison says.
Cheng adds: “Bethann told me once that everything she’s done in her life has been grassroots, and I see our film as part of the same approach of building from the ground up an audience and an interest. After experiencing Sundance, we know that the audience’s response is our best asset.”
Dawn Porter’s “Cirque Du Soleil: Without a Net,” which will open SFF, made its world premiere in November at DOC NYC but has yet to find a distributor.
“You want your film to be seen in a great venue with an audience who will appreciate it and talk it up,” says Porter, whose “Lady Bird Diaries” doc for Hulu won a SXSW prize earlier this month. “With the Ringling Brothers College in Sarasota we thought there would be a great audience there for the Cirque film. We are seeking distribution for this beautiful film, and we want buyers to see a great response in places beyond New York and L.A.”
Maxim Pozdorovkin’s “The Conspiracy” also made its world premiere at DOC NYC. Since then, the animated doc, about the hateful conspiracy that somehow a cabal of Jewish people control the world, has traveled to the Cleveland Intl. Film Festival. It will screen at SFF on March 31.
Producer Caroline Hirsch, founder of the now-shuttered Carolines on Broadway comedy club, will be in Sarasota for the doc’s screening. She explains that produced “The Conspiracy” because she wanted people to see the film and start talking about anti-Semitism.
“I’m very, very disappointed that this doc hasn’t sold because this particular subject is so important right now,” says Hirsch. “I’ll go to a hundred film festivals with this film to get the word out.”
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