Alt-release

This week I travel to London for a screening of Voyageuse on Friday 14th at Picturehouse Central to take part in a Q&A with the wonderful Siân Phillips and Anna Smith, film journalist and President of the Critic’s Circle. This comes after the film’s recent showings at the Glasgow Film Theatre where I also did a Q&A with the broadcaster and journalist, Siobhan Synnot, that seemed to go down well with the audience.

As I write, I’m trying to find slots for the film in cinemas around the UK. If successful, these will be one-off events where I’ll get to meet the audience. Given how hard it is to secure a distribution deal, this kind of alt-releasing is becoming the new norm even though it’s fiscally unviable once you factor in the cost of travel and accommodation against the likely returns, with the maker/distributor receiving only 35-40% of the box office receipts.

Of course, many indie film screenings are subsidised as are the rep cinemas they play in, but even with a rock bottom overhead such as mine, the model for a small release doesn’t stack up. Ordinarily a film carries sales and distribution fees, collection agency costs, DCP and hosting, PR, marketing and looking after the talent – actors, director etc. – while out on the promotion trail.

But is it worth it? The truth is that playing in cinemas is still the only way to grab attention when A-list festivals exist only as a platform for celebrity vehicles, big budget movies and established directors and when further down the foodchain – at the B and C-list festivals – it’s hard for a film to get noticed, just as it’s hard to sell a film that’s already been paid for.

Likewise VoD is awash with content and even when your film gets picked up by MUBI or Netflix or any of the other platforms it’s unlikely to attract reviews. So where does this leave Voyageuse? Nowhere it would seem because it’s a passion project with few bankable assets – apart from Siân, of course – since I don’t have much of a reputation, even though my husband pointed out that with four features to my name currently I’m in the 0.4% of women filmmakers in the UK.

Lately I’ve mused on the tricky question – what I would consider a mark of success for Voyageuse? First, getting it made at all ranks high. I don’t know of another filmmaker with a feature made virtually single-handed and if they exist I’d like to meet them. Second, to be selected for the Glasgow Film Festival having been rejected by every other festival I submitted to last year was a plus. It also confirms to me how the festival landscape has shifted in the last 10-15 years with many producers now hiring third-parties and PMDs to lobby programmers for a slot. Finally, for the film to play in cinemas, in London especially, is a great achievement.

But at what point do I stop trying to get Voyageuse shown? The point was never about sales or distribution but simply for the film to be seen in the right circumstances. In the last couple of months I’ve been invited to screen V. not in cinemas but in makeshift venues with below-par facilities which is not my preferred option. Neither is the request to screen one’s work for free, as is usually the case with smaller events; a greater disincentive I can’t think of given the time, expense and headspace involved.

To keep things in perspective, on Twitter occasionally I see posts of vintage photographs of cinemas now long gone, as are the films: Silvia Sidney and Spencer Tracy in Fury at Scott’s Cinema, Shettleston or Alan Ladd in Tiger in the Sky at The Paramount, Renfield Street (later the Odeon of my childhood) – the kind of films likely to turn up on Talking Pictures TV. Few, if any, remember these titles, a chastening reminder of how ephemeral films truly are. After Friday’s outing, anything else that comes my way will be a plus so I’ll enjoy it while it lasts.

The above image is of me shooting at BellWorks, New Jersey in the summer of 2016. Previously Bell Labs, it’s a 2 million square foot headquarters designed and built in 1959 by the great American-Finnish architect, Eero Saarinen. It was a privilege to be granted access.

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