Meet the Press Film Festival in collaboration with AFI opens the first day of the 2021 AFI FEST. Meet the Press Film Festival highlights topics such as criminal justice reform, climate change, immigration and racial and gender bias. Along with the shorts, the festival also features live discussions with filmmakers, subjects, NBC News correspondents and anchors. These are excellent films with timely topics! Also available today virtually. Director of AFI Festivals, Michael Lumpkin on the Meet The Press Film Festival:
“We are all storytellers, whether as journalists or filmmakers, our job is the same. We share a commitment to bringing important truths to our audience — be it in a theater, on television or any other screen..
Julie Cohen’s deliberative documentary Julia on Julia Childs, the 20th Century American pioneer in the kitchen and out is an informative piece – well researched. The night belongs to the Jane Campion directed The Power Of the Dog as it makes its Red Carpet Premiere at the TCL Chinese Theatre – a “must-see” film for AFI FEST 2021.
The Virtual Screenings make their premiere as well with the Meet the Press viewings available and the AFI Conservatory Showcase. Both are HollywoodGlee recommended selections. The short form is often overlooked, yet the stories are succinct, informative, while showcasing fresh voices and pertinent messaging.
Until next time, I’ll see you at the movies!
For ticketing and more information visit fest.afi.com.
AFI FEST 2021 is offering some of this year’s outstanding feature films and shorts programs virtually! Join in for AFI FEST 2021, Nov. 10-14, 2021. Learn more about the films below and visit FEST.AFI.com for more curated lists, filmmaker videos, and more.
Following the virtual and theatrical screenings, watch a special conversation with director-producer Rex Miller and director Sam Pollard moderated by AFI FEST Programmer Julia Kipnis.
Born and raised in a segregated Virginia, Arthur Ashe rose to the top of the overwhelmingly white world of tennis in the 1960s to achieve many firsts as the most prevalent Black man in the sport. Reticent early in his career to address racial strife in America until the events of 1968, Ashe became an outspoken civil rights activist in the fight against racial discrimination, South African apartheid, and later the stigma surrounding HIV and AIDS. This insightful documentary includes exclusive interviews with Ashe’s family, Black activists, and tennis cohorts Billie Jean King and John McEnroe. With striking archival footage and previously unheard audiotapes, FEST alum Sam Pollard (SAMMY DAVIS, JR.: I’VE GOTTA BE ME) and Rex Miller’s latest film celebrates the inspirational life of this groundbreaking tennis champion and humanitarian. Learn more about the film.
While we are living in a post-vaccinated and variant-driven pandemic, it is imperative to process this moment in history – this moment we are still collectively living in. Matthew Heineman’s THE FIRST WAVE documents one of New York City’s hardest-hit hospitals as the COVID-19 pandemic peaked in Spring 2020, with doctors, nurses, and patients fighting to survive. This powerful and intimate documentary reminds us how far we have come and how many lives have been affected. It is a therapeutic watch, forcing us to confront the harsh reality of the disease, creating space to grieve over our collective trauma and be an active witness to history. Learn more about the film.
In this fascinating, standout debut from Panah Panahi, son of acclaimed Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi (TAXI, 3 FACES), an endearing yet frenzied family of four is on a mysterious road trip to an unknown destination. An overprotective mother, a nonchalant father, an anxious older brother, and a scene-stealing, rambunctious younger brother pack themselves and their sickly dog into an SUV as they traverse an expansive Iranian landscape. Brimming with charismatic performances and a darkly humorous family dynamic, Panahi takes us on an unforgettable journey that is as profound as it is absurdist. A breakout feature from a bold and assured new voice in world cinema. Learn more about the film.
Adapted from Adrian Tomine’s acclaimed graphic novel, PARIS, 13TH DISTRICT weaves a breezy tapestry of modern love stories. Beautifully realized in crisp black-and-white cinematography, the electrifying, multicultural 13th arrondissement sets the stage for a panoramic tale of four young lovers. Lucie Zhang delivers a breakout performance as free-spirited Émilie, who begins a casual relationship with her new roommate Camille (Makita Samba). Noémie Merlant (PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE) plays wide-eyed student Nora, whose new life in Paris is complicated when she is accidentally mistaken for cam girl Amber Sweet (Jehnny Beth). Stepping away from his usual genre fare, Jacques Audiard, along with script collaborators Céline Sciamma and Léa Mysius, brings to life the sprawling dreams of desire and human connection in the city of love. Learn more about the film.
After the death of her grandmother, eight-year-old Nelly goes to her mother’s childhood home as her parent’s sort through the estate. Nelly explores the nearby woods where her mother, Marion, used to play as a child and finds the tree fort she’s heard stories about for years. After Nelly’s mother suddenly leaves the next morning, Nelly meets a girl her own age in the woods, building a fort. Following her masterpiece film PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE, Céline Sciamma crafts an enchanting and poetic coming-of-age story. Modest and poignant in its approach, PETITE MAMAN beautifully explores grief, memory, and imagination through a child’s eyes. Learn more about the film.
The impact of humanitarian crises knows no real borders. The Syrian civil war has devastated its people, causing refugees to migrate far and wide in an effort to survive. Academy Award®-winning director Megan Mylan (LOST BOYS OF SUDAN; SMILE PINKI) documents just a handful of the courageous families affected by the conflict and the efforts to rebuild their lives in new surroundings. From Germany, Greece, Turkey, and across the ocean to America, these families dream for a better future far away from the traumas caused in their homeland and endured during their treacherous journeys. SIMPLE AS WATER puts faces to a catastrophe that is often too extreme to put into any words. Learn more about the film.
Over 200 aircraft were shot down over the island of Palau in the South Pacific during World War II. In the early 1990s, Dr. Pat Scannon went to Palau to help a dive team locate a Japanese trawler sunk on a mission by future President George H.W. Bush during the war. With a successful discovery, the trip gave Scannon the vision to create Project Recover, an organization with a mission to bring home missing-in-action World War II veterans.
This powerful documentary follows Scannon and a team of professionals, volunteers and other veterans searching for those left behind in forgotten battles. Led by scientific data and personal accounts of war, the team’s perseverance has provided recognition and closure for families over three decades. AFI FEST is honored to host the world premiere of this remarkable documentary to celebrate all U.S. veterans on November 11. Learn more about the film.
Unassuming sign language interpreter Vera (Teuta Ajdini) lives a quiet life alongside retired husband Fatmir in their modest Pristina apartment. Happy to be a vessel for others to navigate the world, her hopes for her daughter and granddaughter’s future are intrinsically linked to the family’s newly valuable country house. But when her husband takes his own life and his cousin Ahmet begins insisting that Fatmir had promised him the rural home, Vera suddenly finds herself trapped in a deeply patriarchal culture where the word of men is final. Unyielding to increasingly violent pressure, Vera discovers how deep the corruption in men’s hearts can run, as well as the strength to stand her ground in this taut drama from director Kaltrina Krasniqi. Learn more about the film.
Curated from hundreds of entries, this year’s short films highlight unique voices from around the planet – 34 films presented in five programs. And although the films are short – none longer than 23 minutes – each still proves that these emerging and established filmmakers can push the form of storytelling in inventive, challenging, and sometimes hilarious ways.
SHORTS PROGRAM 1
Following the virtual program, AFI Festivals Shorts Programmer Eric Moore leads a conversation between filmmakers Louise Monlaü (THE DEATH CLEANER), Diana Cam Van Nguyen (LOVE, DAD), Juliana Kasumu (BABYBANGZ), Alexandra Matheou (A SUMMER PLACE).
ZONDER MEER: A boy has disappeared and may have drowned. Five-year-old Lucie is trying to understand what is going on around her. How long can you hold your breath?
MISERY LOVES COMPANY: One night, Seolgi is lying on a grass field with friends. A shooting star falls, and dark and intrusive thoughts hit her, and her melancholy blooms into “flower people.”
NALUJUK NIGHT: Every January 6th, families in the Inuit community of Nain, Canada, celebrate Nalujuk Night, when eerie figures in tattered fur clothing arrive to reward the good and punish the bad.
BABYBANGZ: BABYBANGZ visualizes the story of Anastasia Ebel, owner of a natural hair salon in Mid-city, and her mission to foster opportunities for intentional reflection, for herself and her community.
A SUMMER PLACE: On the day of Tina’s birthday, she is ready to give up on everything until an extraordinary encounter changes her life.
Following the virtual program, AFI Festivals Shorts Programmer Eric Moore leads a conversation between filmmakers Bar Cohen (HER DANCE), Sean Wang (H.A.G.S.), Cosmo Collins Salovaara (ENVIAR Y RECIBIR), Sorayos Prapapan (NEW ABNORMAL), Güzin Kar (YOUR STREET).
HER DANCE (RIKUD HASSIDI): After not being invited to her sister’s wedding, Aya, a transwoman, shows up by surprise on a Shabbat night at the Orthodox Jewish community where her family lives.
YOUR STREET (DEINE STRASSE): The grey present of an industrial area is being charged with its past, linked to a tragic episode in the history of Germany. Are public memorials collective remembrance or repression?
SANDSTORM (MULAQAT): Zara shares a sensual dance video with her virtual boyfriend, who blackmails her. She begins her search for the strength to reject the confines of a patriarchal society.
Following the virtual program, AFI Festivals Shorts Programmer Eric Moore leads a conversation between filmmakers Sam Davis and Rayka Zehtabchi (ARE YOU STILL THERE?), Malika Zouhali-Worrall (VIDEO VISIT), Federico Torrado (YORUGA), Gabriel Herrera (MOTORCYCLIST’S HAPPINESS WON’T FIT INTO HIS SUIT), Michelle Uranowitz and Daniel Jaffe (SALES PER HOUR), Johnson Cheng (ONLY THE MOON STANDS STILL).
ARE YOU STILL THERE?: On a hot day, Safa’s car battery dies, leaving her stranded in a strip mall parking lot. When her mom arrives, the two struggle to jump-start a car.
VIDEO VISIT: Each week, people visit the Brooklyn Public Library to video call incarcerated loved ones. A story of two mothers and their sons, and the librarians who keep the families connected.
YORUGA: A lonely old man pays a visit to Yoruga, one of the last animals on Earth.
Following the virtual program, AFI FEST Programmer Julia Kipnis leads a conversation between filmmakers Zahida Pirani (EL CARRITO), Claudrena N. Harold (PRIDE), Eliane Esther Bots (IN FLOW OF WORDS), Stephanie Camacho Castillas (MANO SANTA), Nash Edgerton (SHARK), Siyou Tan (STRAWBERRY CHEESECAKE).
EL CARRITO: Nelly slogs through another unsuccessful day of street vending in Queens, New York. Determined to improve her circumstances, she makes a risky business decision that ends in misfortune. World Premiere
PRIDE: An aspiring writer finalizes stories for “Pride,” a student-run newspaper. Over a hectic two days in the early 1990s, she puts the finishing touches on the upcoming issue.
ANXIOUS BODY: Living things, artificial things, geometry shapes, and lines. When these different things encounter, a new direction is born.
IN FLOW OF WORDS: The narratives of three interpreters of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, who interpreted shocking testimonies without regard for their own feelings and personal histories. North American Premiere.
MANO SANTA: A grandfather harbors his runaway grandson after fleeing the constraints of home.
SHARK: SHARK follows the continuing adventures of Jack, who loves to prank. But in his latest relationship, he may have finally met his match.
Following the virtual program, AFI Festivals Shorts Programmer Eric Moore leads a conversation between filmmakers Elizabeth Lo (MISTRESS DISPELLER), Urška Djukićz (GRANNY’S SEXUAL LIFE), Karolina Kajetanowicz (GREEN), Suzannah Mirghani (AL-SIT), and Mitch Kalisa (PLAY IT SAFE).
PLAYTIME (GIOCHI): A mother wants to play with her son. A boy wants to find out what his friend is giving a girl. A cat has disappeared. But these are only games. North American Premiere.
MISTRESS DISPELLER: A professional “mistress dispeller” works with a married couple struggling with infidelity in contemporary China. World Premiere.
With health and safety being a top priority, AFI FEST 2021 will require all festival-goers who attend in-person events and/or screenings to be fully vaccinated. Learn more about AFI’s annual film festival celebrating the best in global cinema at FEST.AFI.com.
Individual tickets and passes to AFI FEST 2021 are currently available on FEST.AFI.com. AFI Members receive exclusive discounts and benefits to the festival. To become an AFI member, visit AFI.com/join/.
Audiences are seeking out more documentaries than ever before. Producers and distributors on Producing Standout Documentary FeaturesPanel, moderated by Kevin Iwashina, Head of Documentary, Endeavor Content, discuss producing for success in the documentary marketplace answering the penultimate question, “What elements will help a doc stand out?” Panelists participating included Ross Dinerstein, Founder & CEO, Campfire Studios, Anna Godas, CEO, DogWoof, Helen Huang, Acquisitions Consultant, Dan O’Meara, EVP Non-fiction, NEON and Co-head, SUPER LTD.
Following are pertinent excerpts!
How are you working with streamers?
Ann Godas – “I think it’s evolved, as you say – it used to be that Netflix was the only sort of streamer really, in the market, and being very aggressive, and in the past couple of years, Apple TV, now HBO Max are launching internationally, Disney+, [etc]. Especially during COVID, we found that – cinemas were literally closed – there was a huge demand for content from these new players alongside the likes of Netflix. Obviously, Netflix are producing a lot more, but so are we…the relationship with streamers is changing in the sense that before, for us, they used to be a buyer, and now we have different types of relationships with them.”
“It [streaming] has really evolved and changed the game of the market, but I feel we’ve evolved alongside the market and that’s how we have stayed quite relevant…”
What is the theatrical life of a documentary?
Ross Dinerstein – “Some docs are verité talking heads that work really well to watch at home, but some docs have real scope to them and real cinematic imagery…it just really depends on the visual component and recognition before you’ve even seen the film.”
Helen Huang – “When I began in acquisitions at Showtime, I did have a much wider, broader mandate for buying documentaries before the streamers came along and started driving prices up for pay-services and first run. In the beginning, when I wasn’t competing in terms of dollars against the streamers, then I had a broader range of buying category as well. I could buy prestige documentaries, sports documentaries, music documentaries, I could buy narratives, I could buy any number of topics. And as the streamers started recognizing the value of nonfiction storytelling, the prices started going up for available independent documentaries…”
“When the prices started going up, we had to become much more specific about what we considered right for our platform – so our strategy had to change.”
“As we progressed in our documentary buying, we bifurcated into two directions – one was awards and prestige, and one was commerciality, and [overall] meeting a broader base of subscription value for each documentary that we bought.”
How is co-production impacting the global market for Docs?
Anne Godas – “As financiers and producers what we’re after is something a bit more, with potentially more return, which is to fully finance documentaries through accessing soft funding in specific territories. For us, the best ones tend to be so far Denmark, and Scandinavia in general, Australia, and you can get a fully financed project with some equity from us and soft funding and maybe a couple more investors but that’s a model we, as financiers, we prioritize over the old coproduction model that again – it’s a good model, but not such an entrepreneurial model if you’re looking for a bigger return.”
Ross Dinerstein – “As someone who raises money for indie docs I have investors that will say, ‘well why don’t we sell a couple of territories to cover our risk?’ and I’ll say we can’t do that because if we take a film to the market, and the world isn’t available, we are going to miss out on the big splashy Netflix deal or NEON deal.”
When you look at acquiring films, do you need to have the world available or you just buy it for US?
Dan O’Meara – “Truth is, that it really does depend on the deal. If we’re being asked to pay a significant MG, if we’re competing with a streamer for the world, then yeah, we need the world to be available.” “more and more, we just need to, yes, mitigate our risk if we’re paying a big MG and then also – honestly if it’s an awards film (and this is important) to be able to control the world allows us to be able to do what we need to do when it comes time to campaign for Academy Award. So much of the doc branch is international and very often we find ourselves at this time of year trying to get ahold of the distributors of some of our films in all these various territories and find out what their level of commitment is to spend on screenings that we need to do in those individual territories in order to get people to watch the movie. So, owning the world allows us to you know holistically go out and make sure that we’re reaching all the doc branches. But look, it’s hard.”
Dan O’Meara – “There’s only like three or four buyers in the streaming space that would buy something that would just be North America…Hulu, HBO proper, Showtime…”
“It’s a different game…and luckily I have empirical evidence with some of my indie docs down the road, years later, that we made for X and sold for 2X, 3X, that I can use.”
“The stuff that I’m in production [for] now, take it to the market next year, and who knows what the world’s going to be ? Whereas back in the day, I would have a $5 million genre film with 30% covered in tax credits, and a $1.5mil in presales with Germany, UK, France, and US (I would have Kevin [Iwashina] sell US) and we typically did pretty well – but that’s just not a way to raise money anymore.”
Helen Huang – “[For Showtime], we didn’t just buy for US, we also needed part of the LATAM territory…If you had sold of your entire LATAM territory exclusively somewhere else, you couldn’t complete a deal with us.”
Biggest area of ROI on docs?
Dan O’Meara – “Before the streaming boom really sort of happened, I was trying to get things financed at a level where I could afford to work on them for as long as it takes…”
“I had to be making a lot of films and they all take forever to get financed they take forever to sell and then to deliver and then to actually see any money on and so you need to have a lot of stuff in the pipeline. I think there’s a lot more information now than certainly back then…now there are so many streamers, and so many of them are trying to make a name for themselves with original content in nonfiction that I feel like this opportunity keeps expanding. And maybe that’ll also plateau at some point, I’m sure it has to…”
“What Ross [Dinerstein] is doing is very smart, which is looking at…what’s working well for the streamers and making the kinds of films that are entertaining, engaging, that go beyond the festival audience…they don’t even think of it as a documentary, they think of it as a movie they saw…”
“These weren’t documentaries, these were movies. Some of it is just following your taste – so if your taste leads you to something that is more artistic and idiosyncratic, there’s a market there as well. But if your tastes are really broad, then year, I feel like there’s a lot of opportunity right now and it’s a good time to be getting into it.”
Ross Dinerstein – “It’s all about storytelling, and the basic fundamentals of storytelling are – is it engaging, is it universally relatable, is there a three-act structure? So, it doesn’t really matter for me if it’s a doc or narrative film, it’s something that I’m passionate about and something that’s interesting to me. We…have 16 productions in full blown production right now, and not one project is remotely the same…it is developing for specific buyers that we know are going to buy stuff…”
What is working for you – 2-3 things that you use to evaluate if a film is worth pursuing
Dan O’Meara – “The things that, for me personally, that I use to evaluate whether we should buy a film to release it theatrically is whether or not I want to go see it in a theater twice or three times. If I do, it means that I didn’t just appreciate it, but there are moments that I want to relive, and that I want to see other people experience for the first time. And that was the case…all of our most successful docs had those moments.”
Another great day at the American Film Market Online 2021! At the top of the list is Pilar Alessandra and her WRITERS WORKSHOP: The Voice of the Writer. Many examples with insight made this one “a must-see” selection.
Another hot topic session came to the forefront this morning, Animation: A Growing Territory for Independents.
While the pandemic has limited live-action film production, animation projects have successfully forged ahead. Industry experts discussed the creative process, production, and sales opportunities for independent animated products now and what the future hold.
Moderated by Ben Dalton, International Reporter, Screen International, Panelists included: Daniel Bort, Head of International, Fantawild Animation; Edward Noeltner, President, Cinema Management Group; Tania Pinto Da Cunha, Partner/Vice President, Head of International Sales & Acquisitions, Pink Parrot Media; and Michael Ryan, Partner, GFM Animation.
How is the independent animation sector growing and how is it different?
Michael Ryan – “It’s alive and well which I’m very pleased about. It has been a growing industry – a lot of people have jumped on that bandwagon. It’s a particular part of our industry that’s a bit more complicated than one thinks. If you’re [pre] selling rights, for a live action movie you’re relying on those elements that we you can sell. But when you have an animated movie, what do you sell? You might be able to sell [your buyer on] the voices if you have famous actors but most of the territories it’s going to be dubbed anyway so it doesn’t always matter. The financing of it versus a live action movie is a lot more complex. But it’s growing and growing. The European industry makes a huge amount of animation and it’s a very large marketplace, so if you can tap into that and find co-producers, that’s a great way to make your movies.”
“Apart from the UK [because those movies tend to be Disney, the huge studio movies], the rest of Europe is used to making co-productions in animation and it’s surprising how much, especially in France, support they get from their government and from the EU is enormous, and the audience responds to it. There is a separate audience that is growing and growing for animation. It tends to be not be English speaking and in France and those certain territories…We’re now venturing into other places – Latin America and Eastern Europe just to see what’s happening there. It’s pretty vibrant.”
What types of stories are particularly in demand?
Tania Pinto Da Cunha – “Different than series, in feature films, it’s difficult to have content for very young children – preschoolers. In the cinema, it doesn’t work. For us you have to have a target family audience and make family animation – it has to be aimed at 6 or 8-year-old plus.”
Edward Noeltner – “A lot of distributors are always looking for the inclusive…animals, talking animals. They want a good story with a lot of humor, a little bit of edginess here and there that will play to an older audience. Animation on human characters is the absolute hardest to achieve so if you set it in the animal world, independents see a lot of success with that… [It’s all about] taking families to a world, a place they wouldn’t normally be able to go for two hours and nothing can be better than that.”
Michael Ryan – “If you want Pre-school, you have to have an IP that is very important to those kids. If you want it to resonate up to the parents that’s even better. Generally, if you can find the animals like that’s what most kids want and it’s a very large age group – you probably reach up to 10 or 11 and that’s a big age group and means that the parents have to go. It stops at a certain age point. Kids, especially boys, past 10 don’t go to animated movies – it’s very very rare. Generally, if you can find the animals like in “Zambezia” which Edward [Edward Noeltner]. Human animation is incredibly hard especially because humans aren’t typically funny in animated films unless you’re very clever.”
Edward Noeltner – “Another thing you have to be very careful about is on-screen violence…If you have scenes in an animated feature that kids think they can do at home, you’ll have a real problem with censorship. A lot of mothers determine what movies they take their kids to, so we try to target our trailers to mothers. Be very careful with the violence if you’re trying to reach a family audience. The last thing mothers want to do is put their hands in front of their kids’ faces when they’re watching a movie…One thing I did on a couple of occasions took the screenplay to Dove [Dove Soap brand has an approval division that puts a stamp of approval] for them to review it for the Dove Seal of Approval. I had them read a couple of the scripts I was thinking of investing in and asked if they would be acceptable for their approval board and took a few cues and make a couple of adjustments just to make sure I wouldn’t run into that issue of violence or offensiveness for my animated films moving forward.”
What do you want in an animated script?
Michael Ryan – “If you’re going to write in the animated field, you have to be a really good comedy writer. All these audiences want to do when they watch an animated feature is laugh, they want to laugh out loud and it’s really difficult to find writers that can make people laugh out loud. I am punching up the comedy dialogue in my animated films right until they’re finished because you can never get enough comedy in an animated film.”
If you are writing something like “I Lost My Body” or “Flee” those are all beautiful movies and all well written amazing screenplays, you just have to know that your audience is going to be limited but maybe you’ll earn Oscar nominees.”
What’s the importance of film market events to the independent animators?
Daniel Bort – “You want to have the interactions also with the TV executives that are financing as well, so these are the places that you meet the TF1s and the BBCs and those people also shape up the market worldwide.”
Michael Ryan – “[Markets] It’s just as important for animation as it is for live action – it’s exactly the same thing. We’re all co-producers now, we need co-producers to produce with and the only way to do it really is to meet them in person.”
How are you working with the platforms and for animations are relationships with them a worthwhile endeavor?
Tania Pinto Da Cunha – “It’s giving another opportunity in a way and they’ve come to stay. They’re doing quite a bit of damage on the one hand, since animation they are doing a lot so they are taking our talent and we cannot compete with those prices…but at the same time they are also putting money into production, they are financing a lot of films and if that continues it’s not necessarily bad thing for producers especially in Europe since it takes so long to get the funds from subsidies that you’re developing and trying to get the funding for so long…Platforms are buying from independents, it’s not easy and if there’s something that they want they’re paying big money. I think we’ll come to a balance.”
Michael Ryan – “We owe it to ourselves to try and work with them. I find it really very difficult to get one of the big streamers…some of them just don’t do animation – Hulu for instance, Amazon very very rarely. Netflix, they’re doing so much of their own, I think they have done it [bought] once for a big [animated] independent film. It’s very few and far between, so that means that we should really concentrate on our business which is with independent distributors throughout the world and that’s who we sell to. I don’t regard the streamers as a real buyer of our animated features, they’ve really never committed to it so I don’t really concentrate on it. We’ve just done a big deal with Sky on a number of territories. Is that a streamer? Not really but kind of – it’s a hybrid so they’ll do some theatrical releases where they can. Dealing with Amazon, Netflix you can’t really rely on – our [animation] business is still with the theatrical distributors around the world.
“I do like the fact that they [Netflix] are doing regional buys for foreign language movies. They don’t have any fear of that which is great and that’s a good service to the animation industry. They’re very big in Germany, they’re becoming much bigger in France, Spain and I think that’s a very farsighted attitude.”
Edward Noeltner – “We should all make a concerted effort to see what Netflix is doing in terms of animation – in terms of the story structure, the production values, I think they’re doing an incredible job and that’s a bar we have to reach to because otherwise the audience is going to stay home and watch Netflix.”
Daniel Bort – “The only truly worldwide game of the streamers right now that could buy independent animation is Netflix. The other ones are not.”
What is going to make things better for the industry for 2022?
Michael Ryan – “I think if we can get people back to the cinema, that’s what we all need.”
Many excellent sessions have marked the 2021 American Film Market (AFM) – today’s the Pitch Conference led the way with topicals such as licensing, casting, producing standout documentaries, clearing the title chain, maximizing the festival circuit, and how to create compelling characters.
A pertinent and timely one from Day 3 was the Distribution II Session, How Streamers Approach Independent Content, moderated by Brent Lang, Executive Editor Film & Media, New York Bureau Chief, Variety Magazine. Panelists included: Adam Koehler, Manager of Acquisitions, IFC Films; Brian Stevenson, CEO & Founder, Sheena Mae Stories; and, Jennifer Vaux, Head of Content Acquisition, The Roku Channel.
Here’s the recap on – How Streamers Approach Independent Content:
What kind of content is doing well, what are you discovering?
Jennifer Vaux – “We have a really robust machine learning algorithm that will really serve you up the kind of content that you want to watch and want to see – so we actually see a lot of engagement with independent film, whether it’s action, romance, LGBTQ+ stories, co-viewing, family, horror…”
How do you figure out what content you want to purchase?
Adam Koehler – “Very often, we’ll come across a title that will do spectacular on VOD but maybe not have a theatrical life, and it goes the other way around as well. A foreign language drama, for example, doesn’t really play quite as well on a VOD platform as it does in theaters where you can fully absorb the film – whereas something like an action film is potentially more of a VOD title for us. It really just comes down to the nature and the genre of the film. The sweet spot is finding something that will work both ways; with our streaming platforms, specifically, our films don’t really land there until 2 years after initial release. So when we’re thinking about what we want to see on our streaming platform, we are also thinking about what films will stand the test of time and remain buzzy…”
Are you finding that there are certain types of stories that people are more interested in backing right now?
Brian Stevenson – “I know for some of the platforms that inclusive type films, like African American, LGBTQ+, they perform really well. Some horror films do really well, but I think the younger generation latches on to some of the AVOD platforms because it’s free. If you’re on cable, and you have to pay $400-500, someone just out of college doesn’t have that kind of money, so they’re going to go to the ROKUs and TUBIs.”
When it comes to marketing, do you feel like having a community like that does help in identifying your audience so that they can find the content?
Brian Stevenson – “Some of the advertisers, it’s a way for them to target a specific demographic. And depending on who that is or what block of programming that looks like, it looks like they’re putting more of their dollars into something like that [diverse content]. Especially after George Floyd, you have a lot more appetite from advertisers who wanted to look at, not just African American content, but anything that was inclusive because there was a whole new search for identity and different cultures happening.”
Are movies with a social justice component or political undercurrent resonating better on streaming services?
Jennifer Vaux – “It goes back to – if you’re in the mood to watch something, chances are, we’re going to have it. I think that’s the importance of having a broad catalog – having stories like social justice and meaningful stories out there that might not have a bigger theatrical release or get lost in other types of releases.”
Adam Koehler – … “For the right film with the right timing, we’re definitely seeing a perfect storm for the correct titles”
How has the move into virtual film festivals changed your job?
Adam Koehler – “Film festivals have become far more accessible over the pandemic because everything has been virtual, more people have been able to attend festivals. Let’s take Sundance for example – there’s a barrier to participating in Sundance typically [as a live event], it’s expensive, it’s not exactly an easy place to get to, and it’s tough for beginner filmmakers and smaller press members to get that access. Moving forward, I think we’re going to see more hybrid models to allow more people to participate in different ways.”
“This past year, Sundance reviews were spilling in right away for films directly out to premiere because people were able to watch them the same time we did, so in a lot of ways, it’s really leveling the playing field.”
Jennifer Vaux – “One thing that’s been awesome about just the structure of having a virtual festival is that the other folks on my team who have never been able to go to a festival…they’ve seen so many more movies. We’ve screened so much more, so I’m able to acquire more and have more engaging conversations with filmmakers.”
What is lost by the virtual component?
Jennifer Vaux – “The connectivity with the audiences and hearing it in real-time. It’s just that immediacy that you lack in a virtual environment.”
What are indie filmmakers’ expectations?
Brian Stevenson – “At the end of the day, filmmakers want to make a little bit of money – so I am very honest with them [and tell them] ‘Depending on the genre…depending on the category, I’m not really quite sure about the revenue numbers. You’ll probably do fairly well, but you’re not going to make a million dollars…’”
Is there more content than ever? From the acquisition perspective?
Jennifer Vaux – “It’s definitely ebbing and flowing in terms of what you’re looking at and what the pandemic has allowed us to do. Early on, we were able to do some innovative deals with some distributors and so we licensed our first exclusive series called ‘Cypher,’ which was from an independent company…We were able to do some really interesting Pay 1 deals because I guess the other folks who have a much larger budget than we do maybe had passed.”
“Now you’re seeing that sort of leveling out…there was a lot in development, but all the produced stuff has found a home, so now we’re just trying to play the shell game of what content we can serve up.”
What about Documentaries on Streaming?
Brian Stevenson – “If you can find some kind of a packaging opportunity or any kind of a promotional opportunity for your documentary to be a whole block of programming that has a kind of headliner like [‘Black Boys’] had, then there can be some opportunity there….Otherwise…documentaries are very hard to move unless you have a special marketing opportunity.”
How is the value component of cast for each of you?
Jennifer Vaux – “Recognizable cast truly is important, especially to cut through a lot of the title availability. So, if there’s a recognizable person, then people will click on that thumbnail…We had a few movies where Chadwick Boseman starred in early in his career, and when he did Black Panther, all of a sudden these movies were really popular…”
Adam Koehler – “I think it’s also important to mention that it depends on the specific nature of the film with the cast attached. If the target demographic for the film is a younger audience, then maybe someone like Helen Mirren may not hold as much value to that specific demographic as it would for another. Whereas if you’re trying to cater to an audience in their young twenties, someone with a really huge Instagram following would probably hold more value.”
What are the challenges today? Where are the opportunities?
Adam Koehler – “Essentially, when it comes to acquisitions, streamers have largely driven up the price for a lot of content out there, making it a little harder for traditional distributors like us to compete at the same level as a tech company. So, in order to get around that, I would say that we are pre-buying a little bit more, financing a little bit more, getting a bit more in on the ground floor with a lot of films that come our way, that way we can already have the commitment of distributing the film before these other players can come in and swoop it away…Not everything can be “Palm Springs”, not everything can be “Coda”, so when filmmakers go into a festival with the expectation that [these films] represent the level that films sell at,’ it makes it a little more difficult for us to manage the expectations of sales agents and filmmakers to move forward with an acquisition.
The NAACP convenes a panel of storytellers to explore the myths and rigors of international distribution for black-themed content and leading roles.
Covering a plethora of relevant topics spanning from the beginning of the film industry to the present day, the convened panel of Mo Abudu, CEO, EbonyLife Group, Dr. Darnell Hunt, Dean of the Division of Social Sciences, and Professor of Sociology and African American Studies, UCLA, Johnny Jones, Executive Director of Worldwide Marketing Content, Warner Bros. Pictures, Gabriel Lerman, Board Member, Hollywood Foreign Press Association, Tirrell D. Whittley, CEO, Liquid Sou,l and moderator Kyle Bowser, SVP Hollywood Bureau, NAACP, delivered insight into the prevalent issues of international distribution of black-themed content and leading roles.
Here are a few pertinent questions and responses:
How might you answer the question of what is a black film?
Mo Abudu – “For me it’s been a real struggle, getting our foot in the door with African stories that are also black stories. Even if I’m knocking on the door of an African American, it’s kind of tough going because they’ve got African American stories they want to tell.”
“So yes, we’re getting our foot in the door, and we’re being listened to, and we’re having to work twice as hard. I keep saying that there are three levels of discrimination for an African woman – number 1, you are a woman, number 2, you are a black woman, number 3, I am an African black woman trying to sell an African story to either a white person or an African American person.”
We do in fact have these gatekeepers who will conclude that we do not have enough demand to justify the investment…
Darnell Hunt – “Well I’m here to tell you that it’s all a myth – it’s not true….First of all, the thing you have to remember is that the global audience looks a lot more like American diversity than Europe, I mean Europe is only about 18% of the world’s population and maybe 22% of the world GDP – all the rest of it is this rainbow around the world who want to hear diverse stories. And one of the things we’ve seen in the US context is that, as diversity has become more common on-screen, diverse audiences flock to it, they want to see that. They’re not going back now.”
Kyle Bowser – “When you have these distributors who have this reticence to greenlight projects that need to travel internationally, I don’t think it’s simply because they’re not good stories or because there’s some shortcoming in the casting or whatever it is, I think implicitly, they are supporting a norm that was established long ago.”
Darnell Hunt – “White supremacy is real, and it works in many different ways – some of it is intentional, some of its implicit bias…some of it’s lack of imagination to appreciate and recognize a quality story when you see it because your experience does not support it. That’s why it’s important to have diverse voices in the executive suites for greenlighting these stories and we just don’t. All of our data shows that 92% of studio heads and CEOs are white, and about 87% are male – that freezes out a range of voices.”
Projects never get made sometimes because there’s not enough international interest – so from the perspective of the studio, how does that work out?
Johnny Jones – “It’s show business, and the larger companies such as Warner Bros., Disney, etc., they want a big return on their investment – because it is a business. So they’re going after the largest common denominator in terms of what they’re producing, what they know the consumers will consume, how they can sell merchandise, etc – it’s a business.”
“Different content works differently in different markets.”
“I think it’s important to be in the room where it happened, but you need a voice – you need a strong voice and you need leverage. And the people who have leverage, believe it or not, are some of these actors.”
Darnell Hunt – “One of the things that we should not discount is the ways in which the audience is self-assured, not just in the US but globally. And one of the drivers of that, we’ve argued in our Hollywood bursar reports, is streaming. Last year during the pandemic, most new titles were released via streaming platforms, and our top 200 films, which we normally look at on the global box office, actually shifted to the most diverse in history because a lot of smaller films were released on streaming platforms. These never would have made our sample if we’re only looking at theatrical releases. And what that did was show the ways in which diverse audiences really gravitated towards diverse content once they knew it was there.”
Thoughts on the streaming space?
Mo Abudu – “I often say that [Nigeria] is only 6 hours from London, you’re not going to the moon or something, but a lot of the times, just getting large corporations to set up a department that’s even going to have an African unit can take years and years.”
“Netflix has trailblazed that, they’re on the continent because you know what? They don’t want to leave anything on the table. There is a massive audience there, there is a billion people living on the continent, the internet is spreading around the world, they are getting subscribers, so they are deciding to invest in local stories for local and local stories for global.”
“We have to, as black content producers, find our “Squid Game”, and find those big projects that make studios realize that we are worth investing in.”
Other general thoughts?
Tirrell D. Whittley – “So when creators come in and producers come in and they’re talking to a room full of white executives that don’t know their perspective, there’s no champion on the other side of the table, no one to translate at times what certain things mean, it is a very uphill battle.”
“With young people, I really try and encourage them to learn about the system, own the system, participate in the system – from an executive perspective. Understanding the financing, understanding the greenlight – the more women on that side of the table the more stories you’ll see – because they understand that women’s stories matter.”
“When it comes to content, specifically film and television, there is a gatekeeper system that says, ‘we want to dictate what goes forward.’”
TBA Studios adds another gem to its impressive catalog of diverse genre films from all over the globe with the recent distribution acquisition of the Malaysian thriller Lights Out (original title Siapa Tutup Lampu).
Lights Out is helmed by young and up-and-coming director Aliff Ihsan Rahman with a screenplay by Azhar Jalil and produced by Horizon Film Entertainment & Articulate Fusion Productions.
It follows the story of five friends (Akmal, Arif, Aryana, Azie, and Amir) who go on holiday to Genting Highlands. On the way home, they get involved in an accident that kills Amir. The other four are called to the morgue to identify Amir’s body.
While waiting for the doctor to arrive, they discover they are locked in the morgue, which is frequently disturbed by mysterious sights and sounds. It is most unsettling especially when the lights suddenly go out.
The four friends suspect that the entity bothering them is Amir’s restless spirit. While confined in the morgue, they each retell how they betrayed their friend, and their wrongdoings on Amir were revealed one by one. Will they all make it out of the morgue alive?
Recently completed, Lights Out has already generated buzz in its home country. This highly anticipated thriller stars Azizul Ammar, Uyaina Arshad, Naim Daniel, Azhar Jalil, Ismi Melinda, Afieq Shazwan, Geoff Andre Feyaerts, Melissa Campbell, and Mark O’Dea.
“We are planning a theatrical release of the film in Malaysia and Indonesia,” says Mohd Shahir Sulaiman, Managing Director of Horizon Film Entertainment. “With Cindy Sison of TBA Studios as our international sales agent, we are optimistic about reaching new audiences globally.”
Lights Out is one of the films TBA Studios is premiering at the American Film Market alongside other acquisitions such as the music documentary FANNY: The Right To Rock, urban crime thriller Boundary, and award-winning documentary A Is For Agustin.
TBA Studios is one of the leading film production and distribution companies in the Philippines known for its groundbreaking films such as historical epics General Luna, Goyo: The Boy General, and hit romcom I’m Drunk, I Love You.
To know more about TBA Studios or see updates on Lights Out, visit www.tba.ph
FilmCapital.io Lands E! Founder Larry Namer as President
Los Angeles, November 2, 2021 – Global entertainment industry veteran and E! founder Larry Namer will join the SEC registered crowdfunding platform FilmCapital.io as president. The announcement was made today by company founder and CEO Ali Mahir Aksu.
“We’re extremely lucky to have Larry Namer join FilmCapital’s executive team,” comments Aksu. “Not only does he possess unprecedented experience in both the entertainment and crowdfunding space, Larry’s leadership, connections and ability to inspire others make him the perfect fit as president as we expand and grow the company.”
As president of FilmCapital.io, Namer will be charged with business development, forging relationships with top global producers and production executives, overseeing social impact-oriented projects, and leading the company, described as a digital launch pad for content producers, in the next phase of its evolution.
“I’m very excited to be joining FilmCapital.io during these dynamic and rapidly changing times in the global media and entertainment industries. New technologies have opened up the content creation world to just about anyone with talent, drive, and financing,” says Namer. “FilmCapital.io will be the trusted vehicle that connects highly-vetted, qualified producers with both accredited and non-accredited investors looking to diversify their portfolios. Additionally, the company will work with talented emerging filmmakers to handle the financing side of the equation and also will help guide them through the process of turning out good content on a sustainable basis.”
Recently, FilmCapital.io secured its pre-seed round of capital raise and will be launching a new SEC registered crowdfunding platform featuring a user experience powered by state of the art technology.
The company’s recent success stories include the raise for the feature currently in post-production titled Alaska, starringGillian White, Johnathon Schaech, Will Peltz, Grace Van Dien and Chloe Levine.
Larry Namer is an entertainment industry icon with close to 50 years professional experience in cable television, live events and new media. Namer is a founding partner of Metan Global Entertainment Group (MGEG), a venture created to develop and distribute entertainment content and media specifically for Chinese speaking audiences in China and abroad. In 2018, the company launched the MGEG Film Fund I and serves as managing partner.
Namer is the co-founder of E! Entertainment Television, a company now valued at over four billion USD, and the creator of several successful companies in the United States and overseas. Among those companies are Comspan Communications that pioneered Western forms of entertainment in the former Soviet Union and Steeplechase Media that served as the primary consultant to Microsoft’s MiTV for developing interactive TV applications.
Early on, he was named the youngest general manager of a major cable system at Valley Cable TV (VCTV) in Los Angeles. His vision and direction garnered VCTV several Emmy and Cable ACE award nominations, as well as recognition by Forbes magazine as the national model for local cable television programming.
In 1989, he was awarded the prestigious President’s Award from the National Cable Television Association. He was honored with the “Outstanding Contribution to Asian Television Award” at the 19th Asian Television Awards in Singapore and received the International Media Legacy Award at the 2017 Elite Awards Foundation Gala. He was the recipient of Lifetime Achievement Awards at the 2018 Hollywood Tribute Awards and the 2019 Hollywood China Night, presented by the American-Chinese CEO Society, both in celebration of the Academy Awards®. In July 2019, he was awarded The Tribeca Disruptor Award at the Novus Summit, held at the United Nations, and in September 2020, he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the French Riviera Film Festival.
About FilmCapital.io – A new generation crowdfunding platform for content producers:filmcapital.io is an SEC registered funding platform that hosts highly-vetted investment offerings in the content production space (short form, feature, TV series) for both accredited and non-accredited investors. The company has a special initiative for emerging filmmakers to guide them throughout the production cycle, allowing creative visionaries to unleash their maximum potential. FilmCapital.io’s massive transformative purpose as a company is to empower all artists at heart.
The Taiwan Creative Content Agency will participate in the American Film Market, one of the key events for film acquisition, development, and networking in North America, with an online Taiwan Pavilion with the support of the Ministry of Culture and the Bureau of Audiovisual and Music Industry Development (BAMID). The Taiwan Pavilion will feature 57 films from 32 film exhibitors, showcasing the best of Taiwanese cinema to the world.
“There is a rise in popularity in Asian TV series globally, showing that stories based on local culture have a unique edge in the international market,” states TAICCA CEO, Izero LEE. “For the highly competitive North American market, TAICCA not only showcases the best of Taiwanese cinema at the AFM, but also assists the Los Angeles chapter of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office for the 3rd Taiwan Biennial Film Festival, hoping to recommend more Taiwanese works to the American audience.”
The lineup for this year’s AFM at the Taiwan Pavilion includes American Girl (美國女孩) which was shortlisted by the 2021 Tokyo International Film Festival for Asian Future section. The list also includes films selected at Busan International Film Festival for A Window on Asian Cinema section: MONEYBOYS (金錢男孩), Increasing Echo (修行), and Days Before the Millennium (徘徊年代). As well as Taste of Wild Tomato (野番茄), Crossing’s End (彼岸), RAIN in 2020 (二〇二〇年的一場雨) and Good Day (詠晴), for the Wide Angle section. The only Taiwanese film to be selected to BIFF’s Asian Project Market and the winner of NUTRILITE Award, Lives of Crime (犯罪人生), will also meet its potential funders at AFM.
Throughout the event, TAICCA will also introduce resources available for filming in Taiwan and various co-funding programs, such as Taiwan’s International Co-funding Program (TICP). which aims to increase the international market presence for Taiwanese original creative content, such as feature films, documentaries, TV series, and animation.
To further showcase Taiwan’s content industry to the world, TAICCA has organized the second edition of the Taiwan Creative Content Fest (TCCF), an annual international market and exhibition from November 10th to 14th that celebrates Taiwanese content driven by technology and creativity. For more information, please visit https://tccf.taicca.tw/en/.
About Taiwan Creative Content Agency
Taiwan Creative Content Agency (TAICCA), established in June 2019 and supervised by the Ministry of Culture, is a professional intermediary organization that promotes the development of Taiwan’s content industries. TAICCA supports various cultural content industries in Taiwan, including film and television, pop music, publishing, ACG, and fashion, artworks and cultural technologies.
With advanced information and communication technology infrastructure and emerging technologies in Taiwan, TAICCA manages National Development Fund to develop intellectual property (IP), incubate culture technologies, and facilitate startups.
Through international distribution channels, TAICCA strives to promote Taiwan’s cultural brand in the world. TAICCA enhances Taiwan’s cultural content industries and creates new value for Taiwan’s national brand. Profitable and eco-friendly, the creative industries are now valued as a key economic indicator worldwide.
Busy first day at the American Film Market (AFM). Starting off with the 9:00 A.M. conferences, The Independent Film Ecosphere – Present & Future, along with the It’s More Fun Filming in the Philippines.
Being able to switch between live events made the early sessions informative and entertaining – it’s a good time for independent filmmakers and it’s equally good to try out filmmaking in the Philippines.
Form here the issue of financing films came to the forefront. Realistic and practical approaches were presented combined with how to get films distributed.
After the sessions, networking and extended Q & A’s with the various panelists were the order of the day at the AFM Networking Pavillion.
Interesting titles included: Film Finance Success: The Producer’s Perspective; Black Filmmakers At The Crossroads To Success; How to Win at Modern Distribution; and, Indie Opportunities During the Streaming Wars.