In a recent blog post on lessons learned coordinating online distribution for PBS's Independent Lens documentary series, Davin Hutchins case-studied the modest fest-circuit hit The Parking Lot Movie's success on the iTunes movie store, concluding that "making a film available digitally when it is most visible elsewhere" is crucial for reaching an audience. Which certainly feels true: if you're the kind of person who eagerly scours festival reviews, you've surely noticed that even Cannes excitement tends to dissipate in the time it takes a movie to reach you—assuming, of course, it ever does, which is far from a sure thing even if you live in New York.
Using digital and cable on-demand to instantly gratify the whims of people who read film reviews online is now easier than ever, for reasons beyond the technological ones. Anti-trust law forced the old Hollywood studios to divest themselves of their theater chains, which seems quaint in today's conglomerated mediasphere, when new-media companies can acquire (or, in Mark Cuban's case, produce) relatively inexpensive films to distribute across platforms already huddled under the same corporate umbrella.
The Sundance Film Festival runs from January 20-30, in Utah—check thelmagazine.com for reports from our correspondent on the ground—and, in more limited form, in your living room, through the magic of 21st-century vertical integration. Sundance Selects is, among other things, a movies-on-demand channel owned by Cablevision subsidiary Rainbow Media, which also owns the IFC Channel, IFC Films, the IFC Center, and IFC's on-demand services. Sundance Selects's "Direct from Sundance" is a five-pack of 2011 Sundance films available on-demand for a 30-day window timed to their festival premieres, the better to ride out Park City buzz; it's programmed by festival and IFC Films execs, who often also buy theatrical rights—like in the case of Kaboom, from Sundance-enabled 90s indie boom bad boy Gregg Araki, which opens at IFC Center on Sundance's closing weekend, and which Ben Strong reviews in this issue.
Also on the Direct from Sundance roster are These Amazing Shadows, a documentary saluting the National Film Registry, and Septien, a regional drama from Michael Tully, also an active indie-scene blogger. Another even more familiar festival-circuit face, Joe Swanberg, directsUncle Kent, his first film at Sundance, though he's no stranger to VOD. A TV screen (or monitor) may be where his films play best, and that's not (just) a comment on his video-diary cinematography. Swanberg, who's worked on web series in addition to features, has familiar collaborators (animator "Uncle Kent" is the animator and Swanberg regular Kent Osborne) play out a roster of demographically apropos concerns (here, the loneliness of the aging hipster and the narcissism, or self-abnegation, of desire), mediated by au-courant technologies (in late 2010, Chatroulette, iPhoto and craigslist's adult services). His on-point scenes, excavated by brisk editing from loosely directed improv and commented on with either Casio crunch or Charlie Brown loser piano, feel like endless variations on the same theme, even if those variations are sometimes uncomfortably familiar, hilariously awkward or dick-pic "authentic" (or, as is more usual for Swanberg, a little bit of all three, as a passive-aggressive threesome in Uncle Kent is, while also being, also usual for Swanberg, no more or less necessary than anything else in the movie).
And lastly, there's Australian director Brendan Fletcher's feature debut Mad Bastards, which, with its multigenerational neck-tattoo machismo and moody, musical negative space, initially bares a recommended-if-you-like resemblance to last year's breakthrough hits from his countrymen in the Blue Tongue collective, though with the always-nearby Outback's vision-quest void, more than hallowed genre structures, providing the looming atmosphere. But the film, derived from interviews with cast members and other members of northwest Australia's Aboriginal communities, emerges as a break-the-cycle plea made resounding by characters as reticent as the editing is taut. Worth your $5.99, if you're channel-surfing anyway.