Monday, January 23, 2006

Missed It in the Theater Today? See It on DVD Tonight

I see the independent film channel is leading the charge for offering films on demand the same day they are released in theaters. It makes perfect sense with art films and foreign films since they are screened in so few theaters anyway. The simultaneous release should boost early revenues and provide a stronger funding stream for new works in production.

I was particularly excited to note the mention of foreign films. The US does not have a monopoly on cinematic creativity and its time the large mainstream US market had access to the works of non-US filmmakers. I know I have totally enjoyed such works as "Hero" - a visual feast as well as riveting drama. I think Hollywood totally underestimates the willingness of US audiences to accept subtitles if the drama is engrossing.

"Hollywood will inch further toward making movies simultaneously available in theaters, on DVD and on home television screens at the Sundance Film Festival this week, as IFC Entertainment unveils a plan to release 24 films in theaters and on cable at the same time this year.

Beginning in March, the initiative, which the company is calling First Take, will place films in independent theaters while also making them available over a new video-on-demand service that will be carried by all the major cable companies, said Jonathan Sehring, IFC Entertainment's president. The company, which includes a film production and distribution arm, is expected to make the announcement at a news conference on Monday.

"So much great film has fallen by the wayside," Mr. Sehring said. "The studios are collapsing the window between the theatrical release and the DVD. We're taking that one step further."

The company named six films it had scheduled for simultaneous release, including "CSA: The Confederate States of America," a dark, faux documentary that envisions the United States if the South had won the Civil War; "I Am a Sex Addict," a semiautobiographical comedy about a young man who becomes addicted to prostitutes; and "American Gun," a series of stories about the proliferation of weapons across the country, starring Donald Sutherland and Forest Whitaker.

The main idea, Mr. Sehring said, was to respond to the pent-up demand for art house-style films that are usually shown only in a few theaters in major cities, and even then only for a week or two.

"Foreign films are not being released," he said, "aside from Sony Classics. And low-budget American films - they're nonexistent. It's left to the really small companies, and they can't afford to take on a lot of films and get them played outside of New York and L.A."

The rise of specialty divisions at major studios like Fox Searchlight and Focus Features has reduced the opportunities for art-house films, he said, because they now specialize in medium-budget, serious films for adults, once the purview of their parent studios.

The IFC service will ramp up to making 10 to 15 films available a month, including some from other distributors, at a cost of $6.95 a month for subscribers or $5.95 per film."

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