Fascinating interview with Annie Roney, founder of a distributor called ro*co films, discussing the evolution of film distribution, specifically for documentaries. The questioner, Chris Dorr of Artist Services, asks her what the "most significant" change is she's observed. Her answer:
The most significant change is the cultural and mainstream embrace of the [documentary] genre. I have witnessed a genre thought to exist only on public television, achieve marquee theatrical success, with all of the ancillary platforms and press that come with it. Although I wouldn't say documentary films have become mainstream, they have garnered a certain cache among film lovers. Everyone, these days, seems to want to be involved in a documentary...or at least talk about the one they saw on Netflix last week.
Which brings me to the second biggest change ... digital; the good and the bad of digital. Digital platforms for these films have democratized how and when they can be seen. It is no longer only in the hands of a few powerful gatekeepers of media distribution as to whether or not a film can get out into the world. The consumer gets to decide.
We are in a challenging transition period, though, where broadcasters who used to not only be the bread & butter for the documentary filmmaker but also the gatekeeper to audience, are buying fewer documentaries and paying less for them. The good news is that digital is an alternative, but it takes real work to drive the viewers there.
Filmmakers and anyone working in indie film distribution should read the entire interview on Sundance.org. Annie also explains the important elements the distributor needs for everything to be a success. "The best scenario is when we have decided to work together prior to her film festival premiere and we are ready to capture interest from the initial burst of momentum. With this kind of distribution the sky is the limit on how many people we can engage, beyond our schools and universities base."