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SXSW 2009: Reinventing the distribution wheel.

SXSW 2009: Reinventing the distribution wheel. (photo)

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Times are tough everywhere right now, but they’ve been tough in the indie distribution world long before the current economic downturn. Too many films, too high advertising costs, not enough arthouse screens, not enough time for titles to build up buzz before they’re bumped to make room for next week’s offerings — people bemoan the shift away from theatergoing, but theatrical releases have largely become just a glorified means of marketing a film’s DVD or digital release.

There are several attempts to break away from the traditional release method kicking off here in Austin this week: “The Least of These” is getting a simultaneous festival and online premiere via SnagFilms; our sister company IFC Entertainment’s putting five films on VOD via Festival Direct as they makes their premieres; Cinetic’s just put three films from last year’s fest that didn’t get theatrical deals up on Hulu, “We Are Wizards,” “Yeast” and “The Lost Coast.” And B-Side, best known for providing free websites with plenty of community components to festivals (take a whirl around their SXSW Genius site), announced yesterday that their first release as a distributor will be Brett Gaylor’s copyright doc, “RiP: A Remix Manifesto,” which is making its U.S. premiere here at the SXSW Film Festival. I grabbed a drink with B-Side’s CEO Chris Hyams and Paola Freccero, recently hired away from Tribeca to head up the company’s new distribution arm in New York, to hear about their model and why they were getting into the distribution business when everyone else seems to be getting out.

For B-Side, the idea is to skip the typical release method entirely and aim for something they call “quasi-theatrical” — venues, be they cinemas, bars, community centers, etc, can request a DVD of a film in order to hold their own screening, all of the proceeds from which they can keep. B-Side and the filmmaker make their money only from actual sales of the film digitally and on DVD, and via venues like Hulu, and they split the revenue 50/50. The company was inspired to take this initiative after being a co-partner in a similar release of last year’s pot comedy doc “Super High Me,” offering a “Roll Your Own Screening” initiative and reaching out via the likes of High Times, and in the end getting far higher DVD sales than any original estimates.

This model relies on films that have passionate, reachable niche audiences already in place, since little or no money will be put into advertising and promotion — “licorice films,” which some, even most people just won’t care for/about, but a smaller group will truly love. Partially because of that, it’s at the moment doc-centric, with only one narrative in the slate of recent acquisitions B-Side will be announcing over the next few months. It also means giving up on relying on coverage from the major press outlets, since this style of release almost certainly won’t include the requisite weeklong New York or L.A. run needed to guarantee a review. It’s not a concern for the company at the moment; as Hyams put it, the people who sought out “Super High Me” weren’t really worried about what Manohla Dargis would have thought of it. And Freccero noted that the number of filmmakers who insist on the prestige of that type of theatrical release are “fewer now than the year before,” and will be fewer still next year.

It’s an ambitious and notably web-influenced approach to putting out films (one that echoes the faith-based film market, which has been doing similar things for a few years now), not as much in its use of technology as in its long tailish conviction in the internet allowing specialized audiences to find what they’re looking for, with a little help. Any sense of sadness at the ever more devalued power of critics is probably felt only by me.

[Photo: Gregg Gillis, aka Girl Talk, in “RiP: A Remix Manifesto,” B-Side Entertainment, 2009]

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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