Veteran film producer Avi Federgreen, the man responsible for productions like Score: A Hockey Musical , George Ryga’s Hungry Hills , and the upcoming release Moon Point , has launched a new film distribution company, IndieCan Entertainment. IndieCan’s goal, and Federgreen’s personal mission, is to highlight up-and-coming Canadian filmmakers and shine a light into one of the darker corners of independent filmmaking: namely, those films with budgets less than $1.25 million.
“About 250 independent films are made in Canada every year,” says Federgreen. “But less than 10% get distribution deals. It’s kind of disgusting. You put your blood and sweat into a movie and then you can’t get anybody to take it.”
Federgreen knows the story all too well, having been on the wrong end of the production-distribution imbalance over the course of his 20-year career in the Canadian film industry. He knows the frustration filmmakers encounter after a movie is made by hook or crook, then generates attention at film festivals, and then… hits a wall.
“People make movies because they want people to see them. I’ve been making movies for a long time, some of them notable. Yet, they don’t make it to screens and no one sees them,” says Federgreen. “That’s exactly why I created IndieCan.”
IndieCan aims to adjust the imbalance in the industry with a focus not only on Canadian content, also on but lower-budget independent productions that struggle to see daylight after the festival circuit. Federgreen stresses that the qualification for an IndieCan movie is not just that it was made by Canadians, but that it is also an engaging, well-told story. Is there an appetite among movie-goers for these kinds of movies? Federgreen is positive that there is demand.
“Indie films matter, Canadian content matters, and people want to see it,” says Federgreen. “Those kinds of cult-classic films [like] Say Anything (1989), Some Kind of Wonderful (1987), [and] Garden State (1997) are easing back into theatres. People want to go to a movie theatre and watch a good story for 90 minutes.”
Of course, others have tilted at the same windmill. IndieCan steps into a Canadian indie film distribution market dominated by heavies like Alliance Films, Entertainment One, and Mongrel Films. To win the competition for Canadian theatre screens, Federgreen knows IndieCan has to bring a new approach to the table. To that end, IndieCan is deeply invested, both financially and philosophically, in the grassroots power of online social media, the novelty of distribution channels like TV, Netflix, and iTunes, and cross-promotions with the involvement of the similarly-struggling independent music industry.
IndieCan’s latest endeavor, Moon Point , is a good illustration of the intended approach. Moon Point has been the subject of intense social promotion online; you can’t turn around in cyberspace without bumping into it. And Moon Point ‘s soundtrack features some the best singer-songwriters Canada has to offer, with bands and musicians staging promotional events in conjunction with the film’s release.
“We know how to do this. We know how to reach the movie bloggers, Sean [Cisterna, director of Moon Point ] has been doing a video diary, [and] we’re all over Twitter and Facebook. I want independent filmmakers to look at this example and think, ‘Anything is possible,'” says Federgreen. “But it’s about getting people into the theatres. We need people to see this movie in the theatre. We have a one week run, but we want to get a second week.”
For IndieCan, putting bums in seats is the bottom line. Finding a theatrical audience is crucial for first-time or second-time filmmakers. If a movie doesn’t find an audience, doesn’t get traction, and doesn’t make it to the big screen, it’s unlikely a young filmmaker will be able to scare up the funds for their next project. It’s exactly this kind of situation that spurred Federgreen to launch IndieCan.
“The situation is heavily weighted to big names, the Cronenbergs and Egoyans. They get the budgets and the screens,” says Federgreen. “But what happens when those guys are gone and we haven’t invested in the infrastructure to nurture young talent?”
Film distribution is a notoriously tough racket. But if personal passion is a qualification for success, IndieCan Entertainment has an edge. Federgreen is adamant that there is a market for the kind of movies that IndieCan is bringing to screens. It just takes a lot of perseverance and a bit of cleverness to find the audience and draw them in.
“Seeing Canadian films should be a regular thing, not a one-time event,” Federgreen says. “We support Canadian production but we also have to encourage the viewing of Canadian films by Canadian audiences. We owe it to our industry and our culture.”