By S.T. VanAirsdale
IFC Entertainment announced a deal with Blockbuster Video on Wednesday that will give the latter company "an exclusive 60-day window on U.S. rentals and downloads of IFC titles before they're sold," writes Hollywood Reporter correspondent Gregg Goldstein. Moreover, Goldstein adds, the pact gives Blockbuster exclusive rental rights for three years following IFC releases' retail street date and establishes special "indie film" sections in 1,000 of the chain's stores -- approximately a quarter of its locations.
I know some of you think I snipe for sniping's sake, but I'm pretty mad about this, and you should be, too. And if you can't smell the bullshit in Wednesday's PR money quotes, then you probably wouldn't be seeking this site's fresh air anyway; IFC VP of sales and business development Lisa Schwartz got the party started in an official press release:
"We're delighted to join with Blockbuster as we continue our mission of making independent film available to the widest possible audience. ... Blockbuster's national store network, combined with its by-mail and downloading services, made this a particularly appealing agreement for us because it gives millions of customers increased access to our movies."
Besides being factually, mathematically inaccurate (there are a lot more than 1,000 independent video stores -- and their own customers -- who won't have access to rent Paranoid Park or 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days for three full years), this is the same line of garbage IFC fed filmgoers last summer when it said it was readjusting to focus on its First Take slate of day-and-date releases like Hannah Takes the Stairs and The Wind That Shakes the Barley. The idea there was that IFC titles would be "available" on demand to 40 million cable subscribers, which sounds great (I guess) to foreign producers reps looking for the most reach among US distributors. Whereas First Take's theatrical box office was flailing in specifically quantifiable terms, however, there's no accounting for the volume of actual downloads.
That's old news insofar as disingenuous corporate strategizing goes; you almost can't hold it against IFC. At least these films reach the States, right? And while I've previously defended IFC Center's prerogative to monopolize within its Sixth Avenue confines, this week's developments are a disturbing new low ripped from the playbook of Harvey Weinstein, whose home-video distribution wing Genius Products pulled the same stunt in 2006 by setting up Blockbuster as the exclusive outlet for Weinstein Company and Dimension Films releases. It didn't feel as offensive with A-list, video-ready bombs like Miss Potter or Breaking and Entering (and certainly not with Dimension's genre pulp), but with Genius front-and-center again as IFC's DVD conduit, you have to admire the audacity and self-loathing required for anyone involved to spin this as a victory for "independent film":
"This agreement with IFC is a great opportunity for Blockbuster to provide our customers with convenient access to the best of independent film," said Keith Leopard, director, film product, Blockbuster Inc. "Whether it's through our stores, through the mail or through digital downloading, our customers will have access to some of the most exciting, thought-provoking films the indie filmmaking world has to offer. We look forward to working with IFC to dramatically expand our selection of independent titles and to being the exclusive rental outlet for films that otherwise might not have gotten exposure to such a broad audience."
You sick, cynical fuck. This is what I'd call a unilateral attack on the very idea of independence. Are things so bad at IFC that it's worth it to hold cheaply acquired films hostage for the sake of one's bottom line (of which -- hey, look at that -- Blockbuster's conveniently did jump 3 percent in 2007; it was all Transamerica, I'm sure) and shut out the loyal independent proprietors whose legitimate supply-and-demand ratios weren't inflating the stakes enough for their deal memos at Cannes? Or is this just another Genius muscle move against which the label is helpless? It's probably too dramatic to call it a conspiracy, and losing the rental availability of Love Songs isn't likely to sink Kim's or Video Room or Champagne Video or the rest, but in any case it's symbolic of how tenuous the identity of "independent film" actually is -- that while we parse semantics, a "director, film product" at Blockbuster can brag about expropriating art so brazenly from the culture at large. And get away with it.
The real movie people at IFC -- and they know who they are -- have to be beside themselves today, as do filmmakers like Gus Van Sant and Joe Swanberg, whose work just lost the portion of its future audience that maybe is loyal to its local video store and doesn't want to buy Paranoid Park or Hannah Takes the Stairs (thus further enriching Genius Products) for the apparent privilege of watching either film on DVD before 2011. What planet are these people from, and what can be done about them? Is it too early today for a drink? Or is it too late?
Posted at March 6, 2008 12:29 PM
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