Festival

Sundance Film Festival

2012

The Revolution is Being Televised, But When Will it be Streamed?

Steven Soderbergh doesn’t care where people see his films—big screen, small screen—just as long as people have a chance to see (and, presumably, pay for) them. To that end, he has struck a deal with IFC Films, the distributor of his two-part biopic CHE, to release the film via video-on-demand.

“We’re kind of blocked out from [cinema chains], so it’s a great way for someone who doesn’t live in a metropolitan area and wants to see it,” he said. “It’s just very difficult if you’re an independent filmmaker for your movies to bust out.”

CHE, which is currently showing on only 16 screens in 10 cities nationwide, will become available to 50 million Comcast cable subscribers on Wednesday. In an article today in the New York Times, IFC President Jonathan Sehring said he’s hoping for 250,000 purchases of CHE in the first 90 days. (On-demand films are almost half the price of a movie ticket.)

Joe Swanberg, whose film ALEXANDER THE LAST is being released on-demand on the same date (March 14) that it premieres at South by Southwest, offered similar reasons for taking this route, saying, “I’m not precious about a theatrical release and I just want people to see my work.”

Swanberg isn’t new to the format. Two of his previous films, including HANNAH TAKES THE STAIRS, have been available via IFC on-demand as well. Releasing his latest film this way, he said, allows him to capitalize on the “moment” created by the premiere (rather than waiting months after the festival for a theatrical release).

“It was frustrating for me,” he said, referring to previous films, “to recreate that moment and get the attention back.” More importantly, said Swanberg, 27, “If [people of my generation] want to see the movie, they’ll try through legal venues.” Failing that, they’ll download it for free.

Which raised a question I had hoped to ask (but, like an invisible student, was never called on): Cable TV is clearly a dying platform, so when will IFC take the next step and start releasing their films on the web? Netflix, as one example, allows subscribers to stream some (though not enough) of their titles online.

Lacking a cheaper and more convenient option, many people will find other ways to see a film. Take me, for instance. I’m a member of Swanberg’s generation, I don’t have cable TV, and I’ve seen CHE. Guess where? I’ll give you a hint: not in a movie theater.