Independent Filmmakers Alliance
September 27 2006 
Independent Filmmakers Alliance Newsletter
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The IFA presents Film Circuit - Find the Audience .

The Film Circuit - Finding the Audience

Image of the film 'Saint Ralph'

by Anya Wassenberg

Canadian fans of independent and 'art' films in the Big 3 Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal have a smorgasbord of offerings to choose from, with film festivals, repertory theatres, film schools and venues like Cinamatheque Ontario, at the Art Gallery of Ontario, that routinely show indie fare. Outside those urban centres, however, you might be hard pressed to find any screenings other than the latest Hollywood blockbuster. There's been a massive shrinkage in the amount of screen time for independent or art films, notes Cam Haynes, Director of Film Circuit, and (we've seen) the demise of repertory theatre. For the independent film maker, the challenge is obvious and very basic how to get your films seen.

Cam Haynes started Cinefest, the Sudbury Film Festival, in 1989. Recognizing the interest generated by the kind of press TIFF and other film festivals receive, he took the idea one step further. Haynes believed that additional attendance and box office revenues could be generated by taking those films on the road, even farther afield, and the Film Circuit concept was born. In 1992, he linked with groups in 5 northern Ontario cities, North Bay, Timmins, Thunder Bay, Sault Ste. Marie and Sudbury, to form the Northern Film Circuit. The model, which offered event style screenings of independent films, was a success, and Haynes approached the Toronto International Film Festival Group with a view towards introducing the concept to the rest of Canada. In 1995, the Film Circuit launched in 5 Southern Ontario cities, growing steadily over the years to now include 176 groups across the country and another 25 internationally, reaching over 350,000 film goers annually at over 3,000 screenings. What plays at TIFF and all the big film festivals now plays from Cornerbrook, NFLD to Prince Rupert, BC.

That exponential growth, while gratifying, was simply the result of sheer hard work. I criss crossed the country for the first 5 years, Haynes remembers. The best way to describe it is like pushing a snowball up a hill it's hard, but after a certain point, there's momentum. For the last 5 years, it's been more like the snowball going downhill. Audiences from Bowen Island, BC to Rocky Harbour, NF are now in the Film Circuit. There is a market for (these) films, but the market is limited, he cautions, we're not talking about massive audiences. Hence, the event style screening. Condensing the audience into one night makes much more sense for independent films, he notes, adding The audience for independent and art fims is much older. If you're 35 and over, there's very little in that range (of mainstream films) for you. The Film Circuit's numbers do skew the audience into that older category. All the same, the attendance figures are gratifying, and sometimes surprising over 9,500 in Wolfville, NS, or 9,010 in Salmon Arm, BC, (2006 figures).

One of the strengths of the Film Circuit model has been to allow individual communities that sign on to curate their own screenings. We try to augment the awareness of films we have, like Simple Curve, for example, we try to inform the communities about individual releases, Haynes says. In the end, the community will decide for themselves. The Circuit is set up first and foremost to create box office awareness for Canadian films, partly also to educate audiences, he says. Individual Film Circuit committees in all of the communities get help with everything from choosing films to filling out the paperwork. A percentage of the box office goes to the distributor and rights owner. Part of the attack is in developing the audience. Haynes notes a kind of phenomenon in the way tastes evolve. Smaller communities may begin by chosing more middle of the road fare, and, as he notes wryly, you can't go in with subtitles right away! Over a period of time, however, things like subtitles become more acceptable if introduced gently. They start to take more risks (in their programming) over time as they continue in the Circuit, he observes.

The reach of this small film/smallish audience network extends now to the rest of the world. 2006 has seen successful tours of Canadian films like Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbott's documentary The Corporation, Aubrey Nealon's A Simple Curve, and Ricardo Trogi's Horloge Biologique in Valencia and Madrid, Spain. Ruba Nadda's Sabah, Thom Fitzgerald's 3 Needles, and Atom Egoyan's 1994 classic Exotica, among others, toured Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland early in the year. In July, retrospectives of Canadian film screened in the Czech Republic and India. Film Circuit assists overseas festival organizers, and will themselves organize and promote major film tours. As a result, in 2004, (the last year for which figures are available,) 34,587 people internationally saw over 473 films for many, their very first exposure to Canadian film. It's gratifying, but it is beginning to fill niches, even outside Canada, Haynes notes, we've made huge inroads around the world.

In addition to screenings, the Film Circuit sponsors activities like a recent student film screening and contest in Toronto, and the MacKenzie Investments People's Choice Awards, where Circuit film fans get to vote on their favourite flick. As for the future? We will continue to expand, Haynes says, but we're looking at more concrete ways of benefitting films in larger centres they, (the independent films,) play, but not always successfully, he observes. It's about finding the audience, and making it as convenient for them as possible, but also to put them in context. You can't throw a little Chinese subtitled film into a multiplex beside Lord of the Rings.

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