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SELF DISTRIBUTOR NO MORE

by
in Filmmaking
on Jan 28, 2006

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In Filmmaker this issue writer-director Andrew Bujalski interviews Caveh Zahedi, whose I am a Sex Addict won the new Filmmaker-sponsored “Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You” award at the Gotham’s this year. As a sidebar to the piece, Zahedi penned a “Self Distribution Manifesto” explaining the moral imperative behind his decision to distribute his film himself. Zahedi started the piece by admitting that he had always dreamed of getting big distribution deals for his film and that none were forthcoming for Sex Addict. But midway through he turned what could have been a sour-grapes rant into a rousing call for filmmaker self-actualization, even quoting Hegel in the process:

“The truth is that self-distribution is fun, and not only is it fun, it’s empowering. Which brings me to the heart of the matter: whether an outside distributor would do a ‘better’ or a ‘worse’ job releasing the film is immaterial. The real question is: why are we making films in the first place? The answer for me has something to do with wanting to humanize the world. Hegel teaches us that we make the world our own by altering it, by leaving our own imprint on it, by reshaping it in our own image. This is the crux of my argument for self-distribution. It’s less alienating. It’s more organic. And it’s more human.”

So, I was a little surprised when, shortly after our issue hit the stands, I read in Indiewire that Zahedi will not actually be self-distributing his film. Following the Filmmaker/Gotham award, I am a Sex Addict was picked up by IFC as part of its new “First Take” program, in which indie films will receive simultaneous theatrical and video-on-demand releases.

Figuring that there were perhaps some situational ethics at work here — quote Hegel until a real distributor pops up for your film — and perhaps feeling a bit embarassed to have run such a passionate “call to arms” from a filmmaker who has just saved himself months of licking envelopes and sticking screeners into FedEx packages, I decided to challenge Zahedi via email to explain himself to our readers. If you’ve seen the film, you know that he’s a wily rhetorician, and after hitting send I sat back and awaited what I was sure would be provocative and combustible response.

Unfortunately for me, Zahedi’s reply was, like his film, disarmingly sincere. Here’s his answer to my question on why he bailed on his plans to self-distribute his film:

“I ended up taking the IFC deal because of the people who work at IFC. I liked them as people, and they convinced me that it would be a partnership as opposed to a ‘purchase.’ They also convinced me that I would still be very much involved in the actual work of distributing the film, but that I would be doing it as part of a team rather than having to go it alone. In short, they convinced me that the experience would be one of greater community rather than less.

I still stand behind what I wrote. I do think it is important to valorize the actual work of distribution, and that self-distribution is as noble and valid an endeavor as self-financing. But I also believe that if there are good people who love your film and are offering to help you get it out into the world, refusing their help would be contrary to the purpose of making the film in the first place.”

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