| Did you hear the one about the film blogger who started his own DVD distribution company? |
In the three-plus years of this blog's existence, I've made efforts to write about smaller, neglected, lesser known, or otherwise undistributed films. One random day the idea struck – why not try to make these films available to a wider audience? In a way, I guess was inspired by Victor Kiam, the Remington CEO who in the late-70s would appear in adverts for the razor proclaiming, "I liked it so much, I bought the company." While I can't vouch for the late mogul's integrity, I can say that "we love this film" is, at the moment, the single criterion for distribution consideration. Will it work? Well, we'll soon find out. . .
Benten (a colloquial variant of Benzaiten), is the Buddhist goddess of all that flows, and she is often associated with music and the arts. Benten Films, a tiny ripple in the vast ocean of DVD distribution has but one simple mission – to bring the best in international and independent cinema to the North American DVD market. Whether old or new, genre film or auteurist masterpiece, all Benten titles will be films that we'd want to have in our collection. We're hoping to appeal to both the cinephile and the casual film fan.
Though originally formed in 2005, there was one critical component missing – a solid partner. I needed someone who was equally passionate about cinema, but also savvy enough to know the business, and independent enough to offer opinion, suggestion, and direction. Writer/critic/filmmaker (and friend) Aaron Hillis was the perfect match. Aaron has worn several hats in this industry, including a stint at a well-known DVD distribution company, and his experience has already proven invaluable. However, his greatest asset is his candor, and though we clashed several times during the production of this first release, his willingness to challenge, disagree, and question helped prevent a few near-disasters.
As I'm sure many of you know by now, our debut release is Joe Swanberg's LOL. Though only 25 years old, Joe already has three features under his belt, and his latest film, Hannah Takes the Stairs, has been picked up by IFC First Take and will open theatrically in New York City on August 22. A key figure in the new American independent cinema scene (some call it mumblecore), Joe's films are filled with the kind of creative energy and collaborative sprit that has been missing from American independent cinema for quite some time. Though his films are about the specific world inhabited by him and his cast, the themes are universal. LOL is a look at technology's impact on human interaction, and Joe does so with a keen eye that is more observational than judgmental.
The DVD is packed with bonus features, including two commentary tracks (Cast/Director), the short film Hissy Fits, video podcasts by composer/co-creator Kevin Bewersdorf, the complete "Noisehead" videos, a slide show of the artwork of LOL, extended performance footage, a casting interview with Tipper Newton, and a new essay written for this release by GreenCine's own David Hudson. We're positively over the moon with the way the entire package turned out, though the path we traveled to get there wasn't always smooth. More on that another time. . .
We've already begun preparation on our next release, which will be two films by Aaron Katz (Dance Party USA and Quiet City), followed by Todd Rohal's The Guatemalan Handshake. If all goes well we'll have a couple of announcements in the near future about some foreign acquisitions, but I don't want to jump the gun.LOL is available for pre-order at Amazon (and other outlets) and will be on store shelves August 28. Benten is part of the Ryko Distribution family, which means the DVD should be available everywhere. (Hey, even Best Buy is carrying it!)
To read/hear more about Benten Films, check out the Summer 2007 issue of Filmmaker magazine, where you'll find an interview with Aaron and myself (not online, sadly), or head over to Cinematical and listen to the podcast we did with James Rocchi. It is the summer jam of 07.
Visit our website for more details and updates, and for the cool kids we have a MySpace page (thanks Aaron!) though I honestly still haven't figured out how it works, or what it's for.