The doc End of America already has great credentials; it’s directed by the award-winning directors Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stern and based on Naomi Wolf’s book comparing the US under George W. Bush to historically closed societies, like Nazi Germany. The film’s distributor, Indiepix, could have ridden on the coattails of those credentials, but instead has taken to using unconventional methods to get the word out on the doc, including capitalizing on the inauguration of Barack Obama.
Upon the film’s world premiere at the Hamptons International Film Festival in mid-October, Indiepix simultaneously released End of America: Festival Edition through Indiepix’s website on DVD and for download to own on Indiepix’s electronic delivery service. Bob Alexander, president of Indiepix, says that his company also paired up with SnagFilms to stream the film at the same time. ‘It was almost like having a national television premiere,’ says Alexander.
Besides the availability to own and stream, Alexander says they also honed in on interest groups. Indiepix mailed the festival edition to the members of ACLU, the Center for Constitutional Rights, My America Project and others that were chosen because of a shared interest with the documentary. While the filmmakers continued to make edits on the film and added extras to the updated version, End of America: Directors Cut, the festival edition had its international premiere at Sheffield Doc/Fest. After short runs of screenings across major cities in the US, Indiepix lured in sold-out audiences at theatrical exhibitions in New York City by using Internet techniques in lieu of buying advertising.
All of these events were leading up to inauguration day, January 20, 2009. The day before at an invitation-only event in London, the UK press were treated to a screening and Q&A with Naomi Wolf, which brought about favorable press for the next day’s release. The Directors Cut was then released on Barack Obama’s inauguration day, in stores and via Internet retailers like Amazon and Netflix. A few days later the film was available on iTunes, whose charts currently list the doc in the top ten documentary films purchased in the US. ‘It was a fairly articulated campaign to get this in front of a lot of people,’ says Alexander. ‘A feature of our efforts is we were able to get the filmmakers and the executive producers approximately $30,000 – a significant amount of money – prior to the end of the year, which is important because all of these projects finish with due bills and it kept the accounts on this project clean and in good order.’
Alexander says that at Indiepix, they’re not aiming to fix any sort of broken distribution system, as ‘we don’t think the system in place works and it’s not appropriate to the kinds of films that independent filmmakers are producing,’ he says. ‘We’re interested in creating new ways of bringing films to audiences.’
In the meantime Alexander and Indiepix will be bringing these new techniques to other independent films, like Disarm, in March.