Sundance: Get Your Schmooze On

RealScreen has opened its Rolodex to give the inside scoop on which distributors are looking for docs at Sundance, what types of films they're interested in acquiring, and how the dollars get dolled out
January 1, 2005

RealScreen has opened its Rolodex to give the inside scoop on which distributors are looking for docs at Sundance, what types of films they’re interested in acquiring, and how the dollars get dolled out

New York, U.S. / 212-206-8600 /
Docurama distributes non-fiction films for the home video market, but plans to ally with feature distribs to offer both rights in partnerships.
Who to schmooze: Liz Ogilvie, marketing manager; Ellen Capon, director of marketing
Seeking: ‘Films from critically acclaimed filmmakers with a great track record,’ says Ogilvie.
Cash talk: ‘We don’t tend to put money into a film until it’s completed,’ says Capon.
Recent titles: Sundance 2004 Special Jury Prize winner, Farmingville

Films Transit
Montreal, Canada / 514-844-3358 /

In the foreign sales biz for more than 20 years, Films Transit distinguishes itself by consistently acquiring international rights for high-profile feature docs.
Who to schmooze: Jan Rofekamp, president/CEO
Seeking: Edgy films about the taboo; films that deal with sex in a fun and intelligent way; docs about the cinema. ‘We look for epic films,’ says Rofekamp. ‘We do five or six of them a year.’
Cash talk: Films Transit doesn’t usually give advances. ‘We’d rather help out at the end,’ notes Rofekamp.
Recent titles: Shake Hands with the Devil, Shape of the Moon, Three of Hearts

First Run/Icarus Films
New York, U.S. / 718-488-8900 /

A distribution company for documentary film and video. Its catalog has 875 titles, mostly independent.
Who to schmooze: Jonathan Miller, president
Seeking: Subjects related to society, social issues, international issues, arts and humanities. Films, says Miller, he finds ‘fresh, provocative and important.’
Cash talk: FRIF gives an advance if ‘I think I can recoup it. If I believe in a film, I’ll spend what I can afford.’
Recent titles: Bright Leaves, Daily Baghdad, The Take

Magnolia Films
New York, U.S. / 212-924-6701 /

Eamonn Bowles worked at Samuel Goldwyn and Miramax before cofounding Magnolia in 2001. The distrib specializes in indie and foreign films.
Who to schmooze: Eamonn Bowles, president
Seeking: ‘Subject matter that will get press attention, because you’re not going to advertise your way to a commercial success with a documentary.’
Cash talk: Magnolia will give ‘modest advances if [a competitor] offers to pay more money. That’s the role of the marketplace.’
Recent titles: Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, Guerrilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst, Control Room, Capturing the Friedmans

Palm Pictures
New York, U.S. / 212-320-3678 /
Created by Chris Blackwell of Island Records fame, Palm Pictures produces, acquires and distributes film projects with an emphasis on the DVD format. The company does about 10 docs per year.
Who to schmooze: David Koh, head of acquisitions and production
Seeking: Films with broad appeal; anything music driven; other distribs’ titles without a DVD/VHS label.
Cash talk: Palm buys all rights, and considers commercial viability as one deciding factor.
Recent titles: Gunner Palace, Be Here to Love Me, Naomi Song

Roadside Attractions
Beverley Hills, U.S. / 310-789-4710 /
Roadside entered the playing field with a box office smash, having picked up Super Size Me after last year’s Sundance fest. The newbie will increase the films it distributes in 2005.
Who to schmooze: Eric d’Arbeloff, co-president
Seeking: ‘Movies that have a willingness to entertain,’ says d’Arbeloff. ‘We want things that cut through the noise. That tends to mean edgier, provocative subject matter.’
Cash talk: ‘We look for films we feel can do US$1 million at the box office.’
Recent titles: Super Size Me (in partnership with Goldwyn Films), Tying the Knot

Seventh Art Releasing
Los Angeles, U.S. / 323-845-1455 /
A decade-old theatrical distributor and foreign sales company that focuses on docs. Unlike many distribs, 7th Art will get involved with projects still in production.
Who to schmooze: Udy Epstein, principal
Seeking: ‘Documentaries about social, historical, music and any other human interest phenomena.’ Everything, says Epstein, except natural history.
Cash talk: Because 7th Art also produces, Epstein occasionally arranges for financing.
Recent titles: Balseros, Word Wars, East Timor, 5 Sides of a Coin

Sony Pictures Classics
New York, U.S. / 212-833-8833 /
An autonomous subsidiary of Sony Picture Entertainment that produces, acquires and distributes independent films from around the world.
Who to schmooze: Tom Bernard, co-president
Seeking: More docs, especially timely, culture-oriented films. Films that will ’cause correction and change,’ says Bernard. ‘Something that makes me think, ‘Hey, the media and the culture need to embrace this.”
Cash talk: SPC will give an advance, though there’s no set figure.
Recent titles: The Fog of War, Winged Migration, Dogtown and Z-Boys

New York, U.S. / 646-293-9400 /
A boutique distributor with an uncanny ability to pick hit docs. To name but a few: Spellbound, Bus 174 and The Story of the Weeping Camel.
Who to schmooze: Mark Urman, head of U.S. distribution
Seeking: Films with a media hook that will yield a good critical response. ‘If a film is only about being a good film it will be very difficult to sell. There are lots of good films that people don’t go to see.’
Cash talk: ‘We expect the filmmakers to perceive what we bring to the table as a form of capital, in addition to whatever money we may offer.’
Recent titles: Mondovino, Born into Brothels, Going Upriver

Zeitgeist Films
New York, U.S. / 212-274-1989 /
An intimate outfit that caters to the adventurous and discriminating filmgoer whose needs aren’t met by ‘traditional arthouse fare.’ It distributes two to three docs per year across all markets.
Who to schmooze: Nancy Gerstman, co-president
Seeking: Theatrical films that will also perform in the education and home video markets. Says Zeitgeist co-president Emily Russo,’Docs have to strike us as having a target audience, but also be interesting enough to want a wide release.’
Cash talk: Zeitgeist pays filmmakers upfront. But, says Russo, ‘not typically very huge advances.’
Recent titles: The Corporation (North American rights), The Gleaners and I, 10 on Ten, Ram Das

The buyers’ pet peeves, favorite hang-outs and preferred libations
Filmmakers dreaming of Oscar aren’t for Jan Rofekamp of Films Transit: ‘For American filmmakers it’s the most important award, but foreign buyers don’t care about the Oscars. Oscar eligibility forces a situation where we can sell to the BBC or C4, but can’t allow them to air the film for nine months.’

Docurama’s Liz Ogilvie and Ellen Capon will have an outreach table at the Filmmaker Lodge on Monday, January 24 from 10:30 A.M. to 2 P.M. ‘If anybody wants to swing by and put a face to the name, please do,’ says Ogilvie.

Slide up next to FRIF’s Jonathan Miller at the bar and offer him a cold Corona. But be prepared: ‘I don’t like when people don’t know anything about the company. They should know why they’re talking to me.’

How to score with Roadside’s Eric d’Arbeloff: ‘People underestimate the importance of music. Too many movies are over-scored or scored in a way that is too obvious.’

When cruising Main Street, look for 7th Art’s Udy Epstein. ‘I go up and down to all those parties and open houses.’

Ring SPC’s Tom Bernard before Sundance. ‘There isn’t a worse place in the world to try and connect with a company than in the chaos of Sundance,’ he says. ‘It’s better to make the connection beforehand.’

ThinkFilm’s Mark Urman advises filmmakers to attend Sundance with a publicist. ‘If you’re not in the position to capitalize on attending one of the most visible and written about film festivals in the world, then why bother?’

About The Author
Jillian Morgan is a special reports editor at realscreen with a background in journalism and digital marketing. She joined the publication in 2019 after serving as the assistant editor to trade publications HPAC and On-Site. With a bachelor of journalism from the University of King's College in Halifax, she also works as a freelance writer and fact-checker.