Indie distributor Sideways Film is to embark on a month-long sales tour as a direct result of the cancellation of on-site markets and festivals due to the enduring COVID-19 pandemic.
Beginning September 7, the London- and Barcelona-based sales agency will be bringing their catalog of documentary and factual content to clients in 20 cities across 14 European countries.
Anchoring Sideways’ catalog are non-fiction titles Cryptopia: Bitcoin, Blockchains and the Future of the Internet, which explores the benefits and drawbacks of blockchain technology; Mind Forward, examining how “connected brains” will lead to “synthetic telepathy technologies”; and The Face of Anonymous, which documents the search for political asylum of Commander X, a high-ranking member of the Anonymous movement.
Elsewhere, Beyond Men and Masculinity offers insight into why society must look beyond traditional definitions of men and masculinity; Medicating Normal, which sheds light on the consequences of profit-driven medicine when it intersects with humans in distress; Non-Western, which charts the challenges and struggles of an interracial couple in Montana ahead of their wedding; and an unannounced six-part science series focused on “the most exciting disciplines in popular science today,” from artificial intelligence and genetic engineering to achieving immortality and cyborg technology.
“We took the decision to travel across Europe to introduce our new line up and find new projects that could fit our catalog. Zoom or Skype are OK, but we feel the extra effort is crucial to continue producing the best results,” Basma tells Realscreen.
Sideways Film’s road trip itinerary can be found here. The complete lineup, including more new titles, will be announced at the beginning of September.
Realscreen spoke to Basma ahead of Sideways Film’s sales tour to learn more about what it takes to pull off an expedition of this magnitude.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Not very many companies have been meeting face-to-face with their clients since the world effectively shut down in early March. Can you tell us how the idea of touring various European cities came about?
We depend on personal relationships and have always been very active in attending a wide range of markets and festivals so once they all started shutting down their on-site offerings, and it became clear there was no end in sight, we knew we had to evolve and find different ways to see our clients. Zoom meetings are fine to a point, but it’s just not the same.
That’s when we had the idea of an extended client visit. I was worried at first about how much I could reasonably ask of my sales team, but they responded with so much enthusiasm that it just got longer and longer – right now we are at 20 cities across 14 countries. I think we all get so much of our energy and motivation from being in front our clients and producers that taking a year out of meeting with them just wasn’t an option. It helps enormously that we are all friends, too, so even though it’s a huge amount of work and quite daunting, we know it will also be a lot of fun.
There is also a feeling that we owe it to our producers to be proactive in dealing with this situation — we can’t just sit around waiting and hoping for things to go back to normal.
What precautions are you and your partners at Sideways Film taking while on this tour?
We’ll be following all government advice as it happens, so if a border suddenly closes or quarantine restrictions are introduced, then of course we need to adapt. We’ll also be following all the usual protocols, like social distancing, wearing masks, sanitizing, testing and so on.
How receptive have your clients and filmmakers been to meeting with you while on this sales trip?
This was the big question mark for me, and I was ready for some challenges in terms of securing meetings or even some criticism given what’s happening. The response though has been entirely and overwhelmingly positive. Our clients and filmmakers love being visited in their cities — you can take longer over meetings and I think they also miss meeting in-person.
Now that we’re five months into this global pandemic, what have you learned and how does that all play into this decision to do a tour and face-to-face meetings?
My main takeaway is that this isn’t going to end any time soon, and it’s not a job you can do entirely effectively by Zoom, by phone and by email. We work closely with our clients and producers, and if there’s anything we can do to meet the challenges head on, then we have to.
How does Sideways Film see the distribution model shifting at this stage of the pandemic?
It’s a little too early to say, but I feel very bad for friends and colleagues working more in festivals and theatrical distribution, which is of course by far the hardest hit. I hope they can recover or find matched revenues elsewhere. It’s very difficult for some titles to find audiences anywhere outside of festivals though.
I can also see markets and festivals making some permanent positive changes, so we can continue to attend some digitally in the future and discover new projects as we have done this year, via curated Zoom meetings.