'Parents' of Indie Films Still Fiercely Independent

Their catalogue, said Peter Scarlet, artistic director of the Tribeca Film Festival, is "rigorous. It's not seasoned with crowd pleasers that will pay the bills. If I see a film at a festival that I like a lot, and may have a limited audience, I'll often think that the only chance this film has of getting shown in the U.S. is if Zeitgeist picks it up."

Changing Times

"In the last 20 years, at least 75 to 100 distributors have come and gone," said Mike Maggiore, a programmer for Film Forum, an independent theater in New York.

The world of independent films is one that depends on the festival circuit, good relationships with theater owners, word-of-mouth, and grassroots marketing. It's a world where distributors are the talk of the town one minute and belly-up the next.

Gerstman and Russo, who will talk about how much individual films bring in, but not about overall revenues of the company, have resisted the lure of outside investors.

Of course, if "a sugar daddy," said Russo, "or a sugar mommy," added Gerstman, came along with no strings attached, they might consider it.

An independent film's success is "dependent on an important newspaper or magazine giving it a strong review, which gets people coming to the theater initially," Seymour Wishman, president of First Run Features, told ABC News. "You can't support the film with a lot of large ads -- it has to be supported by word of mouth, which can build over time."

But, in a world with more and more films to choose from, theater owners look at the numbers after the first weekend and often won't hold a film long enough to develop good buzz.

"The press cannot physically handle 15, 18 films that open every weekend," said Sasha Berman, a Los Angeles-based publicist who often works with Zeitgeist. "Fifteen years ago, that wasn't the case. You had one foreign language film that would open every few weeks, and not as many documentaries."

Today, "you can shoot a film digitally with no investment," Russo said. "Films are more affordable. And there are more festivals and more blogs, and you need product for that. So, if you make a film, somebody, somewhere will see it."

And, she added, there are "a lot of films about political subjects. Everybody wants to analyze everything in a film. That really wasn't the case 20 years ago -- it's an enormous change."

Egoyan is no longer with Zeitgeist, who couldn't compete against offers by larger companies with deeper pockets, although he retains great affection and admiration for Gerstman and Russo.

"For an independent film," he said, "they're perfect parents. They treat you with respect, but they know and recognize that you'll grow up and become independent."

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