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Jim Gilliam: building a people-powered movie distributor and financier with Robert Greenwald

jim3 If you can't raise finance for your feature, and cinema chains don't want to touch your film, what can you do? Until recently that could have meant the end of the project, but the web offers some interesting ways of changing this.

"This was not like putting a blog post up and all of a sudden everybody comes and knocks our door down. We'd carefully cultivated an audience and put a lot of effort into the technology to pull them all together so that we could email them all at the same time."

Jim Gilliam, producer of Brave New Films, was unable to raise funding for Robert Greenwald's latest project. So he sent few emails to everyone who had previously bought a DVD from the company. Within 10 days, they had raised $220,000. And when it came to distribution, a network of activists and documentary fans have been mobilised around the Brave New Theaters website to organise their own mini and local screenings. The site, now open for any filmmaker looking to (or needing to) bypass traditional exhibition and connect with fans, allows people to communicate without any distribution or exhibition chain at all.

Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers, directed by Robert Greenwald, is the most prominent feature film yet to successfully 'crowd-source' the finance of film, in a piece which explores the area of private contractors and mercenaries in Iraq. Gilliam has been working with Greenwald ever since - after 9/11 - he rethought his life and left a high-paid executive career on the web to work on stuff he believed in.

Through documentaries such as Outfoxed, Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism, Uncovered, Wall Mart and Iraq for Sale - Greenwald, with Gilliam as producer - has kept the spotlight on modern America. Through Brave New Theaters, and the groudnbreaking financing of Iraq for Sale, Gilliam is rewriting the rules of the industry, breaking down the traditional barriers between filmmaker and audience.

When I interviewed him last winter, Jim was awaiting a lung transplant and - despite being bed-ridden and struggling to speak clearly - showed remarkable energy, drive and optimism. The transplant took place earlier this year, and thankfully was a complete success. Like speaking with Mohammed Al Daradji, who risked personal safety  to get his Iraq film Ahlaam completed, I was left humbled and inspired after the interview - and I hope you do too.


David Thompson reunites DiCaprio, Winslett and Mendes

The news that Kate Winslett and Leonardo DiCaprio are to reunite for the first time since Titanic, in a feature directed by hubby Sam Mandes, is a great coup for BBC Films who developed the project. I interviewed David Thompson, head of the department, in 2005 for the last funding guide and he said some interesting things about how he likes to work with producers, commissioning structures and budgets.

From Oscar winning Iris to the $100m grossing Billy Elliot, Thompson has steered BBC Films through a string of critical and commercial successes. With a £10m annual budget for mainly co-productions, including Woody Allen’s first non US features, BBC Films have become one of the UK’s most active, successful (and well funded) producers.



Paul Trijbits: Red Road and Ken Loach Cannes double is dream swansong

paul trijbits To win one major Cannes award is fortunate. To win two, is just plain careless. The suprise double win for Ken Loach's The Wind that Blows the Barley and Andrea Arnold's Red Road at Cannes on Sunday night, is a stunning endorsement of Paul Trijbits' reign at the New Cinema Fund as the UK Film Council advertise for his replacement.

"for a first time film maker to win the Prix du Jury is an amazing achievement"

"To have two British Lottery funded films in Competition in Cannes was in itself a tremendous achievement, but now to have one film win the Palme d’Or and the other win the Prix du Jury is an outstanding testament to the talent, creativity and vision of Ken Loach and Andrea Arnold."
"It is fantastic that Ken Loach has won the most important accolade in the film world, the Palme d’Or, with The Wind That Shakes the Barley.  Ken continues on his quest of raising difficult political issues and has made one of his most powerful films in a most uncompromising way.”
"For Andrea Arnold to have her film screened in competition alongside internationally recognised directors such as Pedro Almodóvar and Ken Loach was recognition in itself.  And now for a first time film maker to win the Prix du Jury is an amazing achievement.  With Red Road, Andrea has created a stunningly visual film which reaches to the very heart of society through uncompromising observations using CCTV. This shows that she is one of the most exciting, new filmmakers in the world."


From Russia With a Love of Story: Michael Dounaev, Producer

Whether you're Russian, American, French or Japanese, chances are Michael Dounaev has a story that will tug at your heartstrings. As the newly appointed CEO of Sistema Mass Media and co-founder of one of its subsidiaries, Thema Productions, Russian-born Dounaev has an eye for stories with international appeal. He has produced and co-produced hits like A Good Woman, starring Helen Hunt and Scarlett Johansson, and, most recently, Woody Allen's Oscar-nominated Match Point.


ROY DISNEY - Imagineer

Roy Disney, nephew of Walt, and former Chairman of Disney's feature animation, worked for the 'Mouse House' for over thirty years before Michael Eisner pushed him from the board. Responsible for everything from Toy Story to The Lion King, Roy is an unashamed lover of comedy and escapist family entertainment. In his only interview for online media, Roy talked with Netribution in 2000 about IMAX and the future of Fantasia, the problems with Dinosaur, the secrets of Disney's success, growing up in the shadow of Uncle Walt and his unfulfilled dreams of designing aircraft. He also talks for the first time about the then year's eagerly awaited follow-up to Toy Story/A Bug's Life - Monster's Inc. In Belfast for the first European showing of 102 Dalmations, I caught up with Roy at the Cinemagic conference where he was the keynote speaker. Roy's Irish routes are quite sincere - he owns a house near Cork where he spends a third of his year - and at the turn of the century the Disney clan found themselves in Ireland en route from France to the States.


Nik Powell: 4 Nov 1950 - 7 Nov 2019

After Nik Powell co-founded Virgin with school-friend Richard Branson, he ran Palace Pictures with Stephen Woolley, and later Scala Productions, where they both produced and found some era-defining films and filmmakers (Neil Jordon, Sam Raimi, the Coen Brothers, Lars von Trier, Shane Meadows), before leading the European Film Academy, and finally running the National Film & TV School. Powell had the rare combination of creative and entrepreneurial vision – along with a perhaps even rarer warmth, openness and geniality. He passed away on 7 November 2019 at 69, during treatment for cancer.

Nik Powell photo by Doug Bolton

It was my good fortune to meet Nik a few times. The first, in Dundee in 2003, thrusting the first film funding book in his hand and taking his card. The second, two years later, a hastily arranged 8am interview in Marlybone, which follows. I was flustered with kit, having only bought a camera to film the interview the day before but not having packed the charged batter, so just recorded audio. He didn't react, shared some incredible stories, and left, an hour later, paying for our breakfasts. Despite it starting slowly as I tried to get my kit working, it gets more and more interesting and remains one of my favourite interviews; the moment when Tim Bevan enters the cafe just as he is explaining how he finds talented people would have been good on camera.