Cinema Reloaded solicits cash from online aud for projects

Rotterdam is pushing the envelope of how film festivals interact with the public, running an experiment that aims to put three features into production this year with coin collected from its audience. Each pic will need to collect $43,000 by July to get the greenlight.

Called Cinema Reloaded, the idea comes from discussions about how the fest could use online platforms to launch and promote films. “There has been a lot of talk in the industry about digital changes and we really wanted to try something practical, to learn from that and take things further,” says fest topper Rutger Wolfson.

People will be able to buy 5 ($7.17) “coins” online and invest them in three film projects selected by the festival. Shooting will begin when $43,000 has been reached. At $93,158, no more investors will be allowed onboard.

Backers will be able to track their chosen project, talk to other investors and interact with the filmmaker. Buy five coins and your name goes on the credits.

As well as tapping a new source of finance, Cinema Reloaded will test digital approaches to audience building early in film development and online distribution options for the films that are completed.

Two of the film project proposals are from Rotterdam regulars, the third from a visual artist who epitomizes the festival’s interest in the border between art and cinema.

London-based Argentine helmer Alexis Dos Santos (“Glue,” “Unmade Beds”) proposes “Another World,” about Rocky and Lulu, who have unhappy lives in Berlin and small-town Mexico, respectively, but who meet and fall in love online and create a personal, very visual, virtual world.

Malaysian helmer Ho Yohang (“Sanctuary”) proposes a pic about an absurd war in which six very angry Indonesians declare war on Malaysia.

Noted video artist Pipilotti Rist will follow up her debut feature “Pepperminta” (screening at the fest) with a yet-to-be-titled project that promises a bizarre world “of green humans, burning beds and blue houses.”

They are very diverse, which is fun,” says Wolfson. “If you read their projects, their style of filmmaking is very different, which really gives you something to choose from.”

While an unusual step for a film festival, Wolfson sees Cinema Reloaded as a natural thing for Rotterdam to do. “You could say that all we have ever done as a festival is bring film, filmmakers and audiences together, and this is another way to do it.”

The fest has experience in co-production through its Hubert Bals Fund and CineMart co-production market, where “Another World” is also a selection this year. But Wolfson thinks that it’s the nature of the Rotterdam audience that will ensure this “crowdsourcing” approach will work. “When I meet audiences in the festival, I always sense that they are very committed, and that they are ready and open to be more committed.”

Yet apart from some cursory investigation of how loyal the audience is when buying tickets, he concedes the idea is not backed by a lot of research. “It is an experiment: If it doesn’t work, we have learned something as well. But I’m quietly confident that we will get at least one project realized.”

Rotterdam has also been thinking about how it can help the films in its Tiger competition, all first and second features, secure wider sales and distribution. “Originally we were thinking of a financial stimulus, but the financial crisis disrupted those ideas,” Wolfson says.

Instead the fest has done a deal with the Brooklyn Academy of Music, which will screen a dozen or so competition films for press, industry and the public over seven days in March. “We’re doing this to make the Rotterdam festival more visible and better known in the U.S.,” says Wolfson, “and also for these films to be seen by U.S. industry people who haven’t had a chance to come to Rotterdam because they were in Sundance, or for whatever reason.”

Similarly, Rotterdam now has its own YouTube channel, hosting shorts and features that have appeared at the fest, in particular those supported by its Hubert Bals Fund. The aim is to give films extra visibility online by associating them with the Rotterdam brand.

Early feature additions include Tiger Award winner “Love Conquers All” by Tan Chui Mui, “The Lighthouse” by Maria Saakyan and “Tattoo” by Wang Liren. Short films posted include “The Dirty Ones” by Harmony Korine.

Some films will also screen for a limited period of around 24 hours after they take their world bow in Rotterdam this year. “We are trying to help these films find an audience, but also to get noticed in the industry,” says Wolfson.

He is not concerned about encroaching on jealously guarded release windows. “All these things are changing so dramatically. I think many distributors are in the process of rethinking that whole strategy, and visibility is also very important.”

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