HONG KONG — Hollywood heavyweights including Bill Mechanic, AMC CEO Gerry Lopez and Village Roadshow’s Robert Kirby have thrown their weight behind First Rites, a new portal website intended to give first time filmmakers recognition and exposure.

The site — http://www.firstritesfilms.com – is launched by New Zealand- and Los Angeles-based Milt Barlow.

It is the digital revival of a similar incubator that Barlow created with The Asylum in the pre-social media era in 1999. The previous incarnation of First Rites was partnered with the Hollywood Video chain in the US and Rogers Video in Canada.

The new site and its accompanying YouTube channel allow film-makers to upload content for free and viewers to watch free of charge in an advertising supported environment. Filmmakers get to share in the ad revenue.

An additional First Rites Premium, ‘by invitation only’ program will see Barlow and his team look to secure wider platform distribution for selected films that will be represented at major film markets.

There will be additional outreach to film schools.

“In any given year up to 50,000 new films are made globally. Of those, probably 49,000 or more struggle to find distribution or a place to be seen. For first time filmmakers it’s not about the money, but to have their early works seen and appreciated by their peer,” said Barlow. “First Rites will not be elitist in choosing films. We will let the audience decide what’s hot and what’s not. Simply, if your feature, short, documentary or music video is complete we are ready to upload it and play.”

“New. Innovative. Fresh. These words are part of AMC’s DNA, and are the foundation of Milt’s First Rites — what a terrific program to help accelerate the future,” said AMC’s Lopez.

“Movies are meant to be seen and what we were able to do as Milt’s First Rites partner in North America was to give young filmmakers an opportunity for their films to be viewed by millions of customers exclusively at the world’s top retailers. But now, in a world of endless distractions, First Rites will serve as a beacon for the very best from new and young filmmakers which is now lost amongst the millions of videos that are shot and posted every day,” said David Rimawi founding partner of the previous First Rites and CEO of The Asylum.

Barlow was also co-founder of China Lion Entertainment, the distributor which gives Chinese movies day-and –date releases in North America.