Distributor FAQ: Seventh Art Releasing

What is Seventh Art?
A filmmaker-friendly specialized theatrical distributor with a video label and a full-time world sales unit. We mostly do docs.

Who is Seventh Art?
We’re a subsidiary of Cordish Media Inc. Udy Epstein, principal and co-founder (with Jonathan Cordish, who is currently at the Wharton School), is joined at Seventh Art by executives Maria Björkdahl, vice president of theatrical distribution; Oren Bitan, vice president of acquisitions & marketing; Tina Gee, director of operations; New York-based Stephen Kral, executive vice president of acquisitions; and Yosef Grunfeld, senior v.p. of development. Esther van Messel heads international operations out of Zurich with the First Hand Films label.

Total number of employees at Seventh Art:
Four in L.A., plus two part-timers in New York and one producer on a first-look housekeeping deal (Shelley Spevakow). Currently, she’s in New York [(212) 727-7123] but will soon move to our L.A. office.

How, when, and why did Seventh Art come into being?
We started out almost six years ago while taking a film we produced, Midnight Edition, on a festival tour. The film was distributed by MCA Universal on video and had shown on HBO. We did a small theatrical release for it with some of the video money. That was the real start for us.

Unofficial motto or driving philosophy:
Lean, mean, fighting machine (i.e., we take our films very personally and we fight for you).

What would people be most surprised to learn about Seventh Art?
We make it all work on a shoestring if that’s only what is available. Sometimes our “richer” films support our “poorer.” We also work with nonprofit organizations in taking their movies out. We do not chase service deals, but we have done some (Universal, Columbia, Alliance, Capitol Records). But probably the most surprising thing is that we love docs and want to do more of them theatrically.

How many works are in your collection?
About 30.

What types of works do you distribute?
Feature-length docs and fiction films that we like and feel we can stand behind. We do not do pornography unless it is a good doc about it. In short, the titles we handle are a reflection of our taste.

Is there such a thing as a “Seventh Art” film?
Yes, I guess. Most of our docs are of historical, social, and moral importance, and most have won some pretty significant awards: Mark Jonathan Harris’ Long Way Home (Academy Award ’97); Dariusz Jablonski’s Photographer (many major European awards); Jerry Blumenthal, Peter Gilbert, and Gordon Quinn’s Vietnam Long Time Coming (DGA Award ’98); Adam Isidore’s Give a Damn Again; Susan Koch’s City at Peace; Odette Springer’s Some Nudity Required (Sundance ’98); R.J. Cutler and David Van Taylor’s A Perfect Candidate; and some gay and lesbian-themed works like Dirk Shatner’s Man of the Year and Nancy Meckler’s Sister My Sister.

Best-known titles in Seventh Art’s collection:
Sister My Sister earned the most in box office and sales of our fiction films, and Long Way Home on the doc side. Both have sold all over the world.

Is Seventh Art also involved in co-production or co-financing?
Yes! Give a Damn Again, a film about race relations. We helped finish it on film, and we’re proud of it. We are now involved in finishing and working with directors on four other projects (all doc), but we did not fully finance them from the get-go.

What’s your basic approach to releasing a title?
Find your marketing angle, realizing what kind of film it is and for what audience. Figure out the economics of that scenario and go from there while also trying to work fests into your overall strategy.

Where do Seventh Art titles generally show?
At Laemmle theaters in L.A.; the Quad, Angelika, and Film Forum in New York; and at film societies all over the country.

Where do you find your titles, and how should filmmakers approach you for consideration?
The usual fests such as Sundance, Toronto, and the Independent Feature Film Market. We go to industry screenings in Los Angeles and New York, and screeners are sent to our office from around the world. We do look at works-in-progress, and filmmakers can call us in L.A. Scripts should be sent only to Shelley in New York (see number above).

Range of production budgets of titles in your collection:
From about $250,000 to $3 million.

Biggest change at Seventh Art in recent years:
Our move to handling mostly docs. Plus, starting a full service foreign sales office based in Europe.

Most important issue facing Seventh Art today:
Our move into production.

Where will Seventh Art be 10 years from now?
Still open for business doing films we like.

You knew that Seventh Art had made it as a company when…?
the big boys and organizations started calling for advice and services.

If you weren’t distributing films, what would you be doing?
Don’t even want to think about it. Not possible in our book.

Other (domestic or foreign) distributors that you admire and why:
Miramax. Those guys know what they are doing.

The difference between Seventh Art and other distributors of independent films is:
We focus on docs and have a world sales unit for very specialized films.

If you could only give independent filmmakers one bit of advice it would be to…?
Have more of a reality check.

Upcoming titles to watch for:
Meeting People Is Easy, a film by Grant Gee about the band Radiohead; Photographer; and Bam Rose, one of the best Holocaust films in years. It is remote, intellectual, objective—doesn’t go for the cheap shot—yet is shockingly moving..

The future of independent film distribution in this country is one which…?
Ask [Good Machine producer] Ted Hope—he has already said it better then we can.

About :

Lissa Gibbs was a contributing editor to The Independent and former Film Arts Foundation Fest director.