YOU'RE an independent filmmaker and you've made a film. Fine. Now what happens to it?
"If you give it to a commercial distributor, it might get out," says local filmmaker Ginny Durrin, "but people don't have time to give it specialized attention."
A group of people who wanted to get selective distribution for their films got together 10 years ago to form New Day Films. In those days the founding members were mostly feminists making feminist films. "But since then, we have gotten men and women," says Durrin, a local member, "and it's by no means only feminist. Just gradually over the years, the portfolio of films began to change. Now we have a huge variety."
A sampling of those films is being shown at the American Film Institute to celebrate New Day's 10th anniversary. Durrin selected films and grouped them into theme programs--the last round of films will be shown Wednesday, April 27, at 6:30 at the AFI under the program title "Portraits."
The lead film is "Fundi: The Story of Ella Baker," a unique view of the civil rights movement seen through the eyes of Ella Baker, the civil rights activist and founder of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee. The next film is "The Last to Know," a look at alcoholism and drug abuse among women, which includes interviews with women alcoholics. Then there is "Quilts in Women's Lives," a film that examines the art of quilting and the purpose it serves in some women's lives. The award-winning films together run for two hours and 16 minutes. All are the work of women filmmakers.
Though most of the New Day films are documentaries, docu-dramas or educational films, they cover a lot of territory--environmental issues, social issues, personal life experiences. "Name any kind of film with a social cause," says Durrin. "It's in there."
Monday's program called "Passages" began with "Nan's Class"--a film on natural childbirth done by Durrin and her filmmaker husband, Kip Durrin--and ended with "Love It Like a Fool," Susan Wengraf's graceful film about songwriter-folk singer Malvina Reynolds, who is in her early eighties.
"The common thread in these films," says Ginny Durrin, "is that people really feel committed to the message they're communicating. That message is as much if not more important than the medium of film they choose to communicate it through."
"In Our Water," the controversial film by Meg Switzgable about a man convinced there is something wrong with his drinking water, is a New Day film. "Agent Orange," Jim Gambone's film about the effects of Agent Orange on Vietnam veterans, is another.
The main reason filmmakers apply to the cooperative is to see the concern they put into making a film continue in the selling of the film. "With a big commercial distributor," says Durrin, "you'd be one film in a catalogue with hundreds, and the person in charge wouldn't necessarily be familiar with it. Jim Gambone's 'Agent Orange' would have sat on a shelf unless there was an organization to actively distribute it."
Some of the films have been shown on PBS and at different film festivals. Many are rented to schools, churches, interested organizations, grassroots activists. New Day maintains a mailing list of more than 4,000 people who have subscribed to past films. "Also, if you've networked with people when you were doing a film, you have a natural interest in seeing their reaction to the film," says Durrin. "It's a very rewarding process to come full circle on a film."
The cooperative now consists of 28 members across the country (most are in New York and California) who tend to run into each other at film festivals. Durrin and her husband share an office near 18th Street and Kalorama Road that affords a clear view of garbage dumpsters in a nearby alley. ("I'd like to do a film about people picking through garbage," she says.) The members hold an official annual meeting in Berkeley, Calif., to vote on prospective members and their entries. They also vote on subsequent films that members want handled by the cooperative.
"I was voted out the first time I applied with a film on Margo St. James head of C.O.Y.O.T.E., the prostitute's union ," says Durrin. "I was crushed." Durrin was voted in two years ago with her film "Daughters of Time" about nurse midwives and "their battles . . . against the male-oriented medical profession."
Members share the costs of running the cooperative based on the volume of business (and profits) generated by their individual films. The cooperative even splits child-care costs when members come to the annual meeting toting children.
"There's not a whole lot of societal reinforcement for doing films on social issues," says Durrin. "It's nice to find a group of people like you."