Talk about conflicted emotions! In a very fine article at indieWIRE, Anthony Kaufman reports on filmmaker Lance Hammer's recent decision to pull out of a distribution deal with IFC Films for his Sundance award-winning feature, Ballast. While I'm heartened that Hammer is willing to place creative control ahead of financial concerns, I'm also discouraged that there appears to be little room in the current distribution landscape for Hammer's critically-acclaimed independent drama to find its audience.
Ballast details the lives and connections between a man, a woman, and her son. It won praise from our own James Rocchi -- "Cineastes, looking for an American film that offers something on-screen other than glossy consumerist fantasies, will embrace Ballast with the ardent fervor of a drowning victim offered a rope" -- even though James acknowledged the challenges the film would face in drawing viewers from "outside the film festival circuit."
Paris-based sales outfit Celluloid Dreams nabbed nternational rights (outside the US) at Sundance, and then IFC made a deal for US rights in February. But Hammer told indieWIRE that, while he wasn't thrilled with the prospect of not even recouping his production budget from the deal, he was "particularly dissatisfied with the lengthy terms of the contract." All things considered, Hammer decided to walk away: "It becomes difficult to justify giving up creative control."
The split is described as "amicable." The good news is that Ballast will open at New York's Film Forum on October 1. The bad news is that he could be on the hook for more than $250,000 -- that amount just covers prints and acquisition, not the entire expense involved in his decision to self-distribute. Hammer admitted to indieWIRE that his efforts could result in a "total financial failure," but if all goes well, "I can prove that I've done it once and I can do it again. And more importantly, other filmmakers like me can do it, too." Bravo to you, Mr. Hammer, and best wishes.