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Can Netflix Save Indie Film?

ReelPolitik By Anthony Kaufman | ReelPolitik February 27, 2006 at 8:47AM

Can Netflix Save Indie Film?
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There's an excellent Variety Weekly story about the Netflix revolution and what it means for independent films. If you don't have a Variety subscription, one of the most suprising stats comes in Netflix's reported 70-30 ratio of library titles to new releases: meaning 70% of rentals are older movies, opposed to blockbusters. (The larger chains, according to the article, skew the exact opposite, with 60%-70% going to new releases).

More surprising numbers: The company claims credit for 70% of DVD revenue on the documentary "Capturing the Friedmans" and says "that 16% of its rentals come from suppliers smaller than Lionsgate."

The company has also begun to partner with indie filmmakers directly (Hal Hartley's "The Girl From Monday," Tim Robbins's "Embedded Live") and with indie distribs on new releases, like Emerging Pictures ("Cowboy Del Amor") and Roadside Attractions ("The Puffy Chair").

For foreign films, I'm still suspicious of the claims of a Netflix-driven turnaround. As the company told me last January for this New York Times story, foreign rentals have flattened out at around 5% for the entire operation's history.

There's one other concern that continues to plague me (and that isn't mentioned in the piece): Netflix may create an audience for indie films, but it's also one that exists increasingly at home. If Netflix is saving indie films, it may be at the expense of seeing these films in theaters.

I've got a crazy idea: Why don't Netflix, 2929, IFC's First Take, and all these direct-to-video indie purveyors restrict their delivery systems to zip codes that don't have art-house theaters. That way, New Yorkers, Los Angelenos, Chicagoans and Bostonians, et. al.. can go to their local art houses without looming digital releases cutting short the theatrical runs, and those in Boise can watch comfortably on DVD anytime they want.