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The Square Directed by Jehane Noujaim Partners with Netflix and Participant Media

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by Melissa Silverstein
November 5, 2013 11:57 AM
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In another indication of just how much things are changing in the business, award winning documentarian Jehane Noujaim whose film The Square is now in an Oscar qualifying run has decided to forgo standard distribution and has partnered with both Netflix and Participant Media to release her film. The film tells the story of life in Tahrir Square during the Arab Spring and reveals the hopes and disappointments of several men who participating in the Egyptian revolution.

This deal is important for a variety of reasons. especially because it signals Netflix' entry into a new business - acquiring original documentaries for airing on the service at the same time it will play in movie theatres.  This allows the film to be seen by so many more people - Netflix has 40 million members.

The film has also partnered with Participant Media for a social action campaign timed to its theatrical release in early 2014.  The film will roll out in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle, Washington DC, Boston and Toronto on January 17, 2014. 

Jehane Noujaim gave this statement to Women and Hollywood by email about why she picked Netflix and what this indicates about the future of film distribution.

We chose Netflix as the place for the film because we believe that it will allow the film to have a wide and diverse reach to the maximum audience.  The service is not expensive for people and as it is a film for the people by the people-- we wanted it to be accessible.  Netflix has committed to putting a tremendous amount of support and advertising muscle behind the film and is determined to use this film to demonstrate the commercial viability of high profile documentaries.   

In addition to the wide reach of Netflix subscribers, it was also important for us and our filmmaking team to have a limited theatrical release, and for people to watch the film on a big screen in community screenings, and do an extensive outreach campaign with discussions post screenings.  Netflix is supporting us and allowing to do all of the above.  We will do a theatrical release in 8 cities when the film launches on Netflix, and we will be working with Participant to do an extensive social outreach and educational campaign with the film.  

What does this say about the future of distribution?  

That we have to consistently look at innovative new models to get important films out into the world.  Netflix has proven themselves in this changing landscape to be innovative which will pave the way for the film to reach the widest and diverse audience possible.  The day and date release, on Netflix and in theaters is also an exciting experiment,  Hopefully it will prove that filmmakers are able to distribute their films on multiple platforms simultaneously and that old models and new models of distribution can work together to create the biggest impact for content.  

It will be very interesting to see how this plays out in the Oscar race and also for the future of distribution.

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