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EMERGING PICTURES: The Future of Independent Film is Now

By Carolyn Allen

An Interview with
Giovanni Cozzi
Vice Chairman
Emerging Pictures

Phone: 212-245-6767
Email: gcozzi@

"It's a mission," says Giovanni Cozzi of Emerging Pictures. "We're creating a network of venues around the country to share the stories of the world that till now have only been presented in major markets." Cozzi is passionate about the need for independent films that tell the world's stories in documentaies, international features and live events for education and entertainment.

A Mission of Understanding

"We want to change the way people see the world! Independent filmmakers often tell us what happens in the rest of the world. Indies tell real stories -- documentaries and small scale productions that use real life settings and people to tell us stories from India and rural America and Japan and the Arctic. This is how we learn how the rest of the world lives close up, across all borders.. 'Monsoon Wedding' showed us that Indian fathers and sons and daughters have many things in common with American families -- as well as some differences. Hollywood creates fantasies -- indies and documentarians witness real life."

The mission to promote global understanding is just part of the Emerging Pictures mission. Their goal is to develop 400 links in a network of small venues. The filmmaking team works creatively to cut the costs of distribution down so that niche pictures can find their audiences. Science. Nature. Concerts. Ethnic stories. From documentaries to high drama to music videos to personal art pieces, there is a waiting audience in smaller cities across America -- 400 venues have been identified, and Emerging Pictures has signed up 50 over their first year of proof of concept to identify the process, the audience and the kinds of programs people want to see. "Digital cinema and digital distribution is the way to get content to more places, more quickly," Cozzi explains. "It's a different market than the widespread giant facilities for giant blockbuster films."

Small Venue Innovation

Full Frame -- the major documentary festival (Durham, NC) and Jackson Hole Wildlife Festival are two examples of festivals that have employed this digital distribution network very effectively.

Giovanni Cozzi shared the story of one of their early launches through the Emerging Pictures network: "Ken Burns' 'Unforgivable Blackness' was premiered at art centers and movie palaces before it was shown on PBS. We had speakers from the film on hand at this beautiful old historic movie palace, and we attracted 950 people to experience the full impact of the film's full size, the sound, the audience reactions and the discussion of the issues. It was powerful!"

In their hometown, Manhattan, NY, Emerging Pictures has teamed with the prestigious Off-Broadway theater complex Theatre Row to create Emerging Cinemas at Theatre Row, a new commercial art-house theater operating exclusively with high-end digital projection equipment. This represents the first full-time commercial cinema in the United States to operate without using any traditional celluloid projection. The venue will operate on a calendar basis and programming includes independent features, foreign films, documentaries, film festivals, revivals and other genre-specific fare.

Distributing Independent Films

Film festivals are great sources for quality films. "Most of the quality films at festivals don't get distribution because their potential market is just too narrow for broad, costly 35mm film distribution. Until now, art films have only had a market in the top tier cities: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, etc. But now, with digital distribution and projection, those films can be targeted at markets all across the country in both top tier and second tier markets such as Lincoln, Charleston, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Sarasota, Memphis, and Wilmington."

Emerging Pictures has brought programming to five second tier cities in 2004 and within months the number will be ten. By joining with small venues such as museums, art centers and economic development of inner cities, Emerging Pictures has constructed a win-win-win business scenario.

  • Independent producers benefit because they can now have their pictures seen beyond the festival circuit in a timely fashion without the high cost of film P&A (prints and advertising).
  • Local educational organizations benefit by expanding their educational mission with high profile programming.
  • Distributors such as festivals and specialty distributors benefit by offering additional venues, additional audience members to their clients -- the filmmakers -- without added expense.
As consumer electronics industry trend-setters, Giovanni Cozzi and his partners, Barry Rebo (a HDTV pioneer), and Ira Deutchman (Chairman of IFP/New Yorkk: Independent Film Project) have built their digital cinema network of content, marketing and technology with a network of venues to share independent films with audiences across the American heartland. This team brings decades of digital, film and business acumen to the digital cinemal project at Emerging Pictures.

  • In 1988, Cozzi founded and developed the product line of Vidikron of America, a leading manufacturer and marketer of high-end video projection systems.

  • In 1986 Barry Rebo co-founded the first high definition video (HDTV) production company in the United States, REBO Studio.

  • Ira Deutchman has been one of the leading figures in the independent film world for many years as former Cinecom exec and Fine Line Features founder, and head of the production company, Redeemable Features, a producers rep, and CEO of Studionext, a DV film production company. He has been a major force with IFP, one of the largest independent film trade groups in the US with chapters in Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis/St. Paul, New York and Seattle. Deutchman has turned his production experience to modeling Emerging Pictures programs that ensure efficiencies to economically benefit filmmakers.

    Launched in early 2000 as a digital cinema network, Emerging Cinemas, represents the fusion of independent film methodology and the latest digital technology, that will supply original content to traditional media outlets and aggregate content for future delivery systems, including its own network of digital theaters in conjunction with existing museum, art and science institutions. Specialized content covers a broad swath from today's thriving independent filmmaking world: first run independent and international shorts and features, high definition productions of concerts, operas, live theater, and documentaries, as well as children's programming and even live science events.

    By digitizing content and creating hard drives with multiple movies on each $10,000 drive, or employing a satellite feed, Emerging Pictures can distribute cost effectively to these smaller, specialized venues.

    Technology Tips for Producers

    Technology is one ever-changing choice that producers weigh as they look toward future distribution requirements. "Look more into High Definition," advises Cozzi. "This will be an important technology. Think beyond mini-DV. DVD will be HD in a couple years, and broadcast is moving rapidly toward HD, as well."

    Digital technology is changing the way films are being distributed. Digital whittles down the print cost (P&A) and makes more venues available. Film marketing and promotion budgets will still be necessary, but the whole distribution process will be more efficient. "Producers still need to focus on good stories -- the creative must be there. It's just easier to distribute good films. Theatrical distribution enhances the value for future DVD and television sales, so more theatrical venues will enhance longterm sales for good films."

    And yes, Emerging Pictures does accept queries by email or mail (almost all queries come by email these days) regarding quality independent films that need distribution -- before or after festival circuit participation.

    Appetites by Venue

    "There is an appetite for more variety. Not everyone likes the typical Hollywood fare all the time. The demographic that want cultural variety are best described as "the PBS audience". They want more educational and cultural topics and they frequent performing arts centers, art museums, science and technology centers -- who all have auditoriums already outfitted with digital projection capability. These discriminating audiences also prefer prints without scratches and dirt -- and digital can deliver a pristine viewing experience each and every time. We have many topic strands including Science and Technology; Art, Documentaries, Ethnic groups (Italian, French, etc.), Thematic film festivals and dramatic series.

    Some venues have wanted all the variety Emerging Pictures can package for them. Others want specialty films to match their specific educational objectives. "It's bringing new people into new venues -- grand old theatres and art centers in downtowns during evenings and weekdays. We've been meeting with mayors and economic development people and they see this as a social and economic engine to provide ways to interact, to share common programs, to participate -- and to bring people downtown.

    The home entertainment industry is growing rapidly, but there is something magical about a shared, communal viewing experience that you just don't get at home. The film festival experience of voting for audience awards is one example. Shared gasps and giggles with your neighbors adds flavor to the experience, as well. And discussing the film with friends or with an expert who is there to introduce and comment on the topic adds understanding and insight.

    Film festivals and live programming can now be conducted in multiple cities on the same day -- cost effectively. And interactively. All audience members can participate in audience balloting and be part of recognizing the excellent work by indie filmmakers.

    Living Witness to Historic Natural Phenomena

    In 2003, Emerging Pictures put together a joint, live broadcast of "Solar Eclipse Live from Antarctica." The team included Japan's public broadcasting powerhouse NHK, and Discovery Communications. This live high-definition broadcast gave viewers a detailed view of the eclipse on large screens at leading natural history museums, science & technology institution and other venues in the US and Canada. In addition to the live video coverage of the event, experts were on hand to add live commentary and discussion with the audience. This was the first total eclipse of the sun in Antarctica to be witnessed by humans; the last total solar eclipse recorded for the region occurred on September 21, 1903, before permanent research stations were established there. "Solar Eclipse LIVE!" was a follow-up event to Emerging Pictures' recent syndication of the 2003 Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival.

    Breaking Down the Walls of Genre Festivals

    The Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in Durham, N.C. teamed with Emerging Pictures to conduct the festival in multiple cities simultaneously. The digitized films on hard drives, which can be connected to inexpensive digital projectors, contain 10 digital films from the documentary festival. In its first year, movies were shown simultaneously in five cities: Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo, Mich.; Lincoln, Neb.; Charleston, W.Va.; and Sarasota, Fla., in addition to Durham. The second year, 2005, expects to see ten cities in the festival network. The theaters are at museums, science centers and universities that not only have underused spaces but also built-in audiences through their membership lists.

    Emerging Pictures will share revenues from the Film Festival digital syndications business model with the theater owners and teh Festival organizations. Directors of regional art-house theaters say they are eager for sophisticated content, and this is an economic model that makes it possible to get such films more often.

    Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival reaches out with the first national wildlife film fest.

    Digital technology allowed presentations to local audiences in leading natural history museums and cultural centers in four states to view a selection of films nominated as finalists in the prestigious Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival (, held in Jackson Hole, Wyoming each September. The Festival's film competition attracts more than 500 entries from around the world.

    Venues participating in this outreach effort included the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, Raleigh, NC, the San Diego Museum of Natural History, San Diego, California, Kalamazoo Michigan's Kalamazoo Valley Museum, and the Ross Media Arts Center of Lincoln, Nebraska, part of the University of Nebraska.

    Since 1991, the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival has grown to be the preeminent international film festival of the natural world. Every two years the Festival attracts from 400 to 700 people to Jackson. Delegates range from beginning filmmakers to high-level executives in the world's largest natural history production, commissioning and programming companies. The Festival also attracts museum curators, conservation leaders and scientists who share a love for the natural world and an understanding of how important the media is to furthering their message.

    The future is here -- and it is digital. Through innovative companies like Emerging Pictures, new business models are being forged to solve the frustrations that make filmmaking such a risky business. By breaking the distribution bottleneck, the audience will be the true beneficiaries. Now, small venues can become intimate settings for mind-expanding education, entertainment, enlightenmentÂ…and just plain old good fun! Here's to the futureÂ…we have seen it and it is us!

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