In its sixth year, the Philadelphia Independent Film Festival boasts a schedule with more than 75 films screening at some of the city’s landmark venues, including the Franklin Institute, the National Constitution Center, and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. But festival director Benjamin Barnett hopes that the festival can help filmmakers find audiences beyond the weekend-long event.
“We’ve gone to festivals and connected with filmmakers around the world and virtually through social media, and we’ve really established a dialogue with independent filmmakers,” Barnett says. “Following this year’s festival we’ll be in a position to provide distribution and marketing to filmmakers for the first time. Anybody can petition Netflix to post your film, but you need social media exposure, festival exposure and a marketing strategy to show Netflix or Redbox or any of these streaming companies that your film has a little muscle.”
In that sense, the festival is an offshoot of Media Bureau, the digital media agency Barnett founded in 1997. This year, the festival has begun streaming past award winners on its website, and is in the final stages of negotiating distribution agreements with two companies which Barnett says will enable fest films to be bundled for streaming. He hopes that by providing filmmakers an audience and networking opportunities, the festival can generate the kind of buzz that can elevate their films beyond the insular world of the festival circuit.
“The reality is, I know films that have screened in 30 or 40 film festivals that nobody’s ever heard of,” Barnett says. “We take that to heart.”
This year’s highlights include a pair of classic films by Robert Downey Sr., who Barnett says “embodies the spirit of independent filmmaking.” The Slovenian documentary “My Name is Janez Jansa” follows three contemporary artists who all change their names to that of the country’s dictatorial prime minister; “My Brother Jack” is a thriller starring playwright and Philly native Mark Borkowski; and the Argentinean doc “The Girl From the South” follows a young South Korean activist determined to reunite the divided nation.
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