INDUSTRY: Royalties, a Cycle of Exchange

Animation from the short film "Welcome to the Anthropocene," showing trade routes around the world. (Image courtesy of Globaia, Planet Under Pressure, SEI, SRC, CSIRO)

An inside look at how GFI pays it forward…

With our offices located in the heart of San Francisco, three of us at GFI commute into the city from the East Bay via BART train. Right before our trains plunge down into the Bay tunnel, we pass through the Port of Oakland—the fifth busiest port in the United States. In the early morning light the cranes, long-haul semi-trucks, and 1st shifters dutifully continue the pace of a humming port that never sleeps.

The trade lines of global commerce blanket our world (as this short film beautifully depicts), and while globalization is a peculiar force—advantageous for some, exploitative of others, with many a PhD dissertation tracking its effects and the arguments for and against it—Oakland’s port provides a context in which to understand this massive international integration.

The Oakland Port and "Golden Gate" portal to the Pacific Ocean beyond. (Photo credit:

At GFI, we are in the business of stories, or specifically, the transnational circulation of ideas, languages, cultures and representations of individual selfhood: how people present themselves, their culture, their collective narratives. Through the films and filmmakers that we fund and distribute, we assert that a multitude of voices deserve to speak and be heard.

To provide this support, and to provide American audiences with dynamic films, we rely heavily on these global trade routes. Once a year, this becomes particularly apparent, as we prepare royalty reports: a complete accounting of all revenue earned by a film in a year and the percentages of that revenue owed to the film producers and sales agents.

We’ve just finished reporting the royalties for the 2011 year. Like the Port of Oakland, the royalty reports make clear the tangible results of a DVD bought in Topeka, Kansas, a film screened in Port Townsend, Washington, a film watched on a Virgin America flight, and all the other places and ways our films were seen and supported throughout the year.

Through international wire transfers to Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina for our film Belvedere, and Beijing for Dooman River, and New Delhi for Soul of Sand, and to all the other locations around the world, we get to pass on those royalties to our filmmakers, so that they can continue with new projects or cover the costs of past ones.

Tracking this entire cycle of exchange from beginning to end—from filmmaker, to GFI, to audiences all over the U.S. and Canada, and back again—a unique web of interconnectedness develops on its own. Global in scope, yet small in staff size, we’re no Port of Oakland, but at least our royalty reports allow us to see GFI’s place in the fabric of globalization a little clearer.

The Global Film Initiative is a 501(c)3 tax-exempt organization. All proceeds from the Global Lens film series support international filmmaker grants, educational programming and resources, touring film exhibitions and other philanthropic initiatives and programs sponsored by the Global Film Initiative. For more information, visit:

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