SUPPORT: Beyond Sun-Tzu

Santhosh Daniel, GFI Director of Programs, on the business of doing “good business”

A scene from MOURNING, by Iranian director Morteza Farshbaf (Global Lens 2012)

A few days ago, at the blink of midnight, we closed a distribution deal for the Iranian film MOURNING, by Morteza Farshbaf.  And, like all late-night business, it was a harried affair, replete with heavy texting and the adrenalin rush of knowing we had acquired a film that, only a few hours earlier, took top awards at the 2011 Busan International Film Festival—Asia’s largest festival and film market.

For us, it was the culmination of a long four days in Busan and also, a modest pinnacle of achievement.  Normally, we don’t make a play for films that are fresh out of a festival, covered in the glitter of awards—not because we don’t see the value of the work, but simply because the strength of our endeavor has never been about being the proverbial “player,” making a deal and beating our competitors for the “hot” film on the market.

But this film struck a very different and distinct chord, and so we decided to make an offer.  And in the afterglow of signing it for our 2012 lineup (Global Lens 2012), it afforded us the opportunity to consider how such a deal, for such a film, was possible…

The Global Film Initiative has always been about people.  If we acquire a film for Global Lens, it’s because we value the filmmaker’s perspective—not just the financial value of how a film will do in the market.  If we make a deal, it’s typically with a filmmaker, producer or sales agent whom we call a friend.  And if we present a film, its because our goal is to provide a platform for creative vision, in the hope that somehow it will affect an audience’s view of the world in which they live.

This deal for MOURNING was brokered with a company with whom we’ve shared many good times, and films.  It also came about during the final hours of our annual trip to Busan sponsored by the Asian Film Market, during which we spend endless hours [sometimes over a few shots of soju] meeting filmmakers,  producers, and getting to know individuals in the industry—to let them know our goal is to support their vision, not simply buy or sell film.

More importantly, perhaps, this deal came together at the end of what has been a very difficult year for many of our filmmakers.  Some have gone into bankruptcy because of their films, others have battled with censor boards and many, especially those from Iran, have struggled with a political environment that is incomprehensible, and incompatible with a freedom of expression that is the foundation of all good art.   And throughout it all, we’ve offered our support, regardless of any circumstance.

NAM Dong-Chul, General Manager of Asian Film Market, offers a toast to good friends and business

And this is what has made all the difference.   Since our founding, we’ve distributed first-time filmmakers, established auteurs, unusual independents overlooked by our competitors, and Oscar candidates representing the best of their nation.   We’ve put these films on every possible platform we can find–from MoMA to Virgin America, public libraries, universities, and major festivals.  And we’ve always made it clear that behind the business there are people—and that connecting with and knowing one another on that level is what ultimately leads to success.

In the end, when we did finally sign the deal for MOURNING, it really came down to one sentiment from the sales agent:  “We know you–and know that you’ll do a good job.”  It was a very simple statement, but one that reminded me of my first very days on the job, and a friend [in the industry] who gave me The Art of War, by Sun-Tzu, along with the sage advice to “learn the strategy, know your enemy and ‘kill’ the deal”…

Back then, and now, we’ve done  just that.  And in the process, reminded ourselves that in this business, our business, there are no enemies.

 

MOURNING (dir. Morteza Farshbaf, Iran) will premiere with nine other films as part Global Lens 2012 film series, January 12th-25th at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.  All proceeds received from the Global Lens film series are reinvested in the Granting Program, and other philanthropic programs of the Global Film Initiative. 

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