On Friday we invited everyone to Fort Greene Park to watch a selection of Kickstarter-funded films that came to life over the past year. The weather was glorious as thousands of people spread blankets on the grass and waited for the sun to set. Asphalt Orchestra marched through the crowd with trombones and a tuba to kick things off, and when the trailers began, fireflies floated around the edges of the lawn.
We loved hearing everyone react to the films we selected — there were oohs and ahhs at the amazing moments, and laughs at all the good jokes. It was a great mix of neighborhood folks who happened to find us, and film aficionados who had marked their calendars long ago — plus, a lot of really cute dogs. Many of the featured filmmakers came to town just for the event, and they got to meet their supporters as well as new fans. And afterwards, we got to read mini reviews of the films on Twitter and see all the beautiful photos everyone posted.
The fourth annual Kickstarter Film Fest begins tonight, with a screening in Brooklyn! (If you can't make it, don't worry — we've got screenings to come in London, Los Angeles, and at your house.) Yesterday, we asked some of the creators who've participated in our film fests about the movies they've been enjoying lately. Today, we asked around the Kickstarter office to get recommendations for things you can check out on our Watch page — a selection of hundreds of Kickstarter-funded films you can watch online, right now.
Here's what we heard:
Jamie (our comics specialist) recommends Room 237, “a fascinating and fun look into theories around Kubrick’s The Shining, and at obsession in general.” (Jamie is possibly understating just how wonderfully obsessive some of these people’s theories about The Shining really are — one guy builds a meticulous case that the film is Kubrick’s way of confessing that he helped fake the moon landing.) Jamie would also recommend Meanwhile, “a terrific recent movie from independent film icon Hal Hartley,” and Urbanized, “Gary Hustwit’s outstanding documentary on urban design.”
Katherine (from our support team) recommends Indie Game: The Movie — an “inside look into the brains of game developers, the effort it takes to make your dream come alive, and how emotionally devastating it can be when things go wrong. Everyone should be more sympathetic to creators!”
Nitsuh (a writer) recommends a goofy lowbrow buddy comedy called Ass Backwards: “As a person who will basically always laugh at June Diane Raphael’s ‘fancy’ schtick, I’m pretty glad to live in a world where she and Casey Wilson got to make this. Also if you’re one of those people who’s constantly referencing Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion, this might make a nice temporary substitute.”
Justin J. (an engineer) recommends The Punk Singer — “a very personal jaunt through the Riot Grrl years and beyond, following the genre-defying work of Kathleen Hanna” — and Inequality for All: “More than just the An Inconvenient Truth of income inequality. Robert Reich’s unassailable dedication to his cause is inspiring and ultimately hopeful.”
Margaret (who puts together Kickstarter events) recommends The Internet’s Own Boy, the much-praised documentary about programmer and activist Aaron Swartz — “a touching and fascinating history of the internet, told through the story of one of the pioneers.” (She’d also recommend Finding Vivian Maier, “a narrative mystery of one woman’s life, and the discovery of a trove of some of the 20th century’s finest photographs.” Chicagoans especially might love that one.)
Michael (who does a lot of things) recommends last year’s Tiny, about people who downsize their homes and live as minimally as possible — a “really charming film that explores the ideas of home, growth, and what’s gained by living life more simply.”
Liz C. (who works with film projects) recommends Trash Dance — “a beautiful portrait of the lives of Austin’s sanitation workers, and how they come around to the idea of working with an enthusiastic dance choreographer to put on a show for thousands.”
Brandon (an iOS developer) recommends Beauty Is Embarrassing, a documentary about visual artist Wayne White, whose work you might know from the set of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse or the cover of Lambchop’s Nixon: “White is an interesting guy, and this doc covers his work in NY, LA, and TN.”
Victoria (who works with creators) recommends Bridegroom, “a personal testament to the importance of marriage equality.”
Stephanie (who works with creators) recommends Boy, “one of my favorite films of 2013. It weaves art, pop culture, and life stories straight from New Zealand.” (She figures she can’t really top this description from its iTunes page: “Boy is a hilarious and heartfelt coming-of-age tale about heroes, magic, and Michael Jackson.”)
And Yancey (our CEO) recommends Brooklyn Castle, a documentary about how a budget-starved Brooklyn public school built the most winning junior-high chess team in the country: “So inspiring, great story, and great kids. Pobama!”
The Fourth Annual Kickstarter Film Fest kicks off tomorrow in Brooklyn, so naturally, we're thinking a lot about movies. We decided to ask some creators who have participated in our previous film fests about what they've been enjoying lately. Happy watching!
Todd Chandler, Flood Tide: One project that I backed enthusiastically and watch often is Vanessa Renwick's North South East West DVD. I love the way Vanessa sees the world—from wolves to nuclear cooling towers. She's been making work for over 30 years and is incredibly prolific. This DVD is essentially a best of compilation and it's a real treasure to have so much of her work in one place.
Riley Hooper, World's Longest Yard Sale: I'm documentary-obsessed, so my recommendation is inevitably going to be a documentary. I've seen so many this year that I've loved (two of which are Rich Hill and Tomorrow We Disappear! SO excited to be featured alongside both films in the festival!) but there are two that really stand out for me so far: Sacro Gra and Ne Me Quitte Pas.
Both films are incredibly beautiful and intimate and surreal. They're both observational films, meaning they're told with only observational footage, no interviews or voice over, etc. It's rare to see films made this way these days, but such films are always my favorite because of the truly beautiful and poignant life moments that they capture.
Michael Galinsky, Malls Across America: Rat Pack Rat is a short film by Todd Rohal that we backed. Honestly, I didn't even read the description. Todd was the first backer of our Malls project, so when he posted we acted based on etiquette as much as aesthetics. When I finally saw the film at Sundance I was ecstatic to have been a backer. It is the darkest and funniest thing I have seen in a long time. It was brilliantly acted, and as I watched it I was acutely aware that without Kickstarter it wouldn't exist.
Dennis Doros, Portrait of Jason Film Restoration: I am in love with the silent film DVDs that Ben Model has been releasing with the help of Kickstarter. They contain delightful comedies that make me laugh out loud. His work on Accidentally Preserved and The Mishaps of Musty Suffer are two amazing examples of an individual helping to preserve and present rare films that were lost to history. While others may ask "Why aren't my favorite films available?", Ben Model has gone out and done something about it.
Brian Frye, Our Nixon: I'd like to recommend Brendan Toller's Danny Says, which I backed. It's not released yet, but I know it will be great. It's a documentary about Danny Fields, who played a pivotal role in the music and art scenes from 1966 to today, working for, or managing acts like Lou Reed, Nico, the MC5, the Stooges and the Ramones.
Amy Finkel, Furever: There are so many wonderful films that started out on Kickstarter! The Punk Singer—a fantastic film and such a nostalgic experience for me; Bikini Kill saved me when I was a kid. Good 'Ol Freda! My friend Ryan made this and it's truly one of the best docs I've ever seen. I highly recommend it, even if you're not a Beatles fan. Ryan's new film, The Case Against 8, is also amazing. Oh, and Our Nixon! Another friend's film and the first project I ever Kickstarted. I didn't know Brian back then; I love backing the projects of strangers. Ryan, Brian, and I were on the festival route together last year.
This week my shout out would be to Errol Morris, Les Blank and Werner Herzog. I'm currently teaching an intensive summer documentary course at Parsons and tomorrow I'm showing my students Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe and telling the awesome story behind it (in hopes that it'll push them through this last 1.5 weeks of intense filmmaking). Today they watched Streetwise, my all time favorite.
Adam Abada, Backstreet Atlas: I cannot recommend The Act of Killing more than enough and to everybody. It's gotten a lot of coverage and deserves it. It, more than any film I can recently remember, shows the power of the medium and its ability to directly influence the world.
Scott Ross and Karl Beyer, The Burning House: The first thing that came to mind was Point Break (1991) directed by Kathryn Bigelow. Not a new movie, but one that we re-watch regularly because it's so good. It's a simpleminded film made by a very intelligent director. It has everything you could ever want from a movie: gun fights, beautiful surfing scenes, skydiving, and the mesmerizingly handsome Keanu Reeves.
If we were to pick from the Kickstarter Watch List, we'd go with 12 O'Clock Boys (2013) directed by Lofty Nathan, the documentary about a young kid from Baltimore who dreams of joining a dirt bike pack/gang. It's one of the most memorable and enlightening documentaries we've seen in recent years.
A movie we both fell in love with in the past year and which is most thematically related to our film is Adam Curtis' BBC miniseries The Century of the Self (2002), a documentary about the recent historical roots of propaganda, advertising, and lifestyle marketing. It is addictive, depressing, and often jaw dropping to watch. It explains and contextualizes so many aspects of modern life in America. We also highly recommend Curtis' other documentaries All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace(2011) and The Power of Nightmares(2004).
Kymia Nawabi, Walking Through That Door: The film that I recommend people to see is called Three Fragments of a Lost Tale, written and directed by John Frame. John Fayette Frame (born November 27, 1950) is an American sculptor, photographer, composer and filmmaker. He has been working as an artist in California since the early 1980s and executes practically all aspects of his work by himself.
Jimmy Goldblum, Tomorrow We Disappear: I've seen a bunch of incredible documentaries around the festival circuit that I can't wait to see distributed in NYC. Films like The Overnighters, Bugarach, and Beyond Clueless. Last week I saw Obvious Child, which I know is playing the Kickstarter Film Fest too, and it's so funny and important and honest. I loved it. And I don't know if anybody bought it yet, but the Mexican narrative, Güeros, played Tribeca with us this year, and it's like Y Tu Mamá También meets La Haine; super beautiful and funny.
This year we opened the doors to submissions of Kickstarter film projects and got over to 1,000 entries. No small amount. We spent countless hours watching submissions. It was a crazy process. Crazy enough, in fact, that we thought it would be a good idea to talk to Kickstarter's resident film specialists Liz Cook and George Schmalz about how they made their selections.
What special qualities do you look for when watching submissions for the film fest?
Liz: There was no one specific niche that we were hoping to fill necessarily, but we were looking for provocative, interesting—whether that means stuff that we wouldn’t have seen on the festival circuit or being distributed by a big company—but really authentic and interesting voices.
George: We had a wide range of creators who have used the platform, and we wanted to use the festival as a showcase for their work. Ideally it wasn’t something that had been all over. It would be great if you’re showing stuff that hasn’t been out there that long, or creating a unique experience for the people that are attending the festival. It isn’t a proper film festival, it’s a two hour program, so we were looking to fill that with a good representation of what Kickstarter film is.
Liz: A lot of these films touch on cultural zeitgeists that have happened in the last year, so in some ways it’s a survey of what’s being created right now. And then also just thinking about a wide range—we wanted to have narratives and documentaries, experimental and other different types of films.
How does the presentation of these films as a series of stitched together clips factor into the decision making process?
George: We had two hours so we couldn’t show a full feature, and we were trying to keep things under a certain amount of time so we could showcase as much as we could, which ended up being about 18 pieces total. There were some things we liked but didn’t really lend themselves to anything shorter than half-an-hour. It was really hard. You have to make cuts, which is unfortunate. There were 15 of us watching these things in the theater weekly, which was helpful. Just us sitting there watching them in our apartments...you don’t get the same reaction, you might think something is amazing and then you bring it to 15 people sitting in a theater—you get a pretty good audience reaction of what works and what doesn’t work.
Do you find that you’re watching the films as a whole or watching with an eye for specific segments?
Liz: There are a couple of different ways this happened. We had asked people to send us excerpts or specific sections of a bigger piece they would like us to consider. That was the first approach. Otherwise it was looking for stuff that would stand alone well. A lot of times, if it's an intro to a film, maybe that’s an interesting way of setting up the story. Sometimes it’s the middle of the film that makes the most sense as its own capsule.
There were about 1,100 submissions. Did you notice any overarching theme or trend watching them all?
George: We had a lot of really strong animation. Pretty much any animation we watched was great. We could have had a separate festival that was just that.
There are a couple trailers in the mix as well. Why did you decide to run those instead of clips from the films?
George: With Rich Hill—they have three different stories and we loved the film. it was really hard to figure out one clip that encompassed the stories, but the trailer does it perfectly. Basically we would have ended up making a version of the trailer if we picked clips from that.
Liz: Obvious Child sent us a couple clips that they thought we could use and they were all really short. It was another situation where we felt like just to give a broader sense of the story itself we should show a combo trailer plus a clip they put together for us. Kind of a hybrid.
How did you select what went where in the two hour program?
Liz: We thought about duration. Each act had to be a specific amount of time. We thought about balancing out types of narrative and documentary and animation so we had a little bit of everything in both acts. Emotionally we didn’t want to slam people in the first act.
Did you notice any themes once you watched the entire program?
Liz: Yancey came up with an amazing narrative for the way it’s put together. Basically he was able to coherently walk through the big ideas of every piece and how they work together and how they work together in a bird’s eye view of the program. Night of the Living Deb is an interesting transition from trailer to film. It’s taking a regular project video and making it into a standalone little movie in itself.
George: And Backstreet Atlas is literally moving from Boston to New York. Then you get into the suite of Elvis Loses his Excess, Planet Money and TheBurning House.Elvis Loses His Excess is about the world’s longest yard sale, there’s a lot of people talking about getting rid of their material possessions. And then you roll into Planet Money which is taking you through the process of making a t-shirt, and then TheBurning House—this guy is taking pictures for a blog about the things he would save if his apartment was on fire, and then his apartment was set on fire and he basically ends up having to start at square one.
Why did you accept submissions this year?
George: We would not have seen this stuff if we didn’t open submissions. As much as it was a crazy four or five or six weeks, it was so worth it.
Liz: Totally. Everybody is doing incredible, cool stuff. It’s been a really inspiring process.
George: We ended up going through the favorites and then narrowing it down to seven to eight hours, and then we got it down to five hours. We wanted to get it down to three. It took forever to lose those last 10-15 movies. It was the hardest thing ever. Getting it down from seven to five to three was really trying. That was the hardest part of the whole process, really. You end up liking so many things.
The fourth annual Kickstarter Film Fest begins Friday, July 18th in New York. You can find more info about it here.
How does an idea turn into a viable thing? What makes someone want to do a project? We talked to ten creators to find out.
Jacob Krupnick, Girl Walk//All Day: I had the dream of making a feature-length music video that would be filmed in public space, using real people as the extras, and NYC as a backdrop. I wanted to give this amazing dancer I'd met a lot of room to move and improvise. I hoped the project would make a statement about all the rules and surveillance in the city. In that way, it's a very post-9/11 project -- the core idea, I think, was freedom.
Anthony Weintraub, Menurkey: My project was the brainchild of my son, who was nine years old at the time, and inspired to bring his idea to the world. I introduced him to Kickstarter when he was six or seven. We spent some time on the site, backing favorite projects and learning about entrepreneurship. When he came up with the idea for the Menurkey, he said he thought it was more than just an art project, that he wanted a lot of people to learn about it and enjoy it. When I explained that it might cost a lot of money to finance the manufacturing, he said Kickstarter was the natural choice to raise the money. I initially said no, thinking I really didn't want to put a nine-year-old up on Kickstarter. There was no way to represent it without featuring him in the video and I was not about to claim the idea for my own. Eventually he badgered me enough until I gave in.
Lauren Krakauskas, Freaker USA: We’ve always had big dreams, but we also had an inkling that traditional funding wouldn’t let us have the creative freedom to do things our way. For example, we ended up using most of our Kickstarter money to buy a boxtruck, turn it into a neon studio-apartment, drive it around the country and throw free grilled cheese parties for strangers. I’m not sure how a traditional investment situation would have responded to that, but we have some educated guesses.
Peter Platzer, ArduSat: We really wanted to provide affordable access to space. It was very clear that the cost had finally come down enough to make space exploration a reality without a billion dollars. Most people only “connect” with space and space exploration through TV. Or maybe the super rich can buy themselves a ride for tens of millions, but we wanted to make space accessible to everyone, especially the next generation, the ones that will drive innovation and solve the world's greatest challenges.
Eric Kersman, BRCK: The initial BRCK project was born out of a desire for better internet connectivity in Africa, where we have constant power outages that mess up our routers and where we need more mobility in our devices. The Kickstarter project came about after we had been designing and engineering the BRCK device for about a year and it served as a way for us to see if there was anyone else in the world who needed something like this as well.
Coulter Lewis, Quinn Popcorn: It took us a year to get our popcorn ready. During that time we didn't tell anyone what we were doing. Kickstarter was our chance to see what the world thought of our idea of creating a better microwave popcorn. It's was terrifying, but we needed to launch, we needed to see how people would respond. Thankfully our campaign kicked butt!
Brian Dwyer, Pizza Brain Pizza Museum: I have three other partners, each with their own reasons for diving in headfirst to this project. For me though, it was a growing fascination with the seemingly boundless cultural reach of pizza. I'm also really into the diminishing art of true shared experience. Pizza is probably one of the purest forms of that, really. That being the case, it was a huge driver in pursuing this idea beyond something that was merely our heads, and shaping it into a thing other people could experience alongside us. The fact that no one up until us in pizza history had thought to express it the way we have, well, that was a gigantic bonus. For those reasons and a multitude of others, we felt compelled to pursue this project with extreme vigor. I guess you could say the project chose us, even. Pizza is the great equalizer. It's all around us, all the time.
Rebecca Abernathy, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra: The campaign’s goal was to generate funds enabling me, the ASO Archivist, to begin digitizing certain audio and video items housed in the ASO Archives. Our priority was to preserve and digitize items that were considered high risk— high risk in terms of tape degradation and lack of available equipment to even play the audio tapes.
Benedetta Piantella, Open Source Lion Tracking: My partner in the project, Justin Downs, had been helping a wildlife conservation group and while out in the field with their team he had a chance to observe their methods and tools and noticed a lot of hindrances and issues. When he returned to the US, he told me about how proprietary and expensive the wildlife conservation tools were, and how inconvenient they were for the researchers. It struck a chord as something that we should absolutely try to tackle. Plus there were lions involved and I am a huge fan of all cats! It was important to fight for those researchers and try and show those companies that users today want to own and modify their own tools, and it was all for a great cause.
Siena Oristaglio, Marina Abramovic Institute: A primary aim of Kickstarter is also a major theme of Marina's forty-year career in performance art: to close the gap between artist and audience in an exchange that transforms both. By inviting the public to contribute to phase one of our development, we were able to directly communicate with an audience who believes in the MAI mission and can join us on the journey to its creation.
We thought it would be nice to introduce ourselves. So every week, a couple members of the Kickstarter team will be saying hello, and picking out a few projects — past or present, successful or not — that they're especially fond of. (They will also be posing for GIFs. The GIFs are mandatory.)
Job: "Community Manager for Comics. Basically, I talk to creators and help them make Comics projects. It's awesome. Here are a couple great live Comics projects, and a few other favorites."
Little Nemo: Dream Another Dream — "Philadelphia’s Locust Moon Comics assembled this giant anthology, featuring over 100 of today's best cartoonists paying tribute to legendary cartoonist Winsor McCay. I’m biased, as I contributed a comic to this book, but it looks amazing."
Yellow Zine issue 5 — "The latest snazzy-lookin’ Comics project from Roman Muradov. Even a $1 pledge yields great comics as a reward."
Ned Rifle — "Hal Hartley, one of my all-time favorite directors, makes the third film in his Henry Fool series. Cannot wait to see this movie. His earlier project, Meanwhile, is fantastic, too."
Neat Ice Kit — "A kit to make big ice cubes for fancy cocktails. Love it."
Robin writes a book (and you get a copy) — "The first project I ever backed, and still one of my favorites. Robin Sloan, now a bestselling author, wrote a sci-fi detective novella and documented his fascinating process as he went along."
Job: "What I do here?
I work on hiring, culture, and generally making sure Kickstarter is a wonderful place to be for all the amazing folks who work here. I basically just try to back projects from my home state of Missouri. Also, I like public art, things I can eat, odd things from rural places, and super nerdy ones that play with math and science. Here are some examples."
Public Lab DIY Spectrometry Kit — "Science everywhere you go, on your own phone, in your house, out in the world? There is nothing more awesome. I did a huge amount of spectroscopy in college to test for arsenic in soils, and this project lets me relive my glory days in the comfort of my own home."
Nothing’s changed about the way Kickstarter works, the information we gather, or the way we use it — that’s all the same as it was yesterday. We just want to make sure all our policies are simple and straightforward. And we’re always open to feedback, so if you have any thoughts, get in touch here.
Kickstarter was built on the foundation of an open Internet. We — like Twitter, Wikipedia, and everything awesome on the Web — would not exist without it. The more than 65,000 (and counting!) creative ideas that have been brought to life with Kickstarter depend on a free and open Internet.
On Sunday I wrote a Washington Post opinion piece sharing Kickstarter's thoughts on how important Net Neutrality is to the future of the Internet, and today we filed an official comment with the FCC. As citizens of the Internet and believers in innovation, we’re proud for Kickstarter to wave this flag. We hope others will also voice their opposition to get the attention of the FCC before they make a decision this fall.
It’s easy to get lost in the minutiae and cynicism of the Net Neutrality debate. It’s everything we hate about politics: money trumping common sense, and the loudest voices being those with the cash to hire lobbyists. Unfortunately, just believing in the common good rarely translates into political influence. But sometimes it does — as we saw with the SOPA victory in 2012, our voices can be powerful when we use them together.