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11/4/08: A New Wave of Filmmaking

Pushing the boundaries of both production and distribution methods, Jeff Deutchman's collaborative documentary 11/4/08 may take place on a now-famous Election Day, but it seems like a film from the future.

11.4.08

 

There is one upside to the current crisis mode in independent filmmaking. It makes room for the innovators, the experimenters—those artists who are willing to push buttons, challenge themselves and risk failure for the sake of staking out new ground.  

 

Jeff Deutchman seems, in the estimation of this journalist, to be such an innovator. (Full disclosure: Jeff’s a friend and I’ve known him for years—I was interning at IFC Films when he started out in the marketing department there.) While he has spent most of his post-collegiate career working at distribution companies—first at IDP (the distribution arm of Samuel Goldwyn Films), now at IFC Films—he’s always had a multi-faceted interest in the industry. He wrote a challenging thesis in college attacking the auteur theory, and was working on a documentary film about the New York City private school system when I met him.

 

It came as no surprise, then, to get an email from him a few weeks before Election Day, 2008, sent out to a massive amount of recipients, asking them all to record their experiences on November 4th for the sake of a new documentary he was doing: a crowd-sourced documentary about Election Day. “What is the purpose of this film and what kind of footage are we looking for?” he wrote. “I feel like Tuesday is going to be a crazy day; that people are going to be operating on a slightly bizarre level where they will go through the regular motions of a Tuesday but know that history may be in the works. Between the voting, volunteering, and returns-watching, there is going to be a lot of human interaction that could be tense, inspirational or weird. I want to capture this stuff on camera.”

 

Flash-forward almost two years later, and 11/4/08, as it has become titled, is carving out its own terribly unique distribution path. After premiering at South By Southwest this year and playing at Michael Moore’s film festival, Deutchman has put together a one-night screening of the film in over 20 theaters around the country. On the evening of Wednesday, October 20th, the film will be on screens from Brunswick, Maine to San Jose, California. Afterward, Deutchman will be doing a live Q&A about the film, streaming out to each of the theaters, live from the Philadelphia Film Festival (where the film is also playing). It will be available for purchase on iTunes and DVD, and will have another one-off screening on the 21st at Lincoln Center. It’s not your grandfather’s distribution rollout, to say the least. I recently sat down with Deutchman, who, in addition to putting the film (and its release) together, still works at IFC, now in acquisitions.

 



 

Tribeca: You’ve set up this interesting distribution plan with the movieall those theaters in one night, a live Q&A with many of them afterward. It’s an innovative strategy. How did it all happen?

 

Jeff Deutchman: The fact that I work in distribution informed it, to some degree. I’ve learned that it’s very important to tailor a distribution strategy to a particular film. This is an unusual film in the way it was made, so I thought it was appropriate to come up with a distribution strategy that mimicked that. The film was more about exploring space than time—it all takes place on one day, all around the world, so why not collapse the theatrical release and do it in the same way, so it all takes place in one day in multiple cities? That was the thematic reason behind it. But there’s also an economic reason behind it, having to do with the fact that when you’re dealing with independent film, especially if it’s experimental or a documentary, in the last several years you’ve had to get really creative for people to see it on the big screen, to do it in such a way that you’re not screwing yourself, financially.

 

Tribeca: The release pattern does get at a lot of the problem with contemporary distribution. You work at a distributorwhere do you see things headed for more films like this, experimental films?

 

Jeff Deutchman: I’m a big believer in seeing movies in the theater, but I’m also realistic about the future. I think if we’re going to preserve some theatrical element for these kinds of films, you have to be creative about it. I think the two most viable ways of thinking about films, theatrically, is one, in this sort of amusement-park vein, the way we think of going to see Hollywood movies as events, almost like going on a roller coaster, and number two is the museum model. There’s always going to be a place for art cinema in the same way that there’s still a place for paintings in the Met. The question is, can you fuse those two things and create an event art film? That’s sort of what I’m trying to do.

 

Tribeca: One of the things that strikes me is that these new strategies for distribution seem interesting, but not sustainablethey seem like one-offs. Do you think there’s something like this that could catch on? Or is it more specifically tailored to this one film?

 

Jeff Deutchman: I guess the question is, is there a model for smaller films to be consistently released this way, or is it just a gimmick that can only work once in a while? I think the only way to make it systemic would be if there was some kind of series. If the attraction isn’t necessarily any particular film, but maybe it’s a person, the curator, who could be a celebrity people trust, or it could be—there is a loyal documentary-going audience in this country, I think—so there could be an opportunity to do a weekly documentary series, like Stranger Than Fiction. I think it all depends on your level of expectation. I think it’s important to simultaneously embrace the other opportunities out there, both in cable and video on demand. I think, the way that DVD revenues allowed us to release films theatrically in the past, I think it’s going to be the same with VOD going forward.

 

Tribeca: It’s interesting to have seen some filmmakers involved in the project blossom since the film first came to attentionI’m thinking specifically of the guys who made Catfishbut you’ve got other very legitimate filmmakers in there: Joe Swanberg, Benh Zeitlin, Margaret Brown. Did you see anything distinctive in their footage?

 

Jeff Deutchman: Yes. Probably Henry Joost was the most obviously marked, in the sense that he gave me more footage than anyone else. So if anything lends credence to the fact that he probably just was shooting all day, every day and just happened to catch a good story for Catfish, it’s that he sent me something like twelve hours of footage for this movie. He also did a really good job. Swanberg shot on a cell phone—that fits. Margaret shot in a very polished manner, although there were some sound issues, but she got some really beautiful imagery. Benh’s footage was amazing more because of what he captured—he lives in New Orleans and he got some pretty intense partying on the streets. Partying that looked different than what was captured in Brooklyn—fewer people, more intimate, more diverse. I’ve only seen Benh’s short, (Glory at Sea!) which I thought was great, so we’ll see what he does with his feature when that’s ready.

 

Tribeca: When you were editing, did you feel like you needed to mute those styles a little bit, so that the film’s own style flowed more consistently?

 

Jeff Deutchman: It was never gonna be even—it just couldn’t be. Not only because of the different styles, but because some people shot only at night, some only in the morning. It had to be a pretty eclectic collage. I tried to edit it in such a way as to at least make it watchable, smooth it over, but there was no ignoring the fact that it would be eclectic.

 

11.4.08

 

Tribeca: It’s interesting how many people view the film as this very pro-Obama, pro-Democrat, coming from the left sort of picture, and that wasn’t how I read it at all, to the film’s credit. Is the reaction usually that it’s this big pro-Obama film, or do people ever have the reaction that I had, that it’s a little bit of a critique of hysteria as well?

 

Jeff Deutchman: It’s a mix. It’s meant to be a Rorschach test. I deliberately made it in such a way as to encourage multiple interpretations. I think it’s interesting how there are some people who criticize the film for being naïve or overly celebratory due to something one of the people in the film says, which I’ve always found to be a classic misunderstanding of art—equating what one character says with what the film is saying. I encourage all interpretations.

 

Tribeca: By having this wide array of authors, you kind of quash authorial voice, and you’re just sort of left with the events themselves. A presentation rather than a representation.

 

Jeff Deutchman: It’s funny, because I kind of feel like I didn’t do that enough. I feel like there’s too much of an authorial hand for my taste. Obviously there’s less than in most movies, but it was a constant struggle. I think it’s kind of like The Five Obstructions. I’m a big fan of Lars Von Trier. It seems to me that he’s always struggling between the side of himself that wants control and power and is an auteur, and the side that created Dogme 95 and believes in constricting his own control by creating irrational rules for him to follow. That, to me, is one of the most interesting things about filmmaking—the director is an artist, and at the same time, you’re working in a collaborative medium. Especially when you’re working in a user-generated documentary.

 



11/4/08 plays around the country on Wednesday, October 20. If you can't make it, don't fret—it screens at Lincoln Center on Thursday, October 21st, and is available on DVD, iTunes, or any other way you watch a film. Keep up with 11/4/08 on Facebook and Jeff Deutchman on Twitter.

 

Watch the trailer:

 

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