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The Independent Critic

 Paul Lazarus Interview (Continued) 
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THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

I do want to talk about your experience at Heartland Film Festival. We are talking toward the end of the festival, but I still like to get a sense of a filmmaker's experience at the festival.

PAUL LAZARUS

I think it's a terrific festival and I don't say that lightly. I was debating an editorial piece about film festivals in general. There's been a disconnect all around the country about what film festivals are and why there's a need for them. There's a tendency for the film festivals to basically be about themselves and not about the films they're servicing. In other words, "How do I get grant money?" or "How do I get sponsorship?" and self-sustain so that I can be here next year. The films are getting lost in the shuffle. If you start focusing on the need for funds in certain ways, then you start focusing on stars and focusing on films that already have a national audience. When I see a film in a film festival that's a studio release, I'm already scratching my head because studios already spend a lot of money to make sure that audiences are aware of their product. Why is a film festival, which is clearly about the art of film, supporting a film that already has a machine behind it and giving it a lot of attention? The answer to that is because they'll get a star to appear. Then, the sponsor will be happy because they shook hands with a star and they'll write another $25,000 check. If that's all the festival is, then it doesn't make me very happy. I don't believe the Heartland Film Festival is in that territory. They seem to be about film. It's been around for a long time and there's demonstrable organizational care. I really appreciate that as a filmmaker having spent a lot of years and personal money on this project. The fact that they care about the film and want to help us get it out to the world is very meaningful to me and I feel that here. I don't feel it everywhere.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

That's sad.

PAUL LAZARUS

I often feel quite the opposite and it's very upsetting. I've had calls from film festivals that have been so upsetting that I've withdrawn the film from the film festival because the treatment's so heinous.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

Where do you see this journey going? I mean, you do have a timeline. Do you see this continuing on the film festival circuit?

PAUL LAZARUS

We have a very important timeline. The timeline is now. We think it's terribly important to get the story out. A lot of people have said to me that sometimes the story becomes truth. I think in this case that might be the case. The more we get the story about this technology out, the more it might become true. We feel a great deal of pressure to get it out. We have avoided all the traditional paths. The film has gotten a good bit of attention and has engendered some very attractive offers. In the world of film, when a company says "We'd like to give your film a release" in a few cities that's an extraordinarily attractive offer. Most films would jump at that. That's typically very attractive. Any other film that I've ever made that would be an extraordinary attraction. With this film, it is not because I want people to see this film. I'd love to get reimbursed for all the money I've spent and all the time, but it's very unlikely. It's very hard to get reimbursed for seven years of your life. What is absolutely important to me is how many people see the film and the impact that it has. We walked away from a lot of traditional film offers in order for us to do what we consider to be a more meaningful distribution which is, quite frankly, DIY. We are going after every organization in the country that has some meaningful reason for screening this film. I've hired a team of five people who are, as we speak, at work getting this film out there. We're going to do it any way we can whether it's forming alliances with the Rotary Clubs, who have named water as one of their biggest topics, or with FIRST Robotics Teams, which Dean has founded. There's 3,000 high school teams in the country. 10% of 3,000 is 300. That's 300 potential screenings if we reach 10% of those teams. Even if there's 100 people at each screening, that's spreading the word all over the country. There's Rotary Clubs, water groups, engineering groups, and anything that the movie touches upon we're going after. We have people who are making it their work and their passion to get this movie out there. Right now, until I get slapped down that's how we're going to get the movie out there.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

You mentioned the water groups. Are any of the national or international water groups partnering at this point?

PAUL LAZARUS

We've begun that effort. I have a very good relationship with Ben Grumbles, who is President of the U.S. Water Alliance. He feels the movie is important for his people. He helped with a screening at the Smithsonian on November 2nd. The answer is "Yes!" we're going after every single group we can.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

So, they're not resisting it? You talked about some of the organizations that really should have been supportive and weren't or haven't been.

PAUL LAZARUS

It's a changing world everyday. Water gets bigger and bigger as a topic. It's not under a rock now. I still think it's a large distance before the broader population will understand all that's going on with water. I'd like to think that the more people see this movie the more that will understand. That's why we want millions to see it not thousands. In order to get that, we're working very hard.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

I think your approach also is providing a good model for the independent filmmaker. I think a lot of times it can be tempting to go with the, I don't want to say "easy" because there are no easy ways with independent film, offers that one does get.

PAUL LAZARUS

Especially when it's the quality of the companies that have been coming to us. They are very well known and very advanced in the documentary world. These are the top companies in my business, but their offer is traditional and not really thinking about what it is we're trying to do. We want eyeballs on the film. We're not trying to have a small release that leads to the video sales and increases awareness of the word "SlingShot" so that people download it or buy it. That's all about money and return on the investment. We're trying to have impact and spreading awareness about this invention and changing people's attitudes about water. When you're going after that, it's important that people see the film. I don't even like the idea of giving the film away because I won't know if people show up. It's more important to me that they show up than they got it for free. So, if charging $10 makes a person think at 7:45 "Well, I actually paid $10 so I'm really going to go see that film" it's more important to me. Free is an interesting question, because a lot of people have talked to me about giving the film away. I would do it in a moment if I thought people would watch it. but if people are just going to get it and not watch it or just put it on the shelf then free is not so good to me.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

I know that you need to get going. I really appreciate your time!

For more information on "SlingShot," visit the "SlingShot" website.

Interview by Richard Propes.
Copyright 2014

 

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