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NEW YORK Indie films fill 1st-run DVD club



Published: Tue, February 11, 2003 @ 12:00 a.m.



For those movie fans who don't have time to go to an independent theater or whose towns don't have one, the club has been a plus.

NEW YORK (AP) -- Larry Meistrich was once a leader of the independent film movement. Now, he's a suburban dad who has trouble even getting to a movie theater.

"I have to get a baby sitter. I have to drive into Manhattan," said Meistrich, 35. "It's a four- to five-hour commitment."

So he started a DVD-of-the-month club that aims to bring thought-provoking, quality indie films to people's doorsteps. It offers only first-run films, all of them award-winners from major film festivals.

The company, Film Movement, also plans to show the films in a few small movie theaters, and members can attend for free.

"He's found a way to collapse the window so you don't have to wait several months for it to come out," said Scott Hettrick, editor in chief of Video Business, a trade publication for home-video retailers.

Film Movement, based in Fair Lawn, N.J., is the first club Hettrick knows of to offer first-run films on video.

Dozens of specialty clubs cater to fans of sci-fi, animation or adult videos. Larger clubs like Columbia House mail popular selections to subscribers, and companies like Netflix let members rent out several titles at once.

Nearly half of Film Movement's roughly 3,000 subscribers so far come from areas where independent theaters are scarce, Meistrich said.

"In Manhattan, it's a good idea," said Curtis Hougland, Meistrich's partner. "In Kansas City, my hometown, or Boise, Idaho, it's a phenomenal idea."

Membership costs

Film Movement charges either $19.95 a month or $189 a year for membership, and mailed out its first DVD before Christmas: "El Bola," a Spanish film about child abuse that won four Goya awards, the highest honors in Spain.

It's a film that would likely fail at the box office its first weekend, Meistrich said.

"You can't spend enough money" to market it in theaters, Meistrich said. "There's no product tie-in. There's nobody famous in it. What it has are incredibly good reviews."

Making selections

He and a group of film-industry professionals attend dozens of festivals to find selections for the monthly club, sifting through what he estimates are thousands of features made each year that are never distributed.

Independent filmmakers have a hard time finding distribution when they are up against major movie stars and large studios' marketing campaigns, said Eric Eason, who sold Meistrich his film, "Manito," about two New York City brothers trying to escape drugs and violence.




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