By Mike Berlin
If the pre-Kickstarter era is emblematic of a long drought for the LGBT filmmaking community, it may only be publicly noticeable in hindsight, due to the return of exceptionally complex and first-rate queer cinema in 2011. Indie fare like Beginners, Weekend, Tomboy, and Circumstance suggest that distributors are taking chances and funders are willing to give gay a chance again. And even if investment opportunities are still hard to come by, Kickstarter provides an alternative that puts autonomy and responsibility back into the filmmakers’ hands.
“There’s beginning to be a community of people coalescing around these kinds of works,” says Baran, who foresees the end of “a period of homogenization, where people thought, Oh, well we got on major TV shows, so we don’t have to put gay stories out there, we don’t have to strive to tell weird or creepy or strange stories. I’m hoping we’re in a new moment.”
Kickstarter exists in the minds of many as a solely virtual realm, but its office is in New York’s Lower East Side. Occupying three floors of an aged four-story row house—with ornate moldings, pressed-tin ceilings, and creaky hardwood floors—it was filled with a genial buzz in early January for a private screening of Battle for Brooklyn. The documentary, which raised over $25,000 in 2009, was one of three funded through Kickstarter to be shortlisted for the 2012 Academy Awards.
At the screening, I was greeted by Justin Kazmark, Kickstarter’s director of communications, a slim, six-foot-five guy with a Jesus beard. He described the company’s formula as the intersection of “patronage and commerce.”
The same slogan was later repeated by Elisabeth Holm, who specializes in film projects on the website.
Even though she’s been with Kickstarter for a year, Holm paused when asked for her official position. “Our company is so anti-title,” she said. “This place is kind of wonderfully non-hierarchical, which is really rare and unbelievable.”
Is the goal of Kickstarter to dismantle all traditional methods of film funding? “I think all the old models still exist and continue to be necessary and important,” she said. “But what’s emerged is an opportunity to connect with an audience and build this level of awareness about your work.”
Holm is currently producing a film, Welcome to Pine Hill, whose own Kickstarter campaign ended in mid-January. But she initially came into contact with the site while financing another film through it. “Kickstarter was doing something revolutionary,” she said, pausing to sip from a plastic cup of wine. “I was kind of romantic about the whole thing -- I still am. I know it sounds like I’m drinking the Kool-Aid, but I think anyone who’s gone through the process is on that train.”