The established distributors have regular circuits in which they play their films, media outlets through which they advertise and audiences they court religiously. A self-distributed movie like “Ballast,” which is cast with African-American nonactors and is about down-and-out characters (and opens at Film Forum in October), is compelling its champions to think outside the art-house box and explore new frontiers and demographics, like black churches and Southern audiences. (The movie, which won cinematography and directing prizes at this year’s Sundance festival, had a tentative deal with IFC Films before the director Lance Hammer decided to release the film through his own Alluvial Film Company.)
“At one time distributors were paying so much money they could do anything they wanted, maybe consult respectfully with the filmmakers but essentially do what they wanted,” said Steven Raphael, a consultant on the movie. “But now there’s no money and filmmakers get resentful, so they’re taking back control.”
Neil Mandt, the director, producer and star of “Last Stop for Paul,” a comedy about two men traveling around the world sprinkling the ashes of their dead friend, had a prospective deal with Magnolia Pictures. But the distributor was interested only in a DVD release. Mr. Mandt passed.
“I will be the first to admit that I never imagined that the movie would connect as well as it did when it won a prize at 45 festivals,” Mr. Mandt said. “That’s a crazy number. Despite that, we never were approached by another company for a domestic distribution deal again.”
“Last Stop for Paul” opens next week in New York, and Mr. Mandt hopes a successful opening will lead to a larger rollout. “If all of this goes as planned,” he said, “maybe in another year we will make our money back.”