September 9, 2011

IconIndependent lesbian cinema: a new era?

It may only be only six months old, but BuskFilms, the niche online video-streaming site, has already developed a large following of fans.

Siobhan McGuirk reports on a project bringing independent lesbian cinema to new audiences, giving filmmakers their dues and building an international community.

In late 2009, I wrote an article for Lesbilicious rather boldly entitled: “Why are lesbian films so bad?” Part analysis, part vitriolic rant, the piece closes with the lament that “interesting lesbian-themed cinema is in danger of remaining specialist and little seen”. Fast-forward a year, and up steps BuskFilms to save the day, hauling an impressive array of such films into the mainstream.

Andrea Wing, founder and CEO of the company says the idea was a product of her own, similar frustrations, declaring when the site launched: “[I realized that] if I wanted to find something beyond mash-ups of two women kissing on YouTube, I was going to have to look elsewhere.”

Rather than just whine, filmmaker Wing drew on her insider knowledge and started talking to friends, colleagues and investors about an ambitious project that would not only bring better, independent films to wider, international audiences, but also offer budding and established filmmakers alike the chance to showcase and discuss their work.

footballundercover200Since launching in February this year, the content on the site has developed in exciting and unexpected ways. Foreign films make a strong showing and, in all genres, themes that are not obviously or exclusively ‘lesbian’ are explored.

Football Undercover and Liberty: 3 Stories About Life & Death are both about as far from YouTube compilation fodder as you can imagine. Each, in different ways, is at once sobering and inspiring.

Dramas and comedies feature most frequently in the catalogue, which includes the awards-amassing A Marine Story and late-1990s cult favourite It’s In The Water. Wing is enthusiastic about the content – and promises more to come. “We are continually building more features into the site and scouting for new films. We know that we need to keep the content fresh for our users – and for our own sanity”, she says.

Particularly exciting is Busk’s new partnership with LGBT-movie behemoth Wolfe Video. “They have many fantastic titles”, says Wing. “And Busk can help them reach audiences outside of North America and the UK”, she adds, excited that another goal of the site – to build an international community around film – is being achieved.

“It has been amazing to see rentals coming from places like Turkey and South Korea. I always imagined that Busk could be a fantastic resource for people who don’t have the luxury of living out and proud” Wing reflects. Feedback from all quarters has been positive: “The response that we’ve had from users has been quite amazing, from ‘OMG this is the website of my dreams’ to ‘It’s like Disney Land for the gays!’”

Filmmakers are also celebrating the positive and fair approach Busk takes towards promoting their work – and properly compensating them for it. “We want filmmakers to succeed, we want their films to be seen and we want them to make money. We have just gone through our first filmmaker payout and it felt really good to write cheques to filmmakers, thanks to people paying for and watching the films.”

While piracy and illegal downloads of movies regularly make headline news, modern audiences – perhaps rightly so – have little sympathy for big studios that, nonetheless, continue to turn over huge profits. For those working in the independent sector, where innovation is more likely to flourish, however, piracy has a massively detrimental effect, reducing the amount and quality of work they can produce.

marinestory200“It’s a devastating reality,” says Wing, though she understands the root cause. “Unfortunately in many cases people resort to piracy simply because it is their ONLY way to access content. My hope is that BuskFilms will be one of the solutions to this problem.”

That seems likely, not least because prices are so low: films cost $1.99-$4.99 (£1.20-£3.00), depending on length. It’s free to sign-up as a member and the viewing process is simple: browse titles and watch trailers before choosing what to rent. The film is then available to stream for he next 48 hours. While there are no plans to make films available for downloads, bulk-buy offers and monthly subscriptions are both in the works.

Further ahead, Wing says mobile delivery is being investigated along with subtitling options that will open the screen door to even more international viewers. Any other developments might well be decided by you, the viewer.

Summing up the BuskFilms ethos, Wing invites feedback: “This is a site for the community and we are very much open to hearing what you have to say.” As long as it’s not your favourite movie stars kissing to the strains of Celine Dion, I’m sure they’ll aim to oblige.
Disclosure: Busk Films is an advertiser on Lesbilicious.

1 Response to Independent lesbian cinema: a new era?

  1. I applaud and fully support this great initiative. Carry on and don’t stop :-) And in the not so distant future I am sure we will contribute cool lesbian cinema ourselves.

Siobhan McGuirk

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