Award-winning director promotes his indie films in NZ

Sunday 2 January 2011, 2:57PM

By Sharon Stoll


Independent films with limited marketing budgets eventually find their niche thanks to word-of-mouth marketing and theatres that give such films an extended screen-life.

That’s the message from award-winning British filmmaker Phil Grabsky who says strong competition in a saturated film market can drown out independent films.

It can be even tougher to compete against big blockbusters with a comparatively huge marketing budget.

“It’s been really difficult – and I’ve been doing it for 20 years. I’m relatively successful at it and I still find it very hard.

“I try to keep my enthusiasm and say tell your friends.”

Grabsky was in the country to promote In Search of Hadyn, the third entry in his documentary series on renowned composers, and The Boy Mir, a documentary following an Afghan teenager over a decade.

In Australia, the marketing strategy for his films primarily targets its core audience. The Boy Mir for example, developed an audience through the Afghan community.

“They were mobilising,” he says. “I’ve never had as a strong reaction as In Boy Mir.

“Unfortunately, we can’t take advantage of that here as there’s not much of an Afghan community.”

Yet the filmmaker is optimistic New Zealand will embrace Mir.

“If you’re interested in the world, you have to be interested in Afghanistan. If you’re interested in Afghanistan, you have to be interested in the Afghan people.”

According to Richard Weatherly, of Chapel Distribution, these films could nevertheless follow the template of Grabsky’s previous New Zealand successes.

“We followed the pattern with Mozart and Beethoven and it started, the polite word is, softly,” he says.

“But the second week was up on the first, and the third weekend was up on the second – eventually Paramount in Wellington had it for six months and it had to come off because the International Film Festival was starting.”

Grabsky says this could never happen in Britain.

“I can get three screenings and it doesn’t matter how well you do – there’s just so much stuff coming through.

“You are lucky to have individuals who care about films and not just about the money,” he says. “They don’t want to show schlock.”

In Search of Hadyn is currently screening in select theatres. Due to demand, The Boy Mir has a limited season at the Academy Cinema with plans to open widely in May.