Commercialism or Community? Money & Life is a Gift.

As Money & Life nears completion and we finalize our plans for release, we took a moment to consider whether we should try for a “big commercial release” for the film or develop our plans to concentrate on the community screening strategy. This was a challenging decision. Ultimately, we will fully embrace the community approach and a gift economy mindset, and now see the film as an opportunity to question the dominant commercial model for media distribution. We want to share the background of this decision with you, expand on our plans for community distribution and invite you to imagine what you will do once the film is widely available in the very near future.

Recently, I showed the Money & Life trailer to a colleague with many years of experience in documentary film. He asked if the production values of whole film were as strong as what he’d seen. I told him that the trailer was cut two years ago, and that the film – from a production value lens alone – had advanced leaps and bounds. He said, “I don’t understand why you’re not going for a commercial release.”

I respect his opinion a lot, and he had a good point. If we found a traditional distributor, they would purchase rights to the film, immediately repaying Katie for the significant effort and expense she has put forward to make the film. More importantly, this route offers the possibility of massive reach, including national (then international) cinematic distribution, major coverage in the media and a very, very large audience.

But we had to ask ourselves – is audience size our key measure of impact for the film? AsI wrote earlier, we see the purpose of the film as creating a personal experience that inspires deep dialogue and change at the community and global level. If a million people saw the film in large theatrical venues, but then went home, alone, without dialogue and the chance to coordinate with their neighbors, is that real impact? If just one thousand people saw the film, committed to new courses of action and mutual support, that could start a cascade of change towards a just, resilient economy.

More importantly, can a film that asks challenging questions about money and commercialism authentically rely on that system to be seen and have impact? As we were asking these questions as a team, I had a chance to share a meal with about 10 supporters in the Bay Area, and we discussed this question in depth.  We also discussed the question with our marketing advisor at the Film Collaborative. And Katie took some soul-searching time.

The answer is a resounding “Yes to community.” We are now putting final touches on the community distribution plan, and we want to radically frame distribution as contributing to a gift economy. Katie will license the film under Creative Commons, offer digital downloads and streaming under a “pay according to your values or pay it forward” model. Physical copies of the DVD will be for sale at a low price point, but buyers will be invited to add a donation to help move the work of the film forward. We will offer suggested gifts for community and educational screenings, rather than require license purchases.  And this gift economy distribution will launch on May Day, 2013, after we’ve taken our premier tour in March and April.

While we’re at it, let’s imagine a world where a millions people see the film and have the opportunity for dialogue and change!  In a peer-to-peer world we know that by lowering the access barrier and de-criminalizing sharing, the film may in fact reach more eyes and hearts or certainly the many eyes and hearts that are hungry for a valuable tool likeMoney & Life.

For the film to reach its fullest impact, we must ask you:

“What gifts will you bring to the life and work of the film?”

We are a small team with a very small budget compared to many films in the market. And many of us close to the film hope that Katie will recoup the costs of producing the film and prosper going forward as a result of offering the gift of Money & Life. Instead of holding the film back from everyone but film festival audiences and potential distributors, we are rushing to give the film to you and your communities.  This both allows for and requires your creativity.

How can the film benefit the work you do in creating a new economy? How will you organize to make sure it is seen and inspires dialogue? Since you won’t need permissionor a lot of money on hand to show the film, what will you do with it?

We know that the team at Bay Bucks wants to organize to find theaters that will acceptlocal, alternative currencies as payment for cinematic screenings. We also know several financial advisors who will use the film to educate their contemporaries on values-based investing. We’d love to hear your ideas (below in the comments or over on Facebook), but remember – soon you won’t have to wait for us to say “yes,” to those ideas. If we’re successful, our little team will grow into a community of supporters all taking their own initiative and supporting each other in reaching and inspiring audiences.

So, let’s get ready for May 1, the day Money & Life will enter the economy as a gift! Thanks to everyone who has already brought their gifts to the project.



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