Tapping a musical fixer, 3D FX to market I Am The Blues

Coming Soon: EyeSteelFilm's Damien Detcheberry breaks down how the film's distributors are targeting jazz and blues fans across Canada.
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Coming Soon, an ongoing editorial feature from Playback, highlights distribution strategies for soon-to-be-released Canadian films. Here, we speak to EyeSteelFilm’s Damien Detcheberry about the distribution for the upcoming documentary feature I am the Blues.

The film: I am the Blues follows the last of the Mississippi Delta’s original blues musicians, many of whom are in their 80s, as they tour the Chitlin’ Circuit in the U.S. deep south. The documentary features artists such as Bobby Rush, Barbara Lynn and Lazy Lester.

Production/distribution credits: I am the Blues is written and directed by EyeSteelFilm co-founder Daniel Cross, who also served as a producer alongside Bob Moore. Mila Aung-Thwin and Bruce Cowley executive produced. The French Canada release is being handled by EyeSteel, while English Canada distribution is being handled by Films We Like. Worldwide broadcast and distribution rights are still available.

Theatrical:  The documentary will open at Toronto’s Bloor Hot Docs Cinema on June 3, following a run on the festival circuit that included screenings at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam, South by Southwest and Hot Docs. The film has already had special screenings in Rimouski, QC, Regina and Saskatoon, SK, but the official opening is at the Bloor, where it will run until June 9.  The opening screenings will feature a Q&A with the director along with an exhibition of 11 hand-drawn film posters that were specially created to resemble vintage jazz and blues music posters.

The film will then open in Winnipeg on June 4, with screenings until June 18, followed by a June 13 opening in Vancouver, and a June 10 – 16 run in Montreal and Quebec City. It will open in other cities throughout the summer for limited runs. “It’s irrelevant for such a small film to do a national release, with [openings] at the same time, because this is the kind of documentary that you want the [creative] team to follow,” Detcheberry said. “You want people to come to the cinema because it’s an event, because it’s something special. So we need the filmmaker to be able to travel from city to city to present the film.”

Marketing: There are two main pillars to EyeSteelFilm’s marketing strategy, said Detcheberry. First is the website. Along with the standard synopsis, trailer and  screening information, the website also features a 3D immersive experience that lets viewers explore the juke joints and concert venues featured in the film. Each “room” features additional footage from the film, concert footage, songs that aren’t included in the theatrical version, and extended interviews. All of these elements help to expand the experience of the film, said Detcheberry. “On all of our marketing materials we try to bring people to the website so they can discover the music before they actually watch the film, and also so they can know a bit more about who these [titans] of blues music are and the experience of the juke joints of the Old Mississippi River.”

The second major pillar of the marketing strategy is a man named Rob Lutes. Lutes is a jazz and blues musician with deep roots in those communities. EyeSteel brought him on as a marketing consultant to help spread the word about the film to musicians across the country. Lutes has been reaching out to blues associations, radio shows, local cinemas and helping to set up events and screenings of the film. “Rob’s work has been essential, because you can produce a movie on any subject but reaching out to the community is essential and it’s difficult for any distribution or production company to have the time to do that work – to know the places, to get acquainted with the people,” said Detcheberry.

Additional windows: While a date is not yet set, Detcheberry said the film will be available on digital platforms in Canada following the theatrical release, as well as on Blu-ray and DVD. Detcheberry also hopes the film will experience a “second life” in universities, libraries and colleges across the country.

Target audience:  Music lovers are, of course, the target audience for the film, but Detcheberry hopes it will appeal to those who are also interested in documentaries about society.  This is a film about music, he says, but it’s also about a way of life that might be coming to  end.”It’s also a social doc, but without the weight or seriousness of a social doc,” he said.

Budget/financing: While Detcheberry did not discuss production financing specifically, he said the film received financing from SODEC and Telefilm Canada and had a marketing and distribution budget of around $50,000.