By Gina Keating
Online DVD renter Netflix Inc. hopes its subscribers will fall in love
this week with "Cowboy del Amor," and many other unsung movies it is
quietly buying at film festivals to release in arthouse theaters.
Netflix will begin offering its customers the low-budget, independent
"Cowboy" film as the first title it has backed with a theatrical
release under a strategy to be the only place cinephiles can rent some
small, critically praised works.
Typically, DVD rentals get a boost from the publicity films receive in
theatrical release. That is especially true for low-budget and
art-house films like "Cowboy," which was released at theaters in a
handful of cities for a few days in February .
Netflix's publicity department made sure "Cowboy" -- a documentary by
award-winning filmmaker Michele Ohayon about an ex-rodeo cowboy who
runs what he calls a "woman bidness" to introduce lonely American men
to marriage-minded Mexican women -- got noticed by reviewers.
For the next month, "Cowboy" will be available only at Netflix.
"I was married to an American woman for 17-1/2 years. She spoke
perfect English and I never could understand her," begins the film's
folksy narration, by "Cowboy Cupid" Ivan Thompson, who Netflix sent
out on a media tour, including a visit to Howard Stern's radio show
set for Monday.
Lonely and unable to find an American wife, Thompson ran an ad in a
Mexican newspaper more than 16 years ago and said he was astounded to
receive replies from more than 80 women, including one from the gal he
married, then divorced -- twice.
"I said to myself, 'Self, this will make a good bidness,' and so I
started doing it for the public," Thompson explained.
The film, shot over three years in Mexico, New Mexico and Texas,
traces the varying successes of three of Thompson's customers in
finding cross-border love.
"To present a woman good, I have to be enthused about 'em and like
'em, so it's a whole lot like the horse bidness," Thompson muses
toward the end of "Cowboy."
Data collected on Netflix's 4.2 million subscribers' movie tastes help
the company find an audience for hidden gems like "Cowboy," Netflix
Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos said.
"We do fill a unique niche around small-market films," Sarandos said.
Netflix often recommends little-known films to subscribers based on
ratings customers give to earlier movies they have rented. Netflix's
practice has built a level of trust among subscribers who believe the
company is recommending a movie they will like.
The company, which pioneered online DVD rental, began dabbling in
distributing small films in 2004 with DVD releases of films such as
"Born Into Brothels," a documentary on the children of prostitutes in
Calcutta, which later won an Academy Award for best documentary.
From "Brothel," Netflix learned "the importance of making the film an
event for a particular audience but not trying to make one film for
everybody," Sarandos said. "Being able to identify what niche wants a
particular film and marketing that film (to them) ... is really
Sarandos said he and his staff plan to secure rights to 100 more
titles per year based on what he called "data-driven hunches."
Sarandos saw "Cowboy Del Amor" at the South by Southwest film festival
in Austin, Texas, and realized it was made by Ohayon, whose previous
two films, "The First Year" and "It Was A Wonderful Life," were
distributed exclusively by Netflix.
"As far as I'm concerned everything I have done with Netflix has been
successful," Ohayon said. "I know that every film has a long shelf
life if you handle it right. There was complete respect for the
filmmaking behind it, which is a filmmaker's dream."
Copyright 2006 Reuters Limited.
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