‘Chasing Asylum’ and ‘Embrace’ help to drive Demand Film’s expansion

David Doepel, Bonsai Films’ Jonathan Page and Andrew Hazelton at the North American launch of Demand Film at the Cannes Film Festival.

Now active in the US, Canada, the UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand, Demand Film is on a fast growth track.

Documentaries are generating 90 per cent of the cinema-on-demand platform’s revenues but founder and MD David Doepel expects that to drop to 75 per cent next year as narrative films become more popular.

The most successful titles include Eva Orner’s Chasing Asylum, which rang up more than $200,000 through the platform in Australia, and Taryn Brumfitt’s body-image documentary Embrace, which grossed £150,000 ($A252,000) in the UK.

The highest-earning narrative feature, US director Matt Hallum’s sci-fi action-comedy Lazer Team, raked in more than $300,000 in Australia and more than $1 million worldwide.

“We are building our database and encouraging people to go to the cinema to watch films that might not be in their special interest areas, but more just because they are great films and a great night out,” Doepel tells IF.

“We are also releasing in a number of different ways. 1. Growing concentric circles of supporters and momentum over time. 2. Event screenings commencing on one single night which can be across multiple countries. 3. A specific launch date and initial campaign followed by a long tail of screening requests.

“In each case our approach is about finding audiences, creating a sense of urgency and a clear call to action,” he says.

Demand Film concentrates on low-yield nights at cinemas and uses crowd sourcing to draw audiences to those cinemas. Its business model sees an average of 129 people per screening on quiet nights.

Last financial year it clocked revenues of more than $1 million and is tracking to reach $1.5 million in the current fiscal year.

The company had its origins in distributor Leap Frog Films, which Doepel founded in 2013 with former Roadshow exec Andrew Hazelton spearheading acquisitions.

In 2014 Leap Frog Films launched on-demand platform Tugg in a joint venture with Tugg US.

Doepel chose not to renew the licence with Tugg and launched Demand Film in August 2016.  “We had different visions of global growth and expansion,” he explains. “We are 100 per cent focused on the cinema experience in as many countries as possible. Tugg is strongly involved in education and also direct streaming content.”

The most popular documentary category in Australia is human rights at 29 per cent followed by health at 26 per cent and environment at 16 per cent.

Demand Film’s marketing of Embrace in the UK has been nominated for specialist film campaign of the year at the UK Screen Awards, which will be presented on November 30. He credits Brumfitt’s infectious enthusiasm and her cadre of Body Image Ambassadors as critical to the film’s success.

Doepel agreed to serve as an executive producer as well as distributing MAMIL (Middle Aged Men In Lycra!), Nickolas Bird and Eleanor Sharpe’s documentary which follows men from the UK, US and Australia who took up cycling in unique or difficult circumstances.

The film had its world premiere at the Adelaide Film Festival. “We are working with the filmmaking team on internationalising the film and seeking partnerships and building audiences globally for it,” he said.

Demand Film collaborates frequently with mainstream distributors such as Madman Entertainment, with blended releases of Le Ride, Phil Keoghan’s documentary of the 1928 Tour de France (for which it has arranged hundreds of screenings worldwide), and Dan Jones and Marcus Cobbledick’s All for One.

It has also worked with Transmission Films on Karina Holden’s Blue and Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk’s An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, and with Roadshow on Max Pugh and Marc James Francis’ mindfulness documentary Walk With Me.

Last week Doepel was in Melbourne for a special screening of Sarah Barton’s Defiant Lives, which charts the rise and struggles of the disability rights movements in the US, the UK and Australia, at the Blind Citizens Australia conference. Demand Film has provided a smart phone app for the audio description to assist the blind and low vision community in Australia.