The director of the indie film festival favorite Ballast is taking the feature to American audiences his own way: city by city, like a rock and roll group on the road: “I’m setting up a tour, like a band, traveling with the film for single screenings, as many as 70 over the next year,” Lance Hammer tells Rob Nelson in Film Comment (full interview available online).
In January, Hammer was the toast of Sundance for Ballast, a film set in the Mississippi Delta that used nonprofessional actors and a distinctly non-Hollywood style of pacing and storytelling. Film critic and Utne Reader contributor Anthony Kaufman, in his review for IndieWire, called the drama “tough” but “far from impenetrable,” “a crystal clear humanist vision of broken-down people who find a semblance of stability in each other.”
This summer, Hammer surprised the indie film world by backing out of a Ballast distribution deal with IFC Films, a development that Kaufman wrote about for IndieWire.
Now Hammer tells Film Comment that part of his motivation was to bring the movie to the Southern black audience—people like those whom the movie portrays.
“The people at IFC are the greatest people, really. They wanted to release the movie in the South, but they really didn’t know how to do it. And I thought that to not show the film to African-American audiences would border on racism. IFC is certainly not racist in any way, but they didn’t think the movie was going to make any money in the South. And they’re a company that has to make money in order to survive. The only way to attack something like that is to be in a position to say, ‘Well, I guess I don’t have to make money.’ I think it’s really important. And maybe it is possible for filmmakers to make that kind of approach work now that the box office has become so poor for small films in conventional release.”
Hammer points that there are audiences “rabid for film” at offbeat venues like rep theaters, film societies, museums, and film schools. “They come in droves to a special event because people trust the curators in those places. … For one screening, you can get as much money as you could in an entire week in a city like Seattle. More important, I feel like I’m accessing the core audience in a way that wasn’t possible with a distributor.”
Image by Lol Crawley, courtesy of Ballast LLC.