Indie films going to Sundance usually hope to get bought; filmmakers hang around waiting to hear back from the faux-indies (a group that will be much smaller next January, with so many of the studio dependents, like Paramount Vantage, Picturehouse and Warner Independent sailing off into the sunset this year) about a deal.

Lance Hammer’s Ballast didn’t get bought in Park City, but the Sundance best director and best cinematography prizes propelled it strongly into the Berlin Film Festival, where Hammer entered a deal with IFC Films. But this week Hammer pulled out of that deal, opting instead to release Ballast the same way it was made – completely independently, on his own.

“IFC is a really good company,” Hammer told indieWIRE.
“The problem is the larger issue that’s plaguing every filmmaker right
now: The distributors don’t really offer any money. That’s not that big
of a deal if they would allow you to have control of your project, but
they don’t.”

Says indieWIRE: Hammer was particularly dissatisfied with the lengthy term of the
contracts. “Giving up Internet rights for 20 years, that’s just crazy,”
he said. He also disagreed with IFC’s exclusive home video deal with
Blockbuster, which he called a “deal breaker.”

I saw Ballast at Sundance this year; it didn’t blow me away as it did some of my colleagues, but I thought it was a very good, very surprising and often very beautiful looking film. It’s also not a commercial movie in almost any way; populated with non-actors, told in a very quiet and subdued manner, centering on the lives of truly poor, non-ghetto fabulous black people, Ballast isn’t the kind of happy-go-lucky indie that crosses over. It’s the kind of movie that is big time film festival bait, that ends up on the top ten lists of people who don’t list any American film with a budget over a million dollars. I know that sounds dismissive (I’m not trying to be), but it’s a pretty sober assessment of the film’s commercial viability: extraordinarily limited. The idea would be that having the muscle of someone like IFC behind the movie might be able to get it in front of more eyeballs, onto more screens.

indieWire has a fascinating examination of Hammer’s thoughts and plans for the film - he’s opening it at the Film Forum in New York in October and then rolling it out from there, using $250,000 he raised from the movie’s initial investors to pay for prints and advertising – and I’m interested in seeing what he’s able to make happen. Hammer’s looking into very alternative distribution patterns, and is blazing new ground in a time when all the old paths seem to have been pounded down into mud. These are not great times for independent film, and Hammer is taking quite a leap.