Fan-funded films


Milton’s Secret co-author Eckhart Tolle and director Barnet Bain.
Milton’s Secret co-author Eckhart Tolle and director Barnet Bain.

• Retiring VIFF artistic director Alan Franey said he was amazed only four 35-mm films screened at this past fest. Two years ago, he never expected digital projection to be adopted so quickly. Technology is also fast reshaping the way films are funded. Crowdfunding sites such as Indiegogo and Kickstarter, which launched a Canadian platform in September, provide filmmakers with a vital route for fundraising and getting the word out about a new project. In return for their money, funders can “claim” from a range of the filmmakers’ “perks.”

Hilary Henegar led a successful campaign to raise completion funding for Fractured Land (, a film about Caleb Behn, a young indigenous lawyer fighting the fracking industry in his traditional Northern BC territory. Vancouver directors Damien Gillis and Fiona Rayher had already gathered two years of footage when the team launched the month and a half-long campaign in December last year on Indiegogo.

“It’s a fantastic tool,” says Henegar, citing the “sense of ownership and engagement” it helped create among supporters, who in turn generated buzz about the film via social media. As the campaign built momentum, broadcasters started calling. She also felt the campaign “changed the frame” of the film from a “binary David and Goliath struggle… We felt less like the underdogs.”

In the final week, the project surged past its target of $50,000 to $52,520 by campaign deadline (shortfalling campaigns pay five percent more in fees to Indiegogo). A total of 761 small funders contributed from $15 to $1,000 for perks ranging from networking tickets to handmade mukluk boots.

“It’s a lot of work. You’ve got be prepared to work your ass off,” cautions Henegar, who prepared for around six months and took another six months to recover. “I didn’t want to hear the words ‘fractured land’ for three of those.”

Another production currently in the middle of an Indiegogo campaign is Milton’s Secret (, an adaptation of the titular children’s book by Power of Now author Eckhart Tolle and Robert Freidman, illustrated by Frank Riccio. The film, being made by Vancouver-based Hulo Films with the supporting sponsorship of the Dalai Lama Center, stars Peter Fonda and will be directed by What Dreams May Come producer Barnet Bain.

The producers have an ambitious goal to raise one million by November 8, 2013. They say that, with a good slice of the budget raised through their target audience, it will allow them to protect the “integrity of the message.” Bain explains the film will “model a very different response to the challenge of being alive” through the story of a “stressed-out young boy, in a very stressed-out town, in a family where the marriage is coming apart.” Bain fears the transformational nature of the film, speaking to one’s inner life, would be compromised if it went through the “industrial filmmaking complex.”

At time of writing, the campaign had reached $235,838 from 1,893 funders with 12 days to go. The role of the boy has not been cast, yet the campaign has pre-sold hundreds of digital downloads of the film and screenings in theatres and schools. Perks, such as visits to the set, tickets to the premiere (Thanksgiving 2014 is pencilled in) and even small talking parts in the film have all been “claimed.” One funder stumped up $25,000 for a bundle of goodies. With the help of offline parties in Vancouver, Los Angeles and New York, the producers hope they will get the final surge to take them over the top.

Quick mention: Take Back Your Power is a documentary that questions the motives and health impacts arising from the ubiquitous installation of smart meters (

Robert Alstead is making Running on Climate,

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