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European Platform Viewster Launches VOD Film Festival

A jury, headed by indie producer Ted Hope, will hand out $100,000 in prize money for the online-only festival.

Swiss-based VOD platform Viewster is moving into territory previously occupied solely by bricks-and-mortar events with the launch of an online-only, on-demand film festival. The ad-supported VOD platform begun calling for submissions for its first online film festival on its site Monday. The festival itself is set to go live in March.

Independent producers from around the world are being asked to submit original films relating to the theme “When Life Gives You Lemons...” to the platform. Submissions must be at least 12 minutes long, date from 2006 or later and, according to the site's guidelines “not seen by more than 5 million viewers worldwide,” meaning titles that received small or local releases in their home territories could qualify. Submitting producers must hold all rights worldwide for the submitted material. Viewster will accept all submissions, screening only for copyright protected material and explicit pornography.

Viewster's users, which in Europe number some 20 million, will vote on the submitted films, picking a short list of five first round winners. A professional jury will select the three winners. Best film will take home a $70,000 cash prize with a further $30,000 being split between the second and third picks. Independent producer Ted Hope (21 Grams, American Splendor) has been named to head the first Viewster jury. Two other jury members are to be named shortly.

“The festival is a big experiment for us,” Viewster CEO Kai Henniges told The Hollywood Reporter. “But unlike other VOD platforms, which are essentially shiny sales windows, we want to be a true Internet company, and that means being a two-way street, to truly engage with our users and respond to them.”

In contrast to more mainstream-driven VOD services such as Netflix and Hulu, Viewster has carved out a niche for itself in independent and foreign-language material. Korean dramas, Scandinavian crime series and British comedies are among the most successful titles on the site. Henniges says the festival is part of its overall approach to provide a platform for discovery. "Independent filmmakers nowadays have to rely on their own wits to get their material seen and distributed. We want to become a gauge for that, to allow users to find and respond to material outside the mainstream. If you look at the blockbuster movies, they are all available on the piracy sites. We are about content that's not even being pirated because people don't know about it.”

Viewster will be accepting film submissions for its festival through March, when the event will go live. The site plans to hold four such online festivals a year. Aside from the prize money, producers will not be compensated for their material but they can choose to take down their films, or enter a revenue-sharing deal with Viewster following the event.