Spike Lee on Internet TV's Reach

From Venice, the acclaimed film director talks about why he debuted his latest short film on Babelgum, the global Internet TV network

U.S. film director Spike Lee came to Europe in early September to attend the Venice Film Festival and help launch an online film contest that aims to give budding filmmakers a global showcase. The online film festival is the brainchild of Babelgum (BusinessWeek.com, 9/4/07), a global Internet TV company based in Ireland.

Lee is the honorary judge of the Babelgum contest. Other judges include the heads of film festivals in Britain, France, the Netherlands, India, and the U.S. The competition is open to all professionally produced short and medium-length feature films, including those created by students in film schools. (See below for more details on the contest and criteria.)

Lee, who has produced or directed more than 35 films since 1983, including She's Gotta Have It, Malcolm X, and Do the Right Thing, released a short film, Jesus Children of America—about a Brooklyn teen who learns she was born HIV-positive—on Babelgum earlier this year (BusinessWeek.com, 6/11/07).

The film had not been aired on traditional TV. While in Venice, Lee agreed to answer e-mailed questions from BusinessWeek correspondent Jennifer Schenker. In his written responses, Lee reflects on why he is embracing Internet TV and why aspiring filmmakers and the Hollywood establishment should do the same.

Why have you decided to embrace Internet TV, and what, specifically, do you like about it?

It's open, democratic, has a global reach, and can pull down today's barriers helping a talent to find an audience and an audience to find a talent.

How long do you think it will be before TV over the Internet becomes a mass-market service?

Nobody can tell, but the time looks ripe for it. The technology is there, as well as an audience tired of the traditional video offer.

Why did you choose to release Jesus Children of America on Babelgum and not to one of the other Internet TV companies? What do you like about Babelgum's model?

Babelgum looks strongly committed to creating an environment in which content that relates to difficult social, moral, educational, or environmental issues can be hosted. This is exactly what my short film is about. I wanted Jesus Children of America to be viewed as much as possible by as many people as possible from all around the world.

What opportunities does a platform like Babelgum give young filmmakers?

To be seen, known, and appreciated. I used to be a struggling independent filmmaker myself and so I understand the importance of a forum like this. With opportunities like this now available, a good filmmaker who doesn't get his films seen has only himself to blame.

Do you think the existence of Internet TV companies like Babelgum will change the way talent is discovered and the way things are done in Hollywood?

Now more than ever before, independent filmmakers need every bit of help to showcase their work. Internet TV services such as Babelgum represent an opportunity to reach a potentially global audience while drawing the attention of the movie production companies. Hollywood might start to look into these TV services to find out who is the most promising or popular talent.

Details of the Babelgum Contest

A prize of €20,000 ($27,248 at current rates) will be offered to winners in each of six categories: a "Looking for Genius Award," which focuses on finding a new or emerging talent; the best film under 20 minutes; the best documentary; the best animation film; the film that most effectively addresses an important social or environmental issue; and the most creative advertising spot.

Submissions will be accepted between Sept. 15 and Feb. 15. In February, submitted films will be showcased on a specially created online film festival channel on Babelgum. The public will be encouraged to rate each film. In March, the 10 highest-rated films in each category will be screened by the jury. Based on the jury's ratings, the top three films in each category will be presented to Lee for personal review and final award selection. The winners will be invited to a ceremony at the Cannes Film Festival, where Lee will present them with their awards.