Thursday, March 29, 2007

Al Gore isn’t the only former Democratic senator who ran for president in 2000 moving into the world of

small films.

Bill Bradley is one of eight luminaries listed in the “advisors and investors” section of The new site offers viewers access to a huge library of independent and world cinema.

The collaboration may not be as odd as it seems. The start-up, whose online doors opened just six weeks ago, has the same lofty goal as some politicians: to bring people together.

Jaman is the brainchild of Gaurav Dhillon, a businessman born and raised in India. He founded the Silicon Valley software company Informatica in 1992 and spent 12 years as CEO. He then took a year off to do the things you don’t have time for when you run a billion-dollar company — have fun and travel the world.

“It became clear to me that very high-quality media was being produced in these countries,” Mr. Dhillon says by telephone. “You can’t buy this media here. Gosh, I thought, we could build a company to provide media of all types not being served by the hit-based Hollywood model.”

Mr. Dhillon put his own money into the venture, which started with 1,000 films under contract when it went online six weeks ago. It’s signed 300 more since then. That’s about four times the number of films available on ITunes. Only 300 better-than-DVD-quality films are online right now, but they’re adding at least 20 a week.

Jaman has plenty of films to choose from: Mr. Dhillon notes that less than 1 percent of all films made around the world get U.S. distribution. To find the best of those, Jaman partners with film festivals.

“One of our execs is in Hong Kong at this minute at the film festival there,” the CEO reports. “If it won an audience award, it’s precisely the kind of film we want.”

Acquisitions include “We Shall Overcome,” a film about a boy in 1969 Denmark inspired by Martin Luther King that won the best feature film prize at the Berlin International Film Festival, and “Black,” a 2005 Indian blockbuster that swept that country’s equivalent of the Oscars.

You might be able to see films like this in your local theater — once a year, if you’re lucky enough to live in a city with a film festival. With Jaman’s viewing software, you can view them on your PC, Mac or television.

Filmmakers will soon be allowed to upload their films themselves. “It will revolutionize how students in film schools will spread the word about their short films,” Mr. Dhillon predicts. “You see what MySpace has done for independent music.”

But Jaman claims an even higher aim. “We want to engender a social awareness of other cultures,” Mr. Dhillon says.

The site uses new technology to allow film buffs to communicate with each other in new ways. For example, Jaman gives viewers the ability to talk about a film, scene-by-scene, while they’re watching it.

Viewers can also discuss not just the films themselves but also the deeper issues they bring up. A documentary about the rain forests being destroyed in Brazil, Mr. Dhillon says, could inspire a discussion on how best to preserve the environment.

Right now, as the site continues its test period, many films are free and new users get three free “tickets” to purchase films that aren’t. Eventually, renting films will cost $1.99 and buying them will cost $4.99. So far, 12,000 film fans have embraced this new technology. Mr. Dhillon expects it to catch on quickly.

“The market is changing very rapidly,” he says. “People are putting Hollywood movies online at Amazon and Apple. That’s changing the environment. If those guys are doing it, suddenly the fear starts to evaporate. We saw it happen with music, and now it’s happening with film and television.”

Going, going

One filmmaker is using the Internet in a rather different way to draw attention to his movie.

If you’ve got $1 million, you can probably buy the distribution rights to “Lady Magdalene’s,” a film starring Nichelle Nichols (“Star Trek’s” Uhura). The movie is being auctioned on EBay and has yet to find a single bidder.

Libertarian science fiction writer J. Neil Schulman has written and directed the film, which features a rather singular plot. Miss Nichols is the title character, a madam of a legal Nevada brothel. It’s behind on taxes, so the IRS assigns agent Jack Goldwater to run the place until it can pay. He discovers that one of the call girls is an al Qaeda sleeper agent coordinating a plot to destroy America involving the Hoover Dam.

Mr. Schulman’s only other writing credit is a single episode of the 1980s version of “The Twilight Zone.”

The listing for EBay item number 230108636678 contains a trailer and musical number from the action-comedy. The line is no longer on the listing, but reports that Mr. Schulman had written, “If you’re not entirely satisfied that this film will have an opening weekend of $30 million or more in domestic U.S. box office receipts, your money will cheerfully be refunded!”

You have until Monday to own a piece of what may become film history.

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