“The independent film community is used to being scrappy. This is an amazing time for that,” says Col Needham, founder and CEO of indispensible online film resource IMDb, the world’s most popular and authoritative source for information on movies, TV shows and celebrities. But as if his achievements in technology and entertainment weren’t enough, the UK-based Needham also serves as a sitting Film Independent Board Member—helping to guide and nurture everyone’s favorite nonprofit film arts organization in times both good and, erm, pandemic-y. “I believe in what [Film Independent] is doing,” he adds, speaking while working from his home outside Bristol, England, “Having independent voices tell stories is more important than ever.”
During the month of April, Needham (in his capacity on the Fi Board) is one of a core group of contributors making a matching gift in Fi’s fundraising campaign. Some background: with economies around the world facing immense challenges due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, Film Independent is hurting, as are many organizations. In order to keep our virtual doors open and continue all that we do for the indie film community worldwide, Film Independent needs the help of friends like Needham, as well as yours—the campaign ends this Thursday, April 30.
Maximize your impact by donating before Friday. All donations made in April are being matched, dollar-for-dollar by select Film Independent Board Members and other film industry leaders. So, looking to learn a little more about this all-important effort—and generally, just to see how many more movies it’s possible for one human to consume in a lifetime—we gave Mr. Needham a ring.
So Col, Obviously you’re someone who watches a ton of movies. How has the quarantine impacted your viewing habits?
Needham: Yeah, so I’m definitely missing the theatrical experience, of being with an audience. I’m the person who feels that the best way to see a movie is on the big screen with an audience. However, I’m definitely not one of those people who say that it’s the only way to see a film. And one of the things that has kind of just generally been happening is the rise of all the streaming providers and all of the other options out there. Even excluding the current situation it’s been wonderful to see the opportunities that filmmakers have to reach audiences that they didn’t before.
Can you describe what it’s like over where you are?
Needham: I live in the UK, in a major city [Bristol]. We have a local art house cinema that specializes in independent film. You’ll see me there pretty much every weekend. But not everybody has that luxury, which is why it’s far better to bring the films to the audience wherever they are in the world in whatever medium works best for you. It’s better to see the film than not see it at all, that’s my opinion.
What’s the quarantine like in the UK currently?
Needham: The restrictions here are that you’re only allowed out of your house for essential items, and you’re allowed to go out once a day for some kind of exercise. So we’re in a lot. I’m able to see more films than perhaps I would normally. I’m definitely making use of the time to catch up. There have been some films that I’ve missed at festivals that have been released to streaming slightly earlier than they would have. On Tuesday, I watched—hold on, I have to get ahold of the title the right way ‘round…
Oh, I think I know where you’re headed.
Needham: Never Rarely Sometimes Always.
Yeah, that’s what I thought you were probably thinking of.
Needham: We had missed Never Rarely Sometimes Always at Sundance 2020, and it’s now available to stream. But I’m going back through other festivals that we’ve attended where we’ve missed things and finding out what’s available. As a Spirit Awards voter*, I always make sure we watch all of the nominees every single time before the ballots are due. In that sense, I’m usually quite fortunate in that when the nominees are announced, I’ve usually seen the majority of the nominees at various film festivals across the previous year. So it’s kind of like filling in the odd thing that maybe played somewhere, or perhaps didn’t come out in the UK.
Last time we spoke, it was about your journey going from a supporter of Film Independent to becoming a Board Member. In that capacity, I wanted to touch on our current matching campaign. How did the discussion of that come up, and why do you think that it’s critical for people to support Film Independent now during the month of April?
Needham: Sure. Just as all of this was happening, there was one of the regular board meetings. Mary [Sweeney, Film Independent Board Chair] said that this was potentially going to be a difficult time for us, how can the board step up? Mary and Josh [Welsh, Film Independent President] mobilized the board in realizing the seriousness of the situation that Film Independent was going to be in, and what this would mean for the programs, the artists and everyone we support through Film Independent. It was like, well yes, definitely. Let’s do a matching campaign.
Was there any hesitation?
Needham: No hesitation. I was like, “Well, obviously I’d love to. It would be an honor to join,” — which it truly was. So the board rallied around this call, and we were fortunate enough to bring in some longtime Film Independent supporters, like Jeffery Katzenberg and Dawn Hudson. We’re all in this together.
Before we go, I wanted to ask: since you’ve been doing a lot of home viewing recently, is there anything you’ve seen that you recommend?
Needham: Let me grab the iPad to pull up the IMDb app [laughs]. Oh wow, I’m a little spoiled for choice! Tell you what, I’m going to go for this one: Banana Split. It’s a brilliant story about a friendship between two high school seniors just before they go off to college. And they have something in common, but I’m not going to spoil what. It’s a brilliant independent comedy. Let me do another one. This one is from Tribeca last year—it’s definitely an offbeat choice—Swallow.
I’ve heard good things about that.
Needham: It’s a very different film, and it’s basically a story about this woman who develops this bizarre condition where she just wants to eat things. So yes, those are two things I’ve seen in the last week!
Film Independent promotes unique independent voices by helping filmmakers create and advance new work. And we don’t just want to get through this crisis—we want to come out stronger for the community we support. If you want to help support us and all that we do to help support visual storytellers worldwide, now’s the time.
For a limited time through April 30, all donations received will be doubled, up to $80,000, thanks to a generous Film Independent Board Members and Friends Matching Gift. *You, too can be a Film Independent Spirit Awards voter by becoming a Member of Film Independent here.