Meet Sasha K. Gordon, the star of David Bezmozgis' film Natasha, and one of the more talked about actresses of 2017 due to her stellar work in the film. As Natasha heads for a theatrical release in New York on April 28th, we caught up with Sasha and talked about her character, the film, her upcoming off-broadway play Terezin, and her interesting journey from Odessa, Ukraine to New York City.
Discovering great films is a transformative experience. As the features programmer for the Pendance Film Festival in Toronto, I sifted through hundreds of films from around the world during the process of compiling the lineup of our festival’s 2019 edition. After watching A.J. Edwards’ Friday’s Child for the first time, I immediately knew it was a keeper. The film is an intense, devastating look at the struggles of an orphan named Richie (Tye Sheridan) after he ages out of the Texas foster care system at the age of 18. I admired the film’s audacity to tell its story in an honest and confident manner.
When I met Alan Elias, executive producer and OnBuzz CEO, at the festival gala two months later, my appreciation of the film only grew. Alan is a passionate producer whose desire to disseminate important social messages through art is always on full display.
When Alan took to the stage to participate in a Q&A session following our Canadian premiere of Friday’s Child, he answered the questions of audience members who had clearly been emotionally impacted by the film. He also delivered a heartfelt speech about his inspiration for getting involved in the making of the film. He explained his philosophy that films can be used to spark social movements, and went into detail about how Friday’s Child would raise awareness for the struggles of over 400,000 children who are in foster care throughout the United States.
Every year, over 20,000 children age out of the government foster care system without family or financial support. Alan was proud that his film will introduce this issue to audiences who have never heard about it before.
Sasha K. Gordon Q&A. From Odessa to New York City
Let’s take Friday’s Child as an example of the unique OnBuzz marketing strategy. Alan and the other members of OnBuzz were able to use their contacts in the not-for-profit foster care community to distribute the film. One of the chief sponsors was the Ticket to Dream Foundation, created by Sleep Train founder Dale Carlsen. Operating in fifty states and working with over two hundred additional not-for-profit organizations, Ticket to Dream raises money and awareness for thousands upon thousands of American foster children, which made the organization an ideal partner for Friday’s Child, OnBuzz’s rallying cry for the foster care movement.
The film’s theatrical release begins on May 7 with over 500 theaters booked and currently 109 not-for-profit organizations reaching out to their constituents to market the film.
Once a film is funded, how does OnBuzz promote it? OnBuzz has numerous inventive ways of getting the job done. For Friday’s Child, there is a five-minute preshow call to action, highlighting the various organizations that helped fund the film and its resulting social impact experience. There will be an extensive data-driven ad campaign targeting relevant cities that were identified by OnBuzz’s cause-specific sponsors as likely to respond to the film and its message. This ad campaign will tap into a vast communication network, beginning with not-for-profit sponsors and spreading to partnerships with Fortune 500 companies that invest millions of dollars in foster care and social influencers.
The extensive reach of OnBuzz’s sponsors was enough to attract the attention of Texas First Lady Cecilia Abbott, and she ended up attending the premiere of Friday’s Child at SXSW, showing her support for the film and its worthwhile cause. All these marketing tactics were able to generate so much buzz that I was able to learn about Friday’s Child in Canada, another country. OnBuzz had used its marketing approach to make its social impact campaign an international event.
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Alan Elias at the Canadian Premiere of Friday's Child at Pendance 2019
The Official Trailer for Friday's Child by A.J. Edwards
Friday’s Child ended up striking a chord with our programmers and audience members alike. My colleagues and I ultimately voted to give the film our festival’s Best Film award. The film is an aesthetic triumph, but it also tells a great story, one that is enriched by its edifying sense of purpose. A.J. Edwards' commitment to substance ensures that Friday’s Child impacts both art and society. As Thomas Mann’s novel Doctor Faustus (1947) reminds us, it is dangerous for a culture to value aesthetics over all other considerations when evaluating the work of its artists.
Since Alan’s visit to Pendance, I've stayed in touch with him and learned even more about his OnBuzz mission. And after numerous one-on-one conversations with him, I am convinced that he is a true visionary who has invented a revolutionary method of producing, marketing, and distributing films. His production company, OnBuzz, is changing the way audiences receive and digest content. I am grateful that my discovery of Friday’s Child led to my discovery of OnBuzz.
The OnBuzz mission is to create a hybrid social impact strategy. What this strategy entails is creating and marketing films that represent social issues that are currently plaguing our society. OnBuzz taps into a wide pool of sponsors who are affiliated with or are themselves organizations that spread awareness of these social issues. When making filmmaking and marketing decisions, Alan is able to tap into his years of work for the American Red Cross, the largest not-for-profit organization in the world along with his work with over 1,400 not-for-profit organizations.
In an age of changing movie-watching habits, OnBuzz is able to guarantee an audience for its films. It does this by working with organizations that represent and interact with the films’ target audience as part of their daily existence. OnBuzz does not guess who will watch its content; it knows who will watch its content. As a result, OnBuzz is able to create a unified movement behind each of its productions. These movements help to create a cinematic shift toward social impact.
As a filmmaker who is the grandson of three Holocaust survivors, I know how important it is for socially-conscious film artists to use their talent to create edifying experiences for audiences. I am also aware of how difficult it can be for film artists to find funding for work that while socially important may not seem marketable to giant studios and production companies that spend their time chasing the latest trends, most of which are largely technological in nature and have nothing to do with storytelling or substantive thematic content.
OnBuzz is interested in art and society, as well as the countless intersections between these two realms. OnBuzz understands that art is the highest form of communication. It also understands that communication is a two-way street, and the organization constantly encourages both filmmakers and audiences to ask themselves how they can work to combat social ills.
OnBuzz does not create art in a vacuum; it creates art by reaching out to those who will be on the receiving end. I am profoundly honored to have helped facilitate the Canadian premiere of Friday’s Child and to have helped bring OnBuzz’s mission (both for the film and its overall filmmaking mandate) to a new audience. I hope you will join me in being a part of the OnBuzz movement. Together, we can create and promote content that lives up to what Abraham Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature.” The revolution has already begun.
In 2010, a video surfaced online of a girl throwing puppies into a river in Bosnia. It sparked rage online with people protesting that the girl should face legal consequences, jail time, or even death for her actions. This went as far as director Michael Bay offering $50,000 in exchange for her capture. The girl in the video was 12 years old. The story is the subject of Ben’s first feature film Find this Dumb Bitch and Throw her in the River.
Ben Brand Talks Latest film, Controversy, and Paul Ozgur
Alan Elias at the Canadian Premiere of Friday's Child at Pendance 2019