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Sundance Targets Gay Film Audiences

Sundance Channel later this spring will kick off a targeted national and local marketing campaign to boost support for its fourth annual "Out Loud FilmFest," scheduled for June.

The FilmFest — which coincides with Gay Pride Month — will screen 30 gay-themed features, as well as a sneak preview of the movie The Cockettes, which will air on Sundance one week before its theatrical release.

Also this year, Sundance is sponsoring its first annual national gay film contest, to be promoted aggressively in the Gay Pride Month editions of the national magazines Out
and The Advocate, said network senior vice president of marketing Kirk Iwanowski.

Sundance will also mine for entries through on-air and online promotions, as well as at regional gay and lesbian film festivals in New York, Los

Angeles, Philadelphia, Miami and San Francisco. By accepting entries via the Internet, Sundance will build up its database of targeted electronic-mail addresses.

The short-film contest's judges include Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) entertainment director Scott Seomin, Sundance Channel senior vice president of programming Paolo Freccero and Sundance Film Festival programmer John Cooper, as well as executives from USA Films, Strand Releasing, Fine Line Features and the Film Forum.

"This is very much a part of our mission, to focus on communities that are underserved," Iwanowski said. "This is an opportunity to focus on the work and to put a spotlight on it."

Iwanowski said he's been pleased with the increased support for the Out Loud FilmFest over the years.

"Cable affiliates are starting to acknowledge the importance of this market," Iwanowski said.

Four years ago — when Sundance first sought affiliates to promote the festival in local gay print publications — the network was lucky to find support in top markets such as New York and San Francisco, he said. This year, Sundance expects to partner with operators in up to 20 markets.

Sundance plans to host Out Loud launch parties at gay and lesbian clubs in major cities. It will also deploy street teams to distribute promotional materials in bookstores, coffeehouses and other venues.

The campaign is designed to drive both viewer tune-in and customer acquisitions.

"As a digital network, our primary objective is to help affiliates drive digital," Iwanowski said.

Although Sundance was not directly involved in talks earlier this year between

Viacom Inc. sister companies Showtime Networks Inc. and MTV about a possible new gay-and-lesbian premium channel, Iwanowski said he applauds "the concept and the initiative — anything to serve an under-served community."