Factory 25: Turning art films into art objects

Are DVDs the Vinyl Records of Indie film? Factory 25 thinks so!

“I pretty much grew up in a baseball card shop, but I wasn’t so sporty,” admits Brooklyn-based entrepreneur and tastemaker Matt Grady, whose über-chic boutique label Factory 25 is named after the manufacturing home of the famous 1909 Honus Wagner tobacco card—the most valuable and fetishized of sports collectibles, once owned by Wayne Gretzky and John Candy. According to Grady, Factory 25 is also a loose reference to a Joy Division imprint on the legendary Manchester, UK brand Factory Records (though he’s only today made the ironic connection that he grew up around Manchester, NH).

Fetish objects with a rock-n-roll spirit fittingly describes the Factory 25 trademark, which—for the past four years, since Grady left his position as director of production for Plexifilm to strike out on his own—has championed the hip, arty, nervy and freaky underdogs of independent cinema. More impressively, in this tech-addled era in which many believe the future is about downloading and streaming, Grady is defiantly distributing these eccentric gems in stylish, cooler-than-Criterion DVDs and Blu-rays with collectible posters, filmstrips, comic books, even 7-inch vinyl soundtracks. Never mind the blockbusters, here’s the physical media!

Grady finds most of his acquisitions from the festival circuit but originally discovered indie film “through punk-rock movies like Suburbia, The Decline of Western Civilization, Sid and Nancy, Another State of Mind, and weird bootlegs.” His curation often takes commercial risks that could be likened to those provocative, progressive-minded, anti-establishment punks of yesteryear. Factory 25’s momentous first release, Ronald Bronstein’s queasy 16mm panic attack Frownland—lauded by SXSW and the New York Times, while angering others with its stuttering narrative, horridly grainy aesthetic, and frustrating ensemble of miserably inarticulate characters—could not have been a more antagonistic tent-pole launch.

Frownland was the one that pushed me to do it,” Grady gushes, believing no one else had the guts to release such an uncompromising work of art. “I realized that’s the type of polarizing film that I wanted to build the brand off of. I hate ‘middle of the road’—it’s so boring.”

Not all his subsequent releases hurt so good (there are also comedies in the catalog, plus thrilling rock-docs about the late Jay Reatard, the overlooked Chicago punk scene, and Norwegian black death metal), and Grady certainly pays close attention to the ever-mutating commercial market. Though ripping open a gorgeous package, flipping through a 50-page booklet, then popping in a shiny new disc is still what appeals most to Grady, he has also ventured into day-and-date releases, with long-term plans to create his own theater and VOD station.

“Cutting down your overhead is the only way to survive,” he advises, should anyone want to follow in his footsteps. “Don’t throw crazy parties. Or, throw crazy parties but don’t spend much money on them. Make limited editions as the orders come in, versus producing thousands, getting them into stores but getting thousands back, a model that no longer works.”

What does it take to enter the Factory 25 stable? There’s no formula, Grady admits: “I just have to really like the film, and feel people are going to react to it.”

Factory 25: The Highlights

Buy ’em, rent ’em, or find ’em at your local art house cinema:

  • Brock Enright: Good Times Will Never Be the Same

As dazzling as it is divisive, the directorial debut of Tiny Furniture cinematographer Jody Lee Lipes follows Enright—a button-pushing, bad-behaving conceptual artist whose work questions the very nature of what should be considered art—as he road-trips with his girlfriend to her family’s Redwoods cabin.

  • Francine

Academy Award winner Melissa Leo (The Fighter) tenderly bares her body and soul as the damaged, eponymous loner of this stunningly shot, ruminatively sad, neo-realist drama that premiered in Berlin last year. Fresh out of prison, Francine struggles daily to acclimate in a home unhealthily overrun with stray animals.

  • Joe Swanberg: Collected Films

Under an innovative year-long subscription model, subscribers who drop $100 get four sexually explicit dramas by the influential and insanely prolific Chicago auteur (Art History, Privacy Settings, Silver Bullets, The Zone), plus exclusive material including vinyl singles and a book of photographs by actress Jane Adams.

  • Make-Out With Violence

Twin brothers lament the disappearance of unrequited high-school crush, Wendy, whose reanimated corpse is discovered in the suburban countryside one balmy summer. Blend a John Hughes comedy with Terrence Malick’s heartfelt lyricism—plus one zombie locked in the bathroom—and you end up with a funny-scary oddity that’s less genre-bender than biter.

For more information on Factory 25, go here. For more information on subscribing to Moviemaker Magazine, click here for print or here for digital.

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