A new Straight-to-DVD US indie film movement should be coming very soon :: Micheal Atkinson's top 15 '07 Straight-to-DVD titles
Self-distribution was, for a long time, the refuge of the "unworthy" in the film world, and then a whole lot of self-distribution activity in the 2005 - 2007 period, undertaken by real indie, indiewood, & Hollywood filmmakers, with the help of some indiewood companies in some cases, made self-distribution cool & in some cases the preferred route for theatrical exhibition.
As far as I recall, day & date type release programs from Landmark & IFC were received not-too-enthusiastically at first by many sectors of the US film industry. About a year and some months later, many experts & professional observers are openly praising the value of such release strategies for certain titles. And I think I read somewhere that IFC is making money with their IFC In Theaters program (films screening in theaters - or maybe just 1 theater, IFC Center in NYC, and being available on cable nationwide through IFC at the same time).
Straight-to-DVD, making a movie available for purchase on DVD without theatrical play, has been used for many years (back in the VHS days it was straight-to-video) by film studios to reduce the financial risk of theatrically distributing certain titles. This strategy however, in the eyes of many in the US, marks the films distributed in that fashion as films that were not "good enough" for the theaters, and thus perhaps unworthy of their time & money or critical attention & respect.
I have heard that in Japan, for several years now, some quality movies first debut on DVD and that this is not reflected negatively on those titles.
At present, in the US, there are many people making indie films, thanks to the digital revolution, but there are few theatrical distributors, and theatrical distribution is very expensive, and the "taste makers" for the indie film market ignore many sectors (minority filmmakers, certain genres, etc.) of this industry (out of habit maybe, who knows) and thus it makes it difficult for many films & filmmakers to utilize the film festival & review support system that helps some indie films (mumblecore films for example) with distribution and publicity. Due to these conditions, it maybe useful for US indie filmmakers & real indie film production & distribution companies to rehabilitate the notion of the direct-to-DVD release (perhaps coupled with DIY publicity, to make up for free & positive press that they may lose by not playing festivals or theaters first). In the near future (and this actually may have been true all along for some titles) I believe that there will be a significant number of high quality indies that make their first public appearance on DVD and that consumers will not react negatively to that scenario. Once sales pick up, critics, bloggers, film festival programmers, etc. may think about incorporating staright-to-DVD titles into their work & worldview.
The cash crunch that real indie filmmakers face - from the long period of production to the long wait to see money come back their way after festivals, theatrical, cable, DVD (and that is if they get any of that distribution in the first place) - may disappear if filmmakers add a number of straight-to-DVD titles or series to their arsenal.
And, as I mentioned above, an obvious attraction of a better received & utilized straight-to-DVD market to real indie/DIY filmmakers is that they may be able to work around gatekeepers (Hollywood studios, indiewood studios, film festival programmers, film critics, bloggers?, etc.) and deal directly with interested customers and build careers & revenue streams.
Perhaps IFC's Micheal Atkinson has already started the straight-to-DVD rehabilitation program/"movement" :), check out his '07 top 15 straight-to-DVD picks here.