If indie film, and specially the real indie side of the indie film world, were a business (it actually is, but stay with me here), we would eventually need to find out how many customers there are/were in a given time period in order to extrapolate how much $s the business generates in order to plan for the future, etc. So, one way to go about this, to figure out the shape - $s wise - of this indie film thing is to take a look at attendance at film festival. To that end, here are some notes & links. You could multiply the numbers by 10 or 20 or more (at the last film fest I went to I spent at least $50 I think) to get a rough idea about the amount of money that may get spent just through ticket purchases at several film festivals. Of course a lot more $s get spent in related expenses: travel, lodging perhaps, food, merchandise, etc. The good news for filmmakers is that there are lots of people out there who will spend money to check out indie movies - at least at festivals, as the figures below indicate. The challenge for each filmmaker is to figure out how to deliver his/her product to paying audience members, make money, build a career, etc; and maybe that's the fun part :) Anyways, the attendance figures to some fests:
Tribeca '08 - over 155,000
Wisconsin Film Festival '07 - 28,700
Full Frame '08 - 28, 965
Virginia Film Festival '02 - 11,836
Durango Film Festival '07 - 4,627
Nashville Film Festival '08 - over 22,000
Starz Denver Film Festival '07 - 45,136
Cinequest Film Festival '07 - over 70,000
Philadelphia Film Festival '06 - 66,300
Central Michigan International Film Festival '08 - more than 1,800
Newport Beach Film Festival '04 - 25,500
Sarasota Film Festival '08? - over 45,000
Wisconsin Film Festival '06 - 26,000
Milwaukee International Film Festival '07 - more than 30,000
Ashland Independent Film Festival '07 - more than 15,000
San Diego Asian Film Festival '07 - 15,000
Sundance Film Festival '04 - nearly 39,000
SXSW Film '08 - 50,000*
(* according to SXSW's Janet Pierson. I did not see a web page I could link to with that number - 5/19/08)
So that's attendance figures for 18 festivals, gathered quickly off the documentation available on the web, and the US has several hundred film festivals/indie film festivals (last I checked just DC metro area + Baltimore area + NYC had over 75 fests); so, if you want to find out - very roughly - how much money is perhaps being spent on indie films & related activities & merchandise in the US, one thing you could do is tally up attendance figures from all or most of the film festivals & estimate ticket sales $s. I trust figures from film festivals a little more than I trust the official $s & other figures reported by the industry/distribution companies (a lot of film festivals are probably non-profit orgs, w/ perhaps more checks & balances on reporting of attendance & ticket sales figures). Anyway, the good news is, for the 18 fests mentioned above, the total attendance number is around 679, 864. So, if each person spent $10, that's over 6.7 million dollars ($6,798, 640). Not bad at all, considering that 18 festivals is a small fraction of the total number of film festivals in the US. More important perhaps than the 6.4 million $ figure is the number of people; because if they remain fans/customers of indie and or specialty films, during their lifetimes or during several decades, that 679, 864 people mentioned above can be the source of many millions of dollars to the indie/real indie/specialty Hollywood/Indiewood/whatever industry that most indie filmmakers reading this post are, or will be, a part of - if they keep making & distributing movies.
So I guess lots of interest in, & lots of $s in ticket sales for, film festival movies are out there.
And this interest, and the $s, are something indie filmmakers - including real indie filmmakers, whether they participate in festivals or not - can target when working on building their careers.