FIL 6614 Why Traditional Middlemen Still Matter in Film Distribution
Please read what filmmaker Justin Evans has to say on this thread from Slamdance 2010 about why he went with Forward Motion Entertainment as his sales agent (making the deals with distributors) in foreign territories.
Justin gives a really good summation of why traditional middlemen still serve a very important role in motion picture distribution.
There are two sides to every story.
In this case, Justin Evans is apparently using self distribution for English speaking North America. But to get attention from foreign buyers, and to guarantee that sums owed are actually paid, Justin has engaged a sales agent. Paco of Forward Motion goes to markets as the representative of Justin's film (and others). Typically, the sales agent will recoup any expenses advanced (e.g., their expenses for travel to and lodging at the Festival, marketing materials, etc.) and take a percentage of anything that comes in from foreign sales. In this case, Justin thinks it's worth it.
DIY is great but it's much easier for an established supplier (one with a track record of repping successful films) to get his/her foot in the door overseas. Also how do you insure that the payments owed to you are made? If you've only made one film, the foreign distributor may not fork over monies owed to you. Unless, of course, the payments go through a middleman (like a sales agent) who provides a steady supply of movies to that foreign distributor.