Last week, America’s indie film community took a long, hard look at its precarious state.
After industry pros flew back home from the Toronto International Film Festival — heads throbbing from too many drinks, not enough sleep and the lackluster marketplace, where few films were bought and sold — many headed straight to the IFP’s annual Independent Film Week and Conference, a 31-year-old event where people like Jim Jarmusch, the Coen brothers, Michael Moore, Whit Stillman, Todd Haynes and Todd Solondz first stepped through the industry’s door. Capping off the run of whining and redefining was an “Indie Film Summit,” a meeting of some 60 significant distributors, producers and other insiders at the Museum of Modern Art, all looking for answers in these tumultuous times, when economic and technological changes have irrevocably shattered the conventional models of making and distributing movies.
For first-time filmmakers entering the business during this moment of upheaval, IFP’s executive director Michelle Byrd acknowledged they must have encountered “a lot of doom and gloom.” “It’s taken some people a long time to realize that the independent film business has not been working as a business, but in reality, it never really was,” she added. “I think there was a little bitterness about the golden days.”
At a panel discussion during week, an aspiring documentary filmmaker asked one of the veteran industry professionals on the stage how to get financing to complete her film. After shyly admitting that her own work-in-progress wasn’t accepted into this year’s IFP showcase, the expert responded, “That isn’t a good sign.” Witnesses could see the wind quickly going out of the filmmaker’s sails.
And so it went throughout Independent Film Week: In the midst of glimmers of boosterism and blind faith, it was yet another sobering reminder of the dour economy and the painful shifts currently hitting the entertainment business.
Held in the drab basements and classroom halls of New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology — a far cry from the bustling movie theaters of the Angelika Film Center, where the Independent Feature Film Market (IFFM), as it was once known, used to be held — Independent Film Week events were markedly scaled back. With no opening night film, party, nor awards luncheon, what this reporter saw was a collection of (many depressed) industry folks meeting and mixing with sprightly young filmmakers, emboldened by nothing but hope.
That’s not to say this year’s Project Forum, which included 117 entries, did not offer plenty of promising new films. Many of the IFP’s selections go on to prestigious venues, like the Sundance, Tribeca and Los Angeles Film Festivals.
This year, highlights included doc promo reels of “Our Brand is Crisis” director Rachel Boynton’s “African Deep,” an exploration of oil in Africa; “Budrus Has a Hammer” (pictured), an emotional on-the-ground report of joint Palestinian-Israeli nonviolence resistance to the Separation Barrier from the makers of the award-winning “Encounter Point”; Nina Davenport’s sequel to “Always A Bridesmaid,” a personal documentary about the director’s efforts to get pregnant, which features some alarming twists; “Queen of the Sun,” a credibly activist eco-doc about the mysteries of the global collapse in bee populations directed by Taggart Siegel (“The Real Dirt on Farmer John”); and “Circo,” an intimate look at a struggling family circus in rural Mexico.