INDEPENDENT FILMMAKER CONFERENCE EMBRACES THE FUTURE (AND THE PAST)

Along with Labor Day, IFP’s Independent Film Week marks the end of Summer for me. It is a time to get back into the work groove and make plans for the year ahead. In this vein, the Independent Filmmaker Conference started yesterday with a day of panels dedicated to the future of film. Joana Vincente, Executive Director of IFP, opened the conference by noting a flurry of acquisitions at the recently completed Toronto International Film Festival and suggesting that things may be starting to look a little rosier for the independent film business. There were certainly some notes of optimism during the first day of the conference. Greenberg Traurig lawyer Steven Beer moderated a panel on packaging and financing and said, “I don’t want to hear any whining. We are going to get things done!”

This year IFP have introduced a daily Cage Match at the end of each day of the conference, pitting two individuals with divergent views against each other to duke it out on stage (verbally). This is a great idea because it gets around the panel ennui that can sometimes result when you have three or four people sitting together on a stage trying to be reasonable and polite. The first Cage Match featured Ted Hope and Jeff Lipsky discussing how to bring youth audiences to theaters to watch independent films. Hope and Lipsky were mostly on the same side (except when they got on to the subject of the relative merits of Mumblecore), both passionate about figuring out how to make independent film an exciting theatrical experience for people who don’t skew older, white and female (Hope said that this is the current demographic for independent film). Hope wanted to know why there was no Clockwork Orange for the younger generation. He stated that there are no really cool, young elements in independent film, no film equivalent of Public Enemy or The Clash, and no film critics who speak to a youth audience, “How do we make sure we are not relegated to the land of dance and chamber orchestras?” Lipsky argued that we need to reach kids in Junior High and High School because “our tastes are fairly set in stone by the time we’re in our mid-20s.” He proposed curating 100 of the best films, getting the distributors to donate the prints and the exhibitors to donate the screening spaces and then showing them around the country on Saturday and Sunday mornings for free, thereby educating a new generation in the language of cinema.

Lipsky continued to emphasize the vital role of exhibition, “We have plenty of distributors. What we don’t have is enough brave and entrepreneurial exhibitors.” Hope pointed to Rooftop Films and Alamo Drafthouse as exciting solutions to lure kids away from their computers and smartphones over to the big screen. “You get more for you dollar than just seeing a movie. You’re excited just to be there. Why should I leave my house unless I’m getting more than just the film?” Hope’s key argument was to create more ownership of film culture, through content, infrastructure and social structure (this would include wider issues about arts funding in the U.S. for example). I’m not sure anyone actually won the match since they were both arguing for the potential of theatrical experiences but it made for an energetic discussion, with moderator Liz Ogilvie of Crowdstarter barely able to get a word in edgewise.

IFP’s Independent Film Week has a number of different components running alongside the Independent Filmmaker Conference. The Project Forum connects filmmakers with works in progress to potential funders, financiers and other industry people who can help propel the projects forward and many of the Forum participants are sharing their experiences on this blog. This year there is also an inaugural Festival Forum, bringing the festival community together and giving festival programmers and directors an opportunity to discuss the issues affecting their organizations in these tough economic times. Stay tuned for more from me as the week progresses.

Ingrid Kopp is Director of Shooting People in the U.S.