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in Filmmaking
on Jul 20, 2009

On Saturday night an exclusive dinner was hosted for participants to discuss issues involving alternative and arthouse film exhibition. The IFP’s Danielle DiGiacomo was there, and she files this report.

On Saturday afternoon, in the sun-drenched backyard of the El Paso Tacqueria on 104th and Lexington, Rooftop Films, Cinereach, and IFF Rotterdam launched both a new partnership and a new form of the “panel discussion.” As white sangria flowed freely and guacamole was savored, several of independent film’s industry leaders and filmmakers and programmers came together to confab about “New Collaborative Models of Film Exhibition.” At least, according to the invitation, that’s what we were supposed to talk about. Each of the three tables had one leader who was assigned to steer the conversation away from digressions such as Walter Cronkite’s death or Zooey Deschanel’s eyes. Having organized and moderated panels for Rooftop in the past, I was selected as one of these conversation shapers. Though at first the rectangular-length of the tables proved a challenge, I was able to use the old spoon-hits-glass toast move to get my colleagues’ attention. My table had a good mix: Patricia Finneran of the Sundance Institute; Pamela Cohn, who writes the STILL IN MOTION blog, Ryan Harrington of Tribeca Gucci Fund and an independent producer; Mike Raisler of Cinereach, filmmaker Renzo Martens, director of the IDFA opening night film Enjoy Poverty,” Enrico Cullen of Arts Engine; Leah Hurley, a programmer at Camden Film Festival; and Slava Rubin of IndieGoGo. What started as a relatively safe and educational discussion of new models of fundraising, from micro (the legal details of private investing via webtools like IndieGoGo), to the different challenges of finding funds for social issue nonfiction films versus no-budget indie fiction films, morphed into a full-on raucous debate about the future (or lack thereof) of theatrical film distribution. (I have found that the most surefire way to get independent film honchos up in arms is to confidently declare the death of theatrical release.)

As I looked around to gauge my comparative success in moderating – or more accurately, proving the stimulus for a conversation that ended up largely progressing organically — I noticed the other table guests were rapt in their own conversations. Michelle Byrd, Executive Director of IFP, where I work, said that she and her table, which included producer Jay Van Hoy (Lovely, Still and Old Joy) and P.O.V. Executive Director Simon Kilmurry, talked primarily of models to potentially take the Rooftop Films concept to a national level. Combining the social nature of a dinner party with a mandate to have a constructive discourse might seem risky to some. Yet Rooftop is known for its innovative, hybrid programming strategies, and this seems like a natural, and extremely welcome, extension of that. Launching a partnership between a foreign film festival, a new funder of both fiction and nonfiction film, and a multi-faceted film/music series/filmmaker advocacy group (phew) is a “New Collaborative Model” that was perfectly mirrored by this collaborative event, which I am hoping is a harbinger of more to come. Comments from those at the event are extremely welcome here. — Danielle DiGiacomo

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