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In Features, Issues

MARKET SHARE

By Scott Macaulay

COMPLETED FICTION FILMS will not be screened at the 2002 Independent Feature Project Market.

That’s the big news from the Independent Feature Project, which this year undertakes a major overhaul of its signature showcase. "The Market will become a much more selective event," says IFP executive director Michelle Byrd. "It will be invitation only, and the quality of the work will be better."

Byrd says the IFP board and staff have spent a lot of time reconsidering the fate of the Market in today’s climate, which is very different from the one in 1979 when it was born as a sidebar to the New York Film Festival. Early Markets were informal affairs organized to promote not just independent films but independent film in general. At a time when the nation’s theater exhibitors were happily getting used to the lucrative concept of the Hollywood blockbuster, the IFP Market carved out a political, aesthetic and commercial identity for "off-Hollywood" work made by directors like Warrington Hudlin and Martha Coolidge.

Over the decades, the IFP Market has claimed such illustrious alumni films as El Norte, Metropolitan, Clerks, One False Move, The Farm and Paris is Burning. But in recent years, the Market’s vitality as an acquisitions showcase has slumped. More and more fiction filmmakers have opted out of premiering their films at the IFPM. The quality of the fiction features dropped while other newer sections of the Market – for example, screenings of works-in-progress, or the No Borders financing market – have gained vitality.

Now, after gathering extensive feedback on the Market, the IFP is implementing major changes. "We’re facing reality," says Byrd. "We’ve been taking baby steps and tweaking the Market for years." Playing to its strengths, the IFPM will be selecting work on its aesthetic merit and marketplace potential (using both staff selection committees and outside panels), beefing up its well-received works-in-progress section, and spotlighting documentaries, buyers for which still regularly show up to the Market.

But gone are the fiction films. "We feel that completed fiction features are better served by the festival circuit," Byrd comments.

There will be four sections to the seven-day event: Spotlight on Docs (for finished documentaries and works-in-progress); Emerging Narrative (fiction works-in-progress and shorts); No Borders; and a new Film Conference and Tech Expo. Byrd says the sections, "will stop and start at different times," and, although the screenings will all be "industry-only," she says that "festival elements" – such as a juried cash prize for the best short – will be added as well.

The changes in the IFP Market are part of an overall attempt by the IFP to reposition itself as a service organization for filmmakers in the midst of making their films. (See Bergen Swanson’s report this issue on the IFP Rough Cut Program.) And for the industry, the IFP wants to be known as a broker of new talent. This year, Patricia Finnerman will serve as the Market’s Artistic Director, a new position. "She will know the work and know how to pitch it," says Byrd. Colin Stansfield will produce the event. "With the changes at the Market, we can target managers, agents, development executives. For us, the Market is no longer about the big sale. It’s about taking a smaller group of filmmakers and introducing them to the right people."

Byrd acknowledges that this Market reconfiguration is not without its risks. "When you tinker with a machine, you are taking a gamble," she states. The gamble, of course, is that by shifting the IFP Market away from its egalitarian roots, the IFP will alienate a core audience of filmmakers who appreciated a near-guaranteed spot in the Market. After all, it is arguably the better quality work that needs the least help from a non-profit service organization. To counter this criticism, Byrd points to IFP research indicating that a high percentage of people leave the film industry after their first film plays at the IFP Market. She says the IFP hopes to identify strong filmmaking talent at an earlier stage and be part of launching long-term careers in the industry.

Another peril for the IFP is a loss of membership dollars. In the past, one had to be a member to screen his or her work at the Market. That’s not the case this year. And, by accepting less work while maintaining the duration and physical scale of the Market, the IFP will face a shortfall from the decreased screening revenue. The IFP is mitigating this risk for itself by charging a "modest application fee" that all filmmakers will have to pay for their work to be considered. "The Market is expensive," Byrd reflects. "Can we make it work with this new model? Less [screening] fees mean less income. We have to look at a lot of work so that the entry fees make up the difference in lost revenue." Byrd also says the IFP is looking at ways to cut costs, such as implementing an online-only application process.

"It will take a couple of years to define the success of this new version of the Market," Byrd concludes.

The IFP Market runs this year September 27 through October 4. For more information, see www.ifp.org

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