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IFP New York 2005: more focus on docs

The 27th IFP market, the largest convocation of aspiring and actual independent film makers in North America closed September 22 expanding to more participants and more industry speed networking. It reduced the number of works screened from 400 in past markets to 199 from the more than 1400 submitted in 2005. Thus IFP is shifting from a market and or festival to an efficient networking event that arranged this year an estimated 1,500 buyer-driven meetings with film makers. A new component, The Independent Film Week, was added to give a greater public profile to IPF. This week included numerous seminars free and open to the public and screenings at nine participating theatres with complimentary popcorn and soda.

Filmmakers certainly benefited from well organized panel sessions and the identification of the professional audience and industry reps interested in their productions. which was screened in theatrical setting and accessible in the market’s well organized. video library. Though much of the IFP panel information was similar to the seminar fare available at most major film festivals, film makers could detect shifts in acquisition and content trends among funders, distributors, programmers, and film festivals such as Sundance. Thus IFP continued its vital role as a remedial educator for independent film makers who do not have the time to do their research homework.

As indicated by the program component Spotlight on Documentaries a shift to non-fiction productions was most notable. About 100 productions and work in progress screened belonging to the documentary category. Thus IFP is catching up to the presumed riches of an expanding documentary market, a re-orientation that certainly made sense given the documentary orientation and collaboration of market sponsors and collaborators such as HBO, A&E indie films, BBC, Films Transit, and Sundance. Though feature length documentaries tend to score higher at the box office than in past years and new avenues are going on line such as Documentary Channel , the frequent references to top scorers like Fahrenheit 9/1, Winged Migration and Supersize Me can be very misleading. Most feature length docs do not break even, not to speak of generating a profit.

Yet among the feature length and short documentaries screened, and those in progress several appeared outstanding and most promising. Given their commercial appeal they prompted distributors’ interest, The Guestworker by Cynthia Hill and Charles Thompson portraits a Latino farmworker who cannot become a US citizen though he is in an official visa program. Lover Other, by Barbara Hammer, reconstructs the surreal life of two expatriate French lesbian sisters resisting the Nazi occupation of the British channel island where they live. Nicole Newnham and David Grabias directed Sentenced Home, the story of three young Cambodian men raised in the US but forced to go back to Cambodia. Peter Rosen’s tour de force Who Gets to Call it Art is probably among the best if not the best film this seasoned documentary maker has produced. It is a staccato trip through the landscape of New York art as it evolved during the life and times of famed art curator Henry Geldzahler. Noteworthy among the shorts is Theresa Tanjan’s Whose Children are These , on the problems three young people from Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Egypt face since they come from countries labeled as terrorist by the US. In the Works in Progress group, two projects stand out. One, Shared History by Felica Furman uncovers through interviews and archival evidence the links between descendents of slaves and slave owners of a South Carolina antebellum estate. The other work in progress Angels in the Dust by noted filmmaker Louise Hogarth depicts abandoned, abused or raped orphans with HIV/AIDS who live in a community established by a South African family devoting all their wealth to create a save heaven for these children.

Claus Mueller

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