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NY IFP Market Proves Central for Independents

New York’s IFP Market Proves Central for Independents

Independent productions are multiplying exponentially, driven by funding from an expanding film industry, an unending number of film school graduates, the multiplication of distribution technologies and, last not lest, ever cheapening production technologies. Whereas Emanuel Levy counted only 50 independent productions in 1998 and 1000 in 1998, only six years later the number jumped to about 2000 last year with no end count in sight. If break out independent productions like the Passion of Christ and Fahrenheit 9/11 are included the total gross for all indies in the United States in theatrical and non theatrical distribution will probably exceed $2 billion in 2004. Parallel to this expansion has been the concentration of the film industry in fewer studios and their specialty subsidiaries generating ‘stindie’ productions and the growing central role Sundance and the IFP (Independent Feature Project) market. Held from September 19 to 24 the IFP market and conference certainly met the sky rocking indie production challenge.

Born 25 years ago in relative obscurity as a side bar to the prestigious New York Film Festival, the Independent Feature Project went independent and has become a well funded venture with a budget exceeding $2 million listing as principal corporate sponsors, HBO, A&E, and Kodak and deriving support from the J&C MacArthur Foundation and other public funders. This year a record number of 1682 projects were submitted including works in progress, shorts, features and 477 scripts of which about 190 were selected. The 2004 IFP Market and Conference provided cash awards and in-kind services worth moiré than $200,000, a significant increase over the 2003 funds. The growth was also notable in IFP arranging more than 1000 meetings between filmmakers with projects and potential partners from the industry, twice as many as the meetings arranged last year. More than 400 companies registered for IFP paying $350 and a mandatory annual $100 IFP membership fee, in addition to the1500 individual participants who paid $200 (IFP members $150) for a one week pass.

The success of IFP is due to its unique angle, smooth organization and the voracious industry appetite for new productions. Current and prospective independent film makers can access at the IFP conference and market essential services and engaged in systematic networking. IFP acts as a talent showcase and enables industry representatives to review scripts, works in progress, and finished productions. Project and production information is relayed to registered companies electronically, though there were still problems this year getting the information on line in time. IFP charges for the initial project submission $40 and additional fees ranging from $200 to $400 if the project is accepted for the market. Feedback from several filmmakers indicated that they consider this money well spent since they had numerous meetings with industry representatives.

The IFP spectrum of services covered the screening of 40 shorts and work- in- progress productions in the Emerging Narrative section and related presentation of 59 scripts. The No Border international co-production market featured 35 projects, scripts in the financing-stage, which were pitched for funding to US and European production entities, such as the Düsseldorf based Filmstiftung NRW (after French agencies, the largest continental funder for independent productions) , the UK Film Council, and Telefilm Canada. . Spotlight on Documentaries had 90 projects, covering 20 features, 10 shorts, and 60 works in progress of which two were picked up in pre-sales deals. Altogether about 140 projects were screened at the Angelika film center, most of which were also readily accessible in the video screening section.

Of the numerous panels and seminars, "Meet the Buyers program" ranked among the most popular. In this section virtually all the studio specialty distribution and production subsidiaries were present as well as some independent, outfits, including. but no restricted to Miramax, Focus, Sony Pictures Classic, Strand Releasing, IFC, and Zeitgeist Films. At the Sundance Festival the central role of the IFP market and conference is stressed, conversely presenters at the Meet the Buyers program emphasized the importance of Sundance as the single most important festival. If the work is sanctified at Sundance, pickup by distributors is more likely.

IFP book ended Brad Anderson’s THE MACHINIST and Rodney Evan’s BROTHER TO BROTHER in Harlem. The No Borders International co-production section selected Scott Smith Canadian FALLING ANGELS as the closing film. The opening film, a piercing psychological thriller marrying Kafka, Freund and neo-realism is a film noir minor master piece of somber cinematography, set design, and scripting with Christian Bale providing superb enactment of a harrowing role. The provincial setting, production design, and typified characters in FALLLING ANGELS recalls Fastener’s scathing x-rays of the German Kleinbuergertum. In this moving but funny portrait of pathological small town Canadian family living in the early sixties the conflict is acted out between a comatose alcoholic mother, three teenage daughters, and a domineering father forcing his family to live periodically underground in his home made bomb shelter.

Given the criteria for the IFP market, most of the selected entries were noteworthy to say the least. Joycelin Glazer and Laura Puitras presented THE WAR AFTER, a cinema verite critical examination of the US occupation of Iraq. This work in progress depicts the passage from Iraq’s seeming sovereignty of June 2004 through the planed 2005 elections. The little footage shot to date revealed uncanny detection of factors prompting opposition to Americans. NEOBILLIES by Berlin based US independent Rick Minick featured hillbilly families from the Missouri Ozark mountains with the focus on the context generating the music. This documentary, currently in post production stimulated interest from the Berlinale reps at IFP. LOWER EAST SIDE STORIES, by Liselle Mei presented four brief dramatic and rather touching shorts of women living on New York’s lower east side. Jonathan Berman’s COMMUNE provided an excellent understanding of the 60’s commune movement through a combination of archival footage and current interviews with the participants, a superb ethnography. Tighter editing it down to about an hour would help its success. Certainly among the best work shown at this year’s market was LA SIERRA. This Columbian documentary follows the lives of young people involved in urban warfare in Medellin over the period of one year. The producers/directors Scott Daltin and Marguerita Martinez captured the passage of life and death in a small community caught up in the struggle between para-military and guerilla youth gangs. Subdued in spite of its theme, the superb photography of the sun drenched slums contrasts with the suffering the film depicts.

Attendance at the annual IFP market and conference has become a necessity for independent film makers since it is still the only game in town. Yet as Sundance begot Slam dance, sooner or later there will be another New York film market catering to independent producers and directors.

Claus Mueller, New York Correspondent


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