Everyone who comes here knows this is where films
such as Clerks and The Brothers McMullen were discovered. And while
they might spend the week watching movies and networking with their
peers, in the end everyone knows they’re here for only two reasons:
to create a buzz for their own film, and to have it seen by the
programmers and distributors who can get it shown to real audiences.
We seem to be nearing the point where video is such a mainstay of
independent moviemaking; it’ll soon be the indies shot on film that
raise eyebrows. It’s no surprise then that many who attended the
22nd IFP Market – held last September at the Angelika Film Center
in downtown Manhattan (with additional screenings at the nearby
Pioneer Theater) – were talking about digital video. The huge number
of DV projects at the Market raised questions about whether the
future of theatrical releases will see more video-to-film transfers,
if the tide might turn instead toward improving the state of the
art of video projection equipment, or if theaters would be forced
to screen films in both formats.
Much of the talk surrounding DV centered on concerns about quality.
Heidi Reinberg, co-producer of The Curse, a comedy shot on 16mm,
fears that DV is destined to "dummy down" film. "They
say go out and shoot it on digital because we’re not going to pay
you to shoot on film," she says of buyers infatuated with the
economic advantages of video. "And then people just think they
can make movies by grabbing a video camera and not putting the craft
into it. People say they’re editors just because they can run an
Avid. That does not mean you can tell a story."
Working in video, however, has proved advantageous
in the area of documentaries, which many believed were the best
thing the 2000 Market had to offer. Nearly half of everything screened
– either as completed features, shorts or works in progress – were
docs, and the overwhelming percentage of them were shot on video.
Any filmmaker who’s attended an IFP Market knows the drill: Every
available minute you have, until the moment your film screens, is
spent passing out promo cards, hanging posters, shaking hands and
talking up your film to everyone you can. You hand out tapes, buttons,
compact discs, CD-ROM’s. If there were babies to kiss, you’d probably
do that, too. The point is to get a big audience for your film;
the better to impress distributors, stroke your ego and create a
good post-screening buzz. But the competition is fierce: seven screens
of continuous programming adding up to nearly 400 hours of possible
viewing over a seven-day period. Even so, the quality of the films
screened this year was considered to be the highest ever.
The best of the documentaries set out to raise awareness about important
issues past and present. One of the most powerful was the work-in-progress,
Absolutely Safe?, Carol Ciancutti-Leyva’s look at the link between
breast implants and disease. The film challenges research cited
by the FDA to claim implants are safe, and is disturbing in both
the information and issues/41/images it reveals. Disturbing issues/41/images of another
sort abounded in two films about the WTO uprisings in Seattle in
November, 1999. Rus Thompson’s 30 Frames a Second: The WTO in Seattle,
takes a personal approach as he carries his camera into the streets
and tries to make sense of the violence around him (see "Documentary"
this issue, page 44 – ed). Shaya Mercer’s Trade-Off makes less of
the mayhem surrounding the WTO, and focuses on what people were
there protesting in the first place – most importantly the issue
of genetically modified foods whose safety is a matter of debate.
Protesters of another era were featured in Rebels
With a Cause, Helen Garvey’s meticulously researched documentary
about Students for a Democratic Society, the protest movement so
instrumental in helping change America in the 1960s. Another aspect
of the 1960s was examined in Entertaining Vietnam, Mara Wallis’
fascinating work-in-progress about men and women who entertained
troops during the Vietnam War. The most weirdly compelling documentary
was Fever Pitch. Willard Morgan takes us on a bizarre odyssey as
he attempts to meet with Michael Moore – turning the tables on the
Roger & Me director who, Morgan says, refused to return his
Of all the "mockumentaries" on the IFP schedule (and there
were a few too many), the best and most unique by far was World
Record Guy, a comic short about a father and son engaged in mortal
competition over such honors as "longest shower" or "most
marshmallows eaten." Keep an eye on Mitch Braff and Chris Thompson,
who’ve rigged what could’ve been an overblown skit into a miraculous
little deadpan jewel.
Whether these films will find a distributor by the time this issue
of MovieMaker goes to press is anyone’s guess. But distributors
are only part of the equation. Those at the Market, when asked if
they thought they could play a part in expanding the public’s taste
by taking on more unique and challenging films, were quick to draw
attention to the reality of dealing with buyers. "They totally
dictate what we pick up," said Dawn Fields of Mainline Releasing.
"They might watch something for 10 minutes
and say, ‘There’s nothing’s happening, I’m not interested. Pass.’
" Stuart Struten, of Panorama Entertainment, said there’s often
a wide gulf between what he thinks is good and what he thinks he
can sell to a buyer. "We adapt to the marketplace, not dictate.
You can introduce new things, but there’s only so far you can go
with something that’s radical and different."
As Donna Wheeler, whose feature Death of a Saleswoman screened as
a work-in-progress, pointed out, even being open-minded enough to
modify your film to appeal to buyers doesn’t necessarily mean a
sale. "They say, ‘If you change this, change that, make
this character into that – then you’ll have all our resources.’
When you say, ‘Okay, if I do all that it’s a sure thing?’ And they
say, ‘Nope, there’s no guarantee.’ So you just go around making
changes for people…on your own dime." MM