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      by Federica Mennella 

      The 36th annual Filmmaker Conference by IFP  started with a new exciting program, declined as  always over five days, each of which has a specific  theme:

 Day 1 – “New Narratives” - focuses in particular on  fiction cinema;


Day 2 – “Documenting the Truth” - is dedicated to  documentaries;

 Day 3 –“The Story of Business” - explores the new trends about film financing and marketing;

Day 4 – “Made in NY Media Center: Future Forward” - focuses on the intersection of innovative storytelling and technology;

Day 5 – “Artist Service Workshop NY” - curated by Sundance Institute, to help filmmakers to navigate the dynamic Independent film landscape.





The conference kicked off with an interesting discussion “Why We Picked Your Film”, about film festival strategies, offered by the festival programmers of some of the most well known festivals in the US: SXSW (South by South West), the Film Society at Lincoln Center -which produces the New York Film Festival -, Tribeca and the Montclair Film Festival.

All the panelists agreed on one point: since there are already so many good movies out there, originality and creativity really matter the most to them when deciding what movies to show. Diversity of tone is key too.

When asked about how relevant it is for a film to premiere at a festival, we heard diverse answers. SXSW programmer declared they cannot show films already screened somewhere else/in other venues, while for example the programmer of Montclair Filmfest made it clear that that is not an issue for a regional Filmfest (like Montclair). He usually encourages filmmakers to inform him of their festival strategies, whether they are waiting to hear from other big festival before deciding where to premiere. At SXSW,the same communication strategy is not appreciated, given the volume of emails they receive daily. We can therefore conclude that there is not a definite and generic strategy to navigate the filmfestivals scene, but that it very much depends on the type of filmfestival a filmmaker is interested to send their film to. It’s fundamental to keep into account that the larger filmfestivals have distinctive approaches, that for sure vary from the regional-often smaller- ones.


Visual Storytelling offered an insightful open conversation between director John Krokidas (Kill Your Darlings) and cinematographer Reed Morano (Kill Your Darlings), Brian Rigney Hubbard (Circumstances). Developing a creative collaboration between the two allow the cinematographer to truly bring their artistic vision to the table. A more organic cooperation between director and cinematographer allow them to better collaborate on all aspects involved in the process of making a movie, that so becomes an ark of the creativity of both, rather than a fragmented process.  The importance of the so called look book emerged: it’s a tool that both director and cinematographer can use in the initial meetings to clarify their visual conceptualization of the film, even before starting the conversation on how to make it. The look book is made by a mere series of images taken from every possible source to express and  evoke the mood that that specific script has/should have according to the cinematographer or the director.


The Blitz Wisdom Panel introduced Kevin B. Lee, a film critic who invented a new format of essay, the so called video-essay. «These days everyone is a filmmaker. So how to make your film matter?», asked Mr. Lee. As a case-study he presented to the IFC audience his attempt to document the making of Transformer 4, that was being filmed in Chicago where he lives. Not having been able to obtain access to the film set he decided to make up something new instead: a sort of desktop documentary. He created a collection of relevant information about the movie on his desktop computer-interviews, videos, articles- and filmed it with his camera. That turned out to be a success; Indiewire wrote about this new creative form, which is mostly teaching us all that «these days to make an image, you no longer have to make an image. The mind is a more powerful filmmaking tool than a camera».  Inventing innovative ways to make your movie matter is fundamental, and it requires new approaches to production, promotion, distribution and to the creation of social impact.


We then met the writer/director and the producer of the feature comedy Obvious Child (2014), Gillian Robespierre and Elisabeth Holm. The friendship that serendipitously developed between the two women prompted the fecund professional relationship that brought them to produce their first feature length movie.

They shared with the audience the path of their directorial debut that lead to the making of the Obvious Child, working on weekends while holding a full-time job. We learned of how the movie then got into Sundance and how that resulted in the selling the movie there. It all started with a short film starring actress and comedian Jenny Slate, which they didn’t write with the actress in mind. Subsequently, after the success of the short though, they wrote the feature length movie script for Jenny Slate.


Playwright and screenwriter Beau Willimon concluded Day 1 talking about the Netflix-produced web-series House of Cards (2013) (Kevin Spacey, Robin Penn) that he created. The series uses the format of what could be called “binge-watching series”, since the whole series is released at the same time, leaving to the audience the freedom to choose how to watch it (if all the episodes at the same time in the same day, or one at a time). Willimon hypothesized the production of a new web series where the whole series consists of 6 hours, all released at the same time in one long episode. The audience could watch it in one day, or pause it throughout at their liking and watch it through a week or different days. This appears to be the new trend of “webseries series” to watch on VOD platform, where the modality of fruition (binge-watching vs. fragmentation) is entirely left to the freedom (and taste) of the audience.