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Attempting to Avoid Closure, Nonprofit AIVF Implements Emergency Fundraising Initiative

Indiewire By Eugene Hernandez | Indiewire March 22, 2006 at 10:55AM

The more than 30 year-old Association of Independent Video and Filmmakers (AIVF), publisher of The Independent magazine and a leading membership organization for filmmakers, is facing a continuing financial crisis that is threatening the livelihood of the organization. Group board members and a new interim executive director have indicated that if the organization does not receive adequate resources from its current emergency fundraising campaign, the AIVF will not survive. The news comes at a time when a number of other non-profit film groups have faced similar challenges.
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The more than 30 year-old Association of Independent Video and Filmmakers (AIVF), publisher of The Independent magazine and a leading membership organization for filmmakers, is facing a continuing financial crisis that is threatening the livelihood of the organization. Group board members and a new interim executive director have indicated that if the organization does not receive adequate resources from its current emergency fundraising campaign, the AIVF will not survive. The news comes at a time when a number of other non-profit film groups have faced similar challenges.

Earlier this year the AIVF board met in New York and to avoid an immediate shutdown took action within the organization, letting go of executive director Beni Matias and cutting key programming and staff. The move has left the organization with a smaller staff trying to navigate the difficult situation, forcing AIVF to cut a number of its services, including shutting down public access to its New York City resource library and discontinuing most regular events.

"The truth we face now is that if we don't receive help from members and other supporters during our fundraising campaign, we won't surmount this financial crisis," wrote the AIVF board in a message to members and magazine readers back in January. "But there is still hope for a successful turnaround: If we all work together to make the fundraising drive successful, we will be able to lay a stronger foundation for the future. Please invest in our efforts to reinvent this organization and to make it better for the entire membership."

Last month, the board brought in Lina Srivastava as an interim executive director. She previously served as executive director of Kids With Cameras (a group whose mission was depicted in the recent documentary, "Born Into Brothels") and is on board with a three-month contract, focusing on the current emergency fundraising initiative. The remaining staff includes membership director Priscilla Grim and Shana Liebman, Editor-in-Chief of The Independent magazine.

"Its always a difficult time for nonprofits," Srivastava explained in a conversation with indieWIRE this week. She said that a number of nonprofits are facing similar challenges today, but added that none are as public as the current AIVF situation. The group has put out a public call for support, with a newly formed Fundraising Task Force intended to bring in at least $60,000 this Spring to keep the organization going, according to an email sent to members last week.

"The industry is changing," noted Srivastava, during the conversation with indieWIRE, "Non-profits have to change almost as rapidly." She added that there are a number on non-profit groups aimed at assisting filmmakers and that now more than ever, those groups need to talk to each and perhaps collaborate. The crisis at AIVF follows recent changes at other film non-profits. Last year, Film Independent was formed when IFP/Los Angeles decided to withdraw from an alliance with other IFP chapters. Numerous other non-profit film organizations are understood to be facing financial challenges.

Formed in the 1970s, the AIVF -- which is understood to have about 5,000 members -- has a history of working on advocacy issues and developing resource programs for members. Now, a small board of directors -- currently made up of co-chairs Paula Manley and Elizabeth Thompson, president Bart Weiss, as well as Robert West, Richard Saiz and Jon Marcus -- are aiming to re-envision the group, saying that a number those members have called upon leadership to carry out support and advocacy work on behalf of independent filmmakers.

Among the short term goals for the group, according to board co-chair Paula Manley, are developing a business plan for operating the group in a more streamlined fashion, tailoring programs based on member feedback, and developing a long-term plan for financial development. The group is particulary focused on developing greater revenues for its Independent magazine and the AIVF.org website.

Advocating that "in the current political climate independents need a collective voice more than ever," Manley told indieWIRE by email yesterday that she is bolstered by the feedback the group received in a recent members survey. She explained, "AIVF exists to provide support and professional development opportunities for independent makers and to enhance the growth of independent media by providing services, advocacy and information."

The remaining staff expressed a commitment to keeping the organization alive and a willingness to adapt to member needs. "AIVF needs an update. It's needed one for awhile," explained editor of The Independent, Shana Liebman, in an email exchange with indieWIRE today. "And we've reached a crisis point, not unlike many other arts nonprofits, where we either need to leap ahead or admit defeat. I think we have the vision and the will and the savvy-ness to become a truly useful and cool information-resource for independent filmmakers, but we need money to take the next step." Continuing she explained, "After a few years of subpar financial management, we find ourselves in a hole. Grants and revenue can't sustain us for the next few months which is why we're reaching out to the public, to our members or anyone who can help us make this transition."

Priscilla Grim, a four year veteran of AIVF, exchanged email with indieWIRE today, calling the magazine and the organization, "essential because both entities are committed to making sure that the information about festivals, funding and artist development are distilled and distributed to both the filmmaking community and the membership." She called upon members and supporters to donate, saying, "I appeal now to the national membership and filmmaking community to decide what AIVF is worth to them, and donate accordingly."

Continuing in comments to indieWIRE, board member Manley explained, "We want AIVF to serve as the 'go to' information resource for independents -- through The Independent in print and online. We want to foster the independent community, serving as a point of connection for networking and peer learning. We want to strengthen the advocacy voice of independents. And while we want to continue to serve our New York base, we also want to re-imagine programs and services that are truly national."

Asked to explain her prognosis, AIVF interim executive director Lina Srivastava said that the situation remains precarious, but she feels that the future will be secure if the group can navigate through the current cash crisis.

"We need (money) to do any of this work," Srivastava told indieWIRE yesterday, "The staff is committed...the prognosis is good if we can get the funding."

This article is related to: Advocacy