Better Movies but Smaller Crowds at 2003 IFP Market
by Eugene Hernandez and Wendy Mitchell
Smaller crowds were seen at this year's IFP Market, which concludes today (Friday) in downtown Manhattan, but the event showcased a number of promising projects, most of which are docs. Overall it felt like a better market in terms of the quality of films shown. Screenings at the Angelika Film Center finished on Thursday, the No Borders section ended mid-week, and the IFP Conference will wrap up today at the Puck Building. Meanwhile, more than $130,000 in cash and services were awarded at Thursday evening's IFP Market Awards ceremony at Deep in Chelsea.
The documentary completion prize, a $10,000 cash award, went to Gretchen Berland and Mike Majoros for their well-received "Rolling," which is described as depicting "the struggle to maintain independence and dignity for three people, telling the story from the perspective of the wheelchair-bound subjects -- three feet from the ground."
Benno Schoberth was awarded the $85,000 goods and services, work-in-progress completion prize for his narrative film, "Shelter." The movie is described as "the story of three destitute inner-city teens in a secluded beach house and the jealousies that erupt as they explore the boundaries of their makeshift family."
The screenplay award, a $10,000 cash prize, went to Tanya Steele for "The Parachute Factory," described as "the story of two teenagers on the run after committing a murder." Steele won the DGA African-American student filmmaker prize in 2001. The $5,000 cash prize for short film went to Annemarie Jacir for "Like Twenty Impossibles." It is described as "a visual poem and a narrative (that) focuses on a group of Palestinian artists attempting to reach Jerusalem while living with the rigors of military occupation."
The annual Gordon Parks awards for emerging African-American filmmakers went to Alison McDonald who received a $10,000 screenwriting award for "Headshrinker" and a $10,000 cash prize for Seith Mann who was honored for directing "five deep breaths." Each also received product grants from Kodak.
Overall the IFP Conference saw an attendance drop of up to 30 percent compared with last year -- by early estimates, according to organizers. The IFP indicated that the drop is in keeping with lower attendance at other conferences these days given the economic climate.
About 100 people, the vast majority of them doc filmmakers, gathered in the grand ballroom at the Puck Building for Thursday's panel discussion about funding and the arts. While a Thursday seminar on editing also drew a sizable and engaged panel discussion.
Among the screenings we saw, one of the most buzzed-about and well-attended was Paul Rachman's doc in progress, "American Hardcore: A Tribal History." (Rachman is a well-known figure in the indie scene, being one of the founders of Slamdance.) For the film, he teams with rock journalist Steven Blush, who wrote the book of the same name. The few minutes of the flick that were shown at the market look very promising -- capturing the style (or anti-style) and energy of the hardcore scene and talking to the key members of the seminal bands.
Another well-attended doc in progress was "Revolucion: Visions of Cuba Since the Revolution," by Nicole Cattell. So far, it looks to be a well-crafted look at Cuba past and present through the eyes and stories of four generations of Cuban photographers. Some of the images, as you'd expect, are breathtaking.
Far less crowded, but equally engaging, was a work-in-progress doc from father-and-son team Luke Wolbach and Bill Wolbach entitled, "Row Hard No Excuses: Journey Across the Atlantic." The compelling new project captures the drama of a competition for rowers to cross the Atlantic Ocean. With on-board footage, the doc shows the experience from up close, and offers personal insights into the lives of the rowers, in particular a two-man team comprised of rowers who can't stand each other.
Judith Helfand and Daniel Gold's "Melting Planet" looks at the frightening subject of global warming and environmental abuse in a humorous way, offering the story of a Utah resident who makes car fuel from French fry grease, while at the same time wondering why the winters in Park City seem to be getting shorter and shorter. The filmmakers distributed eco-friendly light bulbs to attendees as they exited their two screenings.
We also caught Elizabeth Thompson's "Zen Brats," which is the first in her planned series of "Brat" docs about young adults growing up in American subcultures. The first doc is about the sons and daughters of Zen monks; the one subject (of a planned half dozen potentially) showcased in the IFP Market clip wasn't hugely compelling on her own, but combined with her peers, the story could grow stronger.
Disappointing in its brevity was "The Creek Runs Red" by Bradley Beesley. The film, from the director of the acclaimed fest favorite "Okie Noodling," looks at the toxic landscape of a mining town in Oklahoma. The director was not in attendance to introduce the showing of the five or so minute clip, much to the dismay of the handful of people in the audience. The project showed promise, offering a glimpse at a sadly economically depressed area of the state.
At the documentary panel "The Making, Marketing, and Distribution of 'Capturing the Friedmans,'" the panel got off to a slightly late start and some audience members seemed to be frustrated that moderator Owen Gleiberman dwelled far too long on the "making" aspect of the movie. (Maybe the disgruntled audience members were doc filmmakers hoping to learn some of the secrets to creating a marketing plan to emulate the "Friedmans" runaway success). Still, the making of this film is a fascinating story, and director Andrew Jarecki told his side of the process, while Jesse Friedman, one of the subjects of the film, explained how his family was persuaded to open up.
"The process became adversarial and contentious," Jesse said, when the family members worried that Jarecki might be making "a tabloid expose." But eventually, they understood the filmmaker's motives. "He showed us a little trust, we showed a little trust, and there was a lot of back and forth," Jesse Friedman said. (Jesse's brother David was sitting in the audience, with a pal snapping digital photos to document the occasion).
Jarecki explained that whittling down his 100 hours of footage combined with the family's copious hours of home movies was one challenge. His first cut of the film was 5 1/2 hours long. When the discussion did open up to how Magnolia Pictures did go about releasing the movie, Magnolia head Eamonn Bowles explained his strategy for rolling "Friedmans" out slowly in select cities, and getting cast and crew members on hand at screenings for the inevitable debates with the audience afterwards.
Today (Friday) at the IFP Market, the event will hold an open town meeting to solicit film community feedback on the development of plan for a Media Arts Center in Lower Manhattan. The Empire State Development Corporation have awarded IFP/New York and Film/Video Arts (FVA) a $100,000 grant to plan for the potential center.