Questions About IFP Changes Intensify As Los Angeles Chapter Explores New Identity
by Eugene Hernandez
As insiders have followed the protracted split of Miramax founders Harvey and Bob Weinstein from corporate parent Disney in recent months, another public separation seems to be unfolding. On the same day that Miramax Weinstein's announced plans to leave the company they founded 25 years ago, a public discussion emerged regarding the fate of the 27 year old indie film institution The Independent Feature Project (IFP), fueled this week by a prominent story in a Hollywood trade paper.
An evolving matter that perhaps was not quite ready for public consumption grew into something that indieWIRE certainly could not ignore. The 6,300 member IFP/Los Angeles, the Southern California chapter of the loosely affiliated IFP is understood to be pursuing a name change, distancing itself from other IFP groups in Chicago, Miami, Minneapolis/St. Paul, New York, and Seattle. The impact of such a move remains unclear, in part because few of those involved are willing to even discuss the matter for the record.
The IFP/Los Angeles is understood to be moving towards a resolution of the issue perhaps as quickly as one week from now. While a change could still fail to win final board approval in Los Angeles, a new name, logo, website and unique branding is seen as quite likely in time for this year's Los Angeles Film Festival in June.
A report by Dana Harris in Variety on Tuesday revealed the ongoing discussions among IFP/Los Angeles leadership as the growing group seeks to distinguish itself. Rumors of changes and even discord have persisted since last year following a meeting in New York among IFP chapter heads. IFP/Los Angeles Executive Director Dawn Hudson declined to comment publicly Tuesday, while IFP/New York executive director Michelle Byrd, reluctant to react to a fluid situation, sought to emphasize that the separately run New York non-profit will prosper no matter what happens.
Citing a desire to reach IFP members, Byrd contacted indieWIRE late Tuesday to say, "The IFP has been around for 27 years, its the founding organization, we are healthy and we are going to continue to the stay course. Our agenda is simple, it is to serve the independent filmmaking community." Her chapter maintains a membership of about 2,000, and there are more than 1,000 or so members in the other four IFP groups that are outside of NY and LA. Each group maintains a number of distinctive programs serving local members, and in some cases programs like the Los Angeles Film Festival, the IFP Market in New York, or even the Central Standard Film Festival in Minneapolis-St. Paul draw attendees from other regions.
A flashpoint between the New York and Los Angeles IFP groups though may very well be annual awards programs that have are increasingly important and serve as vital fundraising opportunities. The twenty year old Independent Spirit Awards, run by the IFP/Los Angeles but voted upon by members of all six IFP groups, have gained greater attention, while in NYC the IFP/New York revitalized its committee-chosen Gotham Awards by moving them to the start of awards season in December and expanded the program to include a wider selection of honorees, stirring sour sentiments from the West Coast according to some insiders.
Without a national leadership structure, disputes that might arise or a decision by one group to withdraw from the association, or even re-brand itself, are unprecedented. How such a matter would be resolved is unclear in a structure that was referred to as a "common law marriage" by one IFP chief.
Three years ago, with the announcement of the launch of a new Seattle group, the IFP's in six cities unveiled new names for their chapters, including a shared logo, and eyed ways to become a unified national organization. In 2001, Morgan Rumpf joined IFP as the IFP/National Executive director, with Jane Minton of the IFP/Minneapolis-St Paul chapter named IFP/National president. The groups later launched a joint website as the first initiative aimed at unifying the groups. Efforts failed though amidst conflicting interests and agendas. Today, the only initiative binding the individual groups is the shared website (http://www.ifp.org) and the bi-annual meetings of leaders from the six groups.
FILMMAKER Magazine, a quarterly publication that was launched in the early 90s as a joint effort of the IFP and the IFP/West, remains a publication jointly owned by IFP/Los Angeles and IFP/New York.
Touting their shared visions, a group of IFP leaders including Hudson from Los Angeles, Byrd from New York, and Minton from Minneapolis-St. Paul committed themselves to a consortium aimed at developing new programs and efforts, during a conference call with indieWIRE back in 2002.
"Our voices will be heard in the future when we take up an advocacy issue," Dawn Hudson said at the time. "That one lone LA filmmaker will have a much larger voice." Her comments pre-dated a partnership between IFP chapters in LA and NY, along with a group of independent producers, to stop the ban on awards screeners imposed by the MPAA.
One year to the day after the IFP chapters in New York and Los Angeles, along with the coalition of independent film producers, announced the confidential settlement in the Indies v. MPAA case, it became publicly apparent that the unity fostered by the victory had withered.