by Mark Rabinowitz
Long-time Executive Director of the Association of Independent Video
and Filmmakers (AIVF) and Publisher of the Independent Film & Video
Monthly, Ruby Lerner, told indieWIRE that she is leaving the organization
to head up a new foundation that will provide financial support to
individual artists. She will remain on board at the AIVF through the end
of the year.
While at the AIVF, Lerner was in a unique position to observe the
explosion of the independent film scene from its nexus in New York.
Prior to the AIVF, she was the Executive Director of IMAGE Film and
Video Center in Atlanta. In a conversation with indieWIRE, Lerner
spoke about the last six years in the independent film community, and
some of the recent trends.
When asked about the major changes over the past several
years, Lerner commented on the "the explosion in the quantity of work
being made," and the simultaneous deterioration of much of the
infrastructure of the industry. "In the 70's and 80's, there was a
'Media Center' infrastructure, where there was a lot of exhibition going
on. Museums were doing a lot of exhibition," she said, adding, "I'm not
saying that people are not still exhibiting work, but they're under the
same constraints that everybody else is." She went on to point out that
museum and media center budgets have not been growing at the necessary
rate to continue exhibiting the same quantity of new and interesting
work. In addition, Lerner pointed out that many outlets for independent
and experimental films are looking for work with a guaranteed paid
audience, as their budgets aren't large enough to support the
"risk-taking" that used to occur.
Lerner also pointed out that while there used to be exhibition space for
experimental and independent film and video projects, much of that space
has been replaced by opportunities such as the FUEL Tour. Lerner referred
to such exhibition opportunities as "Great, because there's a lot of
energy and ferment," but went on to point out that what is missing is
institutions that "are there year after year, coming up with interesting
programming." One of her hopes is that the several alternative distribution
and exhibition opportunities that have been tried in recent years will
"cohere themselves into a system at some point." She added that with
the explosion of the number of film festivals, it's now "a lot easier
to get financial support and recognition for a kind of one-time event,
than it is to sustain an ongoing exhibition program."
There is no doubt that the landscape in the world of independent film
and video has been radically re-designed over the past several years.
Witness the rise of independent companies such as Strand; and the rise of
IndieWood, with companies such as Miramax, October, Fox Searchlight and
Sony Pictures Classics; the creation of companies with the intent to be
major players in the indie realm like Stratosphere, and the
proliferation of smaller specialized releasing outlets like Roxie,
Shadow, Zeitgeist and Legacy. When asked how she views her six
years at the helm of the AIVF, Lerner spoke of her first meeting with
the staff in New York. When she arrived, the staff had a few things to
tell her about. "They said: 'What should we do with the eviction notice
that was posted on the door this morning?', that was one...two: 'We hope
it's o.k., but we authorized the sub-tenant to replace the window that
was shot out by a sniper,' and three: 'We thought you should know that
we had to call the police on a stalker.'" In addition, the organization
was in bad financial shape. Lerner says, without an ounce of hubris,
that while it was a rough couple of years at the beginning, she feels
"like it's a much more vibrant organization than it was when I got here.
I feel really proud to have been a part of that."