With the recent news of AIVF‘s financial crisis and the decline of indie film nonprofits in general, one of the crucial questions that has come up is what exactly AIVF has been doing or done for filmmakers to deserve to survive as they attempt to raise $60,000 to keep their doors open.
While I haven’t been involved with the organization so much the past three years due to my own film work and a full-time position at iW, I was a staff member at a vibrant, active AIVF from 2000-2003. AIVF was not perfect, with the impossible mandate of providing services and advocating for a diverse, national membership of filmmakers, whether novice or veteran, but there was the general feeling that we were doing some great things.
I would like to highlight some of those accomplishments during my time there and encourage other AIVF ex-staffers and AIVF members (current and lapsed) to post in the comments below what good they feel the org has done:
Sometimes called our filmmaker hotline, myself and another staff member took hundreds of calls and emails each week from filmmakers all over the country and world, answering questions like “how do I get my film funded?” “is this film festival legitimate?” “what is the best DV camera?” and where to find inexpensive health insurance, among numerous other inquiries.
We also offered assistance through our resource library, which was open to the public four days a week and every Wednesday till 9pm. In the library were examples of legal agreements, old issues of The Independent, film festival catalogs, press kits, free internet access, etc.
This hotline and library was FREE to members and the public and typically, we got referrals from other media arts organizations that didn’t provide this service to filmmakers.
Information Services also produced Splice!, an email newsletter with funding, film festival, advocacy alerts, and member news that went out to approximately 10,000 readers each month and published the AIVF books such as the Self-Distribution Toolkit, and the Guides to Film Festivals and Distributors.
PROGRAMS IN NYC
Meet and Greets – These was an intimate, monthly series at the AIVF library for filmmakers to hear industry folks discuss various aspects of the craft and business.
James Schamus (GOOD MACHINE)
Gill Holland (CineBLAST!)
Jeff Lipsky (LOT 47)
programmers from PBS, HBO, and MTV
Katie Roumel and Jon Marcus (KILLER FILMS)
Pitching To The Pros – Held at Anthology Film Archives, AIVF would choose several filmmakers to “pitch” their films to a panel of industry folks (with producers like Diana Williams, Rene Bastian and folks from WNET 13 and HBO) in front of an audience so as to learn the best way to clearly convey one’s project in a brief amount of time.
Master Classes – This was a three part series each summer held at the Screening Room (now Tribeca Cinemas) where we screened a narrative film with Q&A, free lunch, a two hour workshop, and a cocktail hour/mixer. (All three events could be attended for $100.00)
Gary Winick on directing TADPOLE
Anthony Bregman, Jason Kliot, and Joana Vicente on producing LOVELY AND AMAZING
Jim McKay on distributing OUR SONG
IDP’s Shani Ankori on marketing RAISING VICTOR VARGAS
Catherine Hardwicke on writing THIRTEEN (with surprise guest Holly Hunter!)
Greg Pak on self-distributing ROBOT STORIES
Allen Bain on shooting CAMP
Documentary Dialogues – This was an ongoing discussion group where aesthetic, moral, and other issues involving documentary makers was discussed, with a wine mixer afterwards to promote networking among docmakers.
Legal Workshops – Ongoing legal series where entertainment attorney Innes Smolansky discussed (and answered many, many questions) about forming a legal entity, clearance and copyright issues, financing, distribution, etc. She generally had industry folks to discuss their side of the legal issue, including speakers from companies like Sundance Channel and Sandcastle 5 Productions (Robert Altman’s production company.)
HBO’s Frame By Frame – Partnering with HBO, AIVF presented moderated filmmaker Q&A’s after screenings of HBO popular documentary series at the Screening Room.
AIVF Holiday Party – The somewhat notorious annual AIVF holiday party, where member and non-members alike were invited to come to the roomy AIVF offices to drink free beer and wine, eat free food, chat and network. Typically we had about 250 revelers show up for what became a yearly favorite.
DV to 35 MM workshop – A technical workshop based on an Independent article that explored the hot topic of shooting on digital video and transferring to 35mm.
All of these events were typically near full or sold out, servicing hundreds of NYC area filmmakers each month throughout most of the year. Most of the events were priced for $10-$20 for AIVF members. At the time an AIVF membership was $55 a year, about 40-50% less than its peer organizations.
One continuing challenge with AIVF was figuring out how to service a national membership with a NYC based staff, but there were a few substantial programs that were offered to those outside NYC:
Public TV Mentorship Sessions
Every year, (and for a while, twice a year) AIVF would set up meetings with a dozen or so documentary makers (culled from submissions from around the country) so they could show their rough cut to national programmers at PBS and CPB (Corporation for Public Broadcasting), get feedback and also build new relationships. This was heavily attended by members outside of NYC. Some of the films went on to screen on public television, the film festival circuit, and Sundance Channel.
Maestro was a travelling series where AIVF staff members visited cities around the country as a sort of listening tour and to bring AIVF’s workshops (like Pitching to the Pros, Documentary Dialogues, DV to 35 MM workshop) and resources to film communities in:
San Diego, California
Albany, New York
The part of AIVF most are familiar with, the magazine was heavy on the nuts and bolts articles during the time I worked there, including monthly information on funding, festival listing, distributors, great articles like “how to build a press kit” and film festival submission strategies. Many of the good articles were typically available online. Theme issues generally were Public Television, Shorts, Experimental Film, Fundraising, and Distribution, and even one particularly memorable issue with guest editor Miranda July, well before her feature film debut.