November 1, 2010, London, England — Yesterday afternoon in London, during my short visit here en route to this week’s Sheffield Doc/Fest, I was inside a small, independent Spitalfields clothing company. I ended up chatting for quite awhile with one of the employees at Albam, who preached the brand’s organic, local approach to its products. As we talked, I drew a tangential link to independent film and documentaries and then he asked me what I do. I’m a journalist, I quickly blurted out. Correcting myself, I clarified for the first time out loud, actually I now work at The Film Society of Lincoln Center.
So, I’ve had my last day at indieWIRE. More than fifteen years after a small group of us created an online community for indie filmmakers, industry insiders and movie fans I’ve handed off the baton of leadership to friends and colleagues whom I trust will continue to take indieWIRE in new and exciting directions, while at the same time preserving its core mission.
I was at Lincoln Center inside the Film Society’s Walter Reade Theater in the mid-90s when the specific idea for indieWIRE came. Alongside longtime iW consigliere Tim LaTorre, I scribbled thoughts in a reporter’s notebook that I’m looking at as I write this farewell message. According to my notes, we were listening to Kiki Morris from Skywalker Sound discuss “The Jazz Singer” and the transformation of cinema in the early days of sound. Now, I’m joining the Film Society in the newly created role, Director of Digital Strategy.
‘Independent’ and ‘interactive’ are two words written over and over in this fading notebook. The words ‘imagination’ and ‘ingenuity’ also appear. Fifteen years ago, a group of us were puzzling through how to use digital technology to bind like-minded people linked by a passion for movies. I am starting with a similar goal at Lincoln Center.
indieWIRE’s story, however, sort of began a couple of years prior. The morning after Bill Clinton’s inauguration I made my first trip to the Sundance Film Festival. Living in Los Angeles at the time, Tim LaTorre and I had attended Sundance ’93 on a whim. Fortunately, we met New Yorker Mark Rabinowitz and bonded with a booming group of Generation X-ers. Later, living in NYC, Mark and I (along with Cheri Barner) explored how we might connect the cool collection of folks we were encountering in New York, Los Angeles and Park City. Idealistic during that first Clinton administration we believed that the young Internet could not only link people, but serve as a conduit for information.
Online and in person we discussed, debated and shared information about Indie filmmakers of the moment, some of whom we enlisted in our online cause: Bryan Singer, Richard Linklater, Robert Rodriguez, Jenni Livingston, Kevin Smith, Todd Haynes, Quentin Tarantino, Allison Anders, Wes Anderson, Sarah Jacobson, Jim McKay, Gregg Araki, Michael Moore, Kelly Reichardt, Rob Weiss, David O. Russell, among others. We also tracked the producers who enabled their work: Christine Vachon, Ted Hope, James Schamus, Andrea Sperling, Ira Deutchman, Jason Kliot & Joana Vicente, Anthony Bregman and Mary Jane Skalski.
Filmmaker Magazine published Peter Broderick’s crucial case studies detailing ultra low-budget filmmaking and then John Pierson authored his essential look at the American independent film movement of the 80s and early 90s. Basically, we attempted to pick up the story from there, reporting on it daily in an email newsletter with the help of filmmaker Roberto Quezada. Later, the daily email newsletter moved to a rather basic website that was developed when our team expanded (to include Filmmaker Magazine publisher Karol Martesko, as well as Brian Clark and GMD Studios, and later Ken Tabachnick).
Content and community were the core concepts, namely cultivating a home for independent film online. A focus on independent films and filmmaking is what distinguishes indieWIRE today, even as the site expands to include a wider array of voices on a broader variety of smart films. Reading indieWIRE over the weekend, I was reminded that iW’s primary focus is still the same. Brian Brooks and Sophia Savage reported from the annual Filmmaker Forum (presented by Film Independent and sponsored by indieWIRE) where a new crop of filmmakers tried to come to hone their own goals and come to grips with the changing nature of the film business.
Often at indieWIRE, there have been passionate discussions aimed at defining ‘independent film’ and it was quickly clear that filmmaking by emerging directors is often driven by the tension between art and commerce. That was the case when we launched indieWIRE and in fact, a similar struggle existed in the early 70s, as Amos Vogel detailed in an early independent film column in the Film Society’s Film Comment magazine. As longtime indieWIRE writer (and key editor) Anthony Kaufman noted a few years ago, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”
The other night in New York, a small group of us gathered at the International Bar in the East Village. iW co-founder Mark Rabinowitz often held court in the narrow dive bar and in the mid-90s it quickly became a key gathering spot for film folks. Countless ideas for indieWIRE grew out of the late-night conversations there among the many filmmakers and executives who would pass through on one of the frequent Thursday night gatherings. These days the place has been spruced up a bit, but the drinks are still cheap. As we sat in the bar’s backyard yesterday on a warm October night, I recognized that our group included folks from a new generation, twenty something critics, filmmakers and indieWIRE staff mixing with those of us who were their age back when we launched iW.
Nearly five years ago, I looked back at a decade of indieWIRE anticipating dramatic change, but proclaiming persistent optimism. “What’s great about American independent film over the past 30 years or so, at least to me,” I wrote at the time, “Is that it is either as rich and alive, or as dead and derivative, as we each want it to be.”
I feel the same way today.
indieWIRE is poised to thrive with a strong mix of established and emerging talent. My longtime iW colleagues Brian Brooks and James Israel, along with the terrific Anne Thompson, Peter Knegt and everyone on the iW team, are working with a talented crew of folks at SnagFilms to chart indieWIRE’s future.
It’s truly an exciting moment. Thanks.