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Women to Watch – Joana Vicente, Executive Director, Independent Feature Project New York City

Women to Watch - Joana Vicente, Executive Director, Independent Feature Project New York City

Independent Film Matters

Joana Vicente

By Guest Blogger Peter Belsito

In 1979 a group of ‘us’ (by that I mean ex student radical or just plain radical filmmakers) got together at Bard College to discuss, ‘where do we go from here?’ We were all veterans of the various movements of the ‘60s. Many of us filmmakers attending had been involved in Newsreel, an early collective of anti war film makers (Vietnam and civil rights – the black movement – was always at the center of everything we did) who made and distributed films from Vietnam, Cuba, China, Russia, Palestine, the Black Panthers etc on various radical political topics. When I look back at it, Newsreel was actually a broad based U.S. distribution company with 65 chapters. Jonathan Aurthur, Dennis Hicks and I founded the L.A. chapter in October 1968. Anyhow at Bard in 1979 the mood was ‘the ‘60s are over, the ‘70s were downhill, now what’s next?’ Well the ‘80s of course (really bad!) but we all wanted to do something. A few years later, early ‘80s, I remember being drawn into a meeting by my UCLA Film School friend and mentor Steve Wax at Sarah Pillsbury’s Santa Monica backyard to organize a conference in NYC for a new national filmmaker organization. The chief instigator / organizer here was the amazing Sandra Schulberg and thus a group of us, a few dozen or so, met next in NYC at the 92nd Street ‘Y’. I remember filmmakers like John Hanson and Robb Nielsen among the attendees. All were filmmakers like me, politically progressive and “wanting to do something”. We founded the IFP then as an organization and opened an office, had staff, etc. My estimation today of the two resulting organizations I still know and am active with, are in L.A. (Film Independent / FIND) and IFP NYC, is that they are doing very much what we wanted the IFP to be when we established an organization in the early ‘80s. We wanted an organizational voice for “us”, for independent filmmakers; we wanted to be organized and to be heard. This at a time when (I swear!) no one had yet put the two words “independent” and “film” together in the same sentence.

As an early advocate and founder I am proud and happy at how they’ve both developed in different cities (L.A. and NYC) with different needs and filmmaking cultures. I sat down recently in her Dumbo (“down under the Manhattan Bridge overpass”) Brooklyn offices to talk with Joana Vicente about her work.

Joana comes from Portugal and was born in their former colony of Macao, China. Raised in Lisbon she attended “a number of primary” schools in Macao, Lisbon and Mozambique prior to studying Philosophy and Political Science at the Catholic University of Portugal.

As a teenager her first film experience was interning on a film production by Paolo Rocha. Her first real film job was with Paolo Branco, a Producer of Wim Wenders Raoul Ruiz, Alain Tanner, among others. She came to New York with her husband Jason Kliot. (They have 2 children, a boy and a girl.) Her media career here started in radio, then she moved on to making music videos and then produced and directed public service announcements with a group of filmmakers that was brought together by Michael Stipe and Jim McKay.

She and Jason were Associate Producers (they put the production together) on Todd Solondz’s Welcome to the Dollhouse which came out to acclaim and success in 1995.

In 1994 they had started Open City together, a company that was open to filmmakers for collaboration. Early Filmmakers they worked with were Jim McKay, Sarah Driver. The Open City office collaborated and financed film to film. The money, cash flow, came in from music videos and commercials. Another enterprise around this time was Blow Up Pictures which was the first company dedicated to producing digital feature films. The concept was to get a group of investors to finance films for under a million dollars and to give directors total artistic control and final cut. Films such as ‘Chuck and Buck’ , ‘Lovely and Amazing’ and ‘Love In the Time of Money’, ‘Series 7’ and ‘The Guys’ were the result. Each of the films were distributed by major theatrical distributors (USA FIlms, Artisan Entertainment, Lion’s Gate,and ThinkFilm, Focus Features) and the digital film movement was born.

After these successes Joana and Jason were approached billionaires Mark Cuban and Todd Wagner to form an all HD production company, HDNet Films

Throughout, Open City continued to make traditional feature films.

An ealy success was Tony Bui’s film ‘Three Seasons’. The film was considered a tremendous gamble. A first time director only 25 years old, the first American film to be shot in Vietnam and in the Vietnamese language. The gamble paid off – the film was awarded three awards at Sundance in 1999, including the Grand Jury Prize for best film as well as the Audience Award.

Then came ‘Coffee and Cigarettes’ by auteur Jim Jarmusch, among many others.

In 2005 Joana joined the Board of the Independent Filmmaker Project (IFP). In December of 2009 she accepted the post of Executive Director. She and the team took on the task of re-thinking the organization, to re-examine everything it was doing so the IFP could be as relevant an organization as it was when founded 30 years ago.

These questions / issues arose:

How do we best support filmmakers?

How do we help film people to sustain their careers?

How to help filmmakers make the best films?

How to connect these films with audiences?

Do we / IFP need a new image that is more relevant to today’s needs and more in touch with our membership?

Joana’s kicking off point is her self image as a filmmaker.

One new and exciting activity IFP was organizing when we spoke was a new IFP/ Power to the Pixel Cross-Media Forum. Visionary people in the film world, and I include Joana among them, see the new notions and possibilities of Trans Media activities as expanding the notion of what it is today to be a filmmaker. They want to involve:

1) Anyone storytelling in any media form

2) Storytelling practices and norms and new directions in film, advertising, marketing, new media, design, publishing, and gaming

The event consisted of case studies, conversations and networking opportunities where attendees will meet top artists, new media pioneers and content creators from the day. A friend of mine and a culture hero for many who spoke there is the always amazing Jeff Gomez (like me, Peter, Jeff is a guy from Flushing) who personally invented the notion back in the mid ‘90’s of trans media in his groundbreaking company Starlight Runner. One of Jeff’s recent clients was James Cameron for a film called ‘Avatar’. Jeff created the universe surrounding that world and the characters.

Out of this Forum IFP will select 3 developing projects to take part in Independent Film Week (formerly IFP Market).

Independent Film Week is IFP’s longest running event, taking place this year fromSeptember 19th-23rd, strategically positioned between the Toronto and New York Film Festivals.It was recently announced that the program is moving to Lincoln Center, where the Film Society of Lincoln Center has just opened its new screening and meeting space space this June.

The goal of Independent Film Week is comprised of four component parts: the Project Forum, the Festival Forum, the Sneak Preview Screenings, and the Filmmaker Conference.

The Project Forum, traditionally the heart of the event, is the oldest forum in the U.S. for the discovery of new projects in development and new voices on the independent film scene.

Project Forum consists of the Emerging Narrative, No Borders, Independent Filmmaker Labs, and Spotlight on Documentaries programs. In total there are 150 projects seeking finishing funds, co production deals, and production partners.

Emerging Narrative is a talent pool which identifies up-and-coming U.S. writers and writer/directors. It is the section which focuses on the discovery of 25 new projects in development and new voices on the independent scene.

The program is open to U.S. writers and writer/directors with scripts that have been written after September 2010. Projects and participants are selected on artistic merit and marketplace exposure. Once selected, IFP provides filmmakers with professional script and pitching consultation prior to participation.

Throughout Film Week, participants will take part in one-to-one meetings with top industry leaders including independent producers, development execs, agents, managers, sales agents, and top festival programmers.

Narrative program highlights from the 2010 Project Forum includes new work represented by established independent producers Howard Gertler & John Cameron Mitchell (Shortbus), Phillip Seymour Hoffman (Jack Goes Boating), Lynette Howell (Half Nelson), Mark Heyman (The Wrestler), Michael Roiff (Waitress), Christine Walker (Howl), Jay Van Hoy & Lars Kundsen (Old Joy) and executive producers Ross Katz (Lost in Translation), Andrew Niccol (Gattaca), Mira Nair (The Namesake), and Ron Simons (Night Catches Us).

With No Borders, international producers can apply only through one of IFP’s No Borders Partners. Program partners include established funding bodies (TelefilmCanada, Germany’s Filmstiftung NRW, Australia’s FilmVictoria and NSW Film and Television Office, the New Zealand Film Commission, and the National Film and Video Foundation in South Africa, Israeli Film Fund, and Latin American Training Council) and support organizations (CineMart, ACE, Power to the Pixel, and the Sundance Institute).

The Independent Filmmaker Labs is a free fellowship and the only program in the world that supports first-time feature filmmakers with projects in post-production when they need it most: through the completion, marketing and distribution of their film.

Spotlight on Documentaries is for feature-length (more than 50 minutes) U.S. projects in any stage of production, as long as some footage has been shot, and the film is not complete. The program accepts approximately 70 projects. Projects must submit assembled material to be considered for this program.

The Festival Forum, another significant component of Film Week, brings together leading international and domestic programmers to discuss the future of festivals. Over 45 U.S. & International festival programmers and executives took part in the 2010 Forum, including representatives from Berlin, Cannes, Hot Docs, New York Film Festival, New Directors, Rotterdam, Slamdance, Sundance, SXSW, and Tribeca.

The Festival Forum’s primary goal is to provide relaxed, productive environment where festival programmers from around the globe can meet formally and informally to discuss issues that impact both their organizations, as well as the collective goals of audience building and talent cultivation in the independent film community.

The remaining components of Film Week, the Filmmaker Conference and the Sneak Preview Screenings, are open to the public. The Filmmaker Conference brings together over 2,000 top business executives, filmmakers, producers, distributors and new media pioneers for daily case studies, debates and one-to-one in depth “Conversations With…”, and IFP gives attendees an opportunity to participate in interactive discussions, live pitching and online contests.

The Sneak Preview Screenings are meant to highlight the work of program alumni. Showcases from 2010 included an Opening Night Celebration with Oscillioscope’s Howl (IFW 2008), the World Premiere of documentary Twelve Ways to Sunday (IFW 2009), as well as a 2010 IFP Independent Filmmaker Lab “Sneak Preview” Screening featuring highlights from the work of the next generation of great independent filmmakers. Taking place outdoors, these evenings serve to build awareness for independent films in general, as well as garner audience support for the talented community of filmmakers IFP assists year-round.

(Peter here – aside from the above Joana and I discussed a few other issues. Here is a summary.)

Problems? Ideas?

Joana proudly draws on her filmmaker experience to survey the current scene.

The main one – problem – is how to sustain a career these days with the tiny budgets filmmakers must work with. What today is a reasonable business model for filmmaking? How is one to carry on a viable career?

Also – How do we reach our audiences?

What is good now is that films can be made for lower costs. In many ways it is easier to connect with audiences and there are more opportunities to do so today.

How does one get a ‘stamp of approval’ and visibility? What is the business model?

We’re not there yet. While we have before us amazing opportunities to use these new multi platforms we have before us the classical dialectic – problems and opportunities.

What IFP is trying to do is bring people together to share experiences and to advance our common agenda.

As far as being a woman in the business, Joana is somewhat unique here in that she came as a female immigrant to the US. Her first job was in the UN as a radio producer. She feels that anywhere today women must work harder to succeed. However in the US she feels it is easier to integrate than, say, in France where she was previously.


About the IFP

(the following is taken from their published, website materials and is a good starting point to find out more about this important organization)

IFP’s Role in Independent Film

After debuting with a program in the 1979 New York Film Festival, the nonprofit IFP has evolved into the nation’s oldest and largest organization of independent filmmakers, and also the premier advocate for them. Since its start, IFP has supported the production of 7,000 films and provided resources to more than 20,000 filmmakers’ voices that otherwise might not have been heard. IFP believes that independent films broaden the palette of cinema, seeding the global culture with new ideas, kindling awareness, and fostering activism.

Currently, IFP represents a network of 10,000 filmmakers in New York City and around the world. Through its workshops, seminars, conferences, mentorships, and Filmmaker magazine, IFP schools its members in the art, technology, and business of independent filmmaking (there are special programs to promote racial, ethnic, religious, ideological, gender, and sexual diversity). IFP builds audiences by hosting screenings, often in collaboration with other cultural institutions-and also bestows the Gotham Awards™, the first honors of the film awards season. When all is said and done, IFP fosters the development of 350 feature and documentary films each year.

About IFP Programs

From Script to Screen – Screenwriting Conference

The Independent Filmmaker Conference: Script to Screen is the place for filmmakers to explore the art, craft, and business of writing and creating the next great independent film. Co-presented by IFP and the Writers Guild of America East, this two-day symposium explores new opportunities available to independent filmmakers and directly connects aspiring and working film professionals to the decision-makers of film, television, and new media. March 20-21, 2010

Independent Filmmaker Labs

Supporting low-budget, independently produced films currently in the rough cut stage, the Labs are an immersive, free mentorship program for low-budget first feature films where all or a substantial amount of footage has been completed, but not post-production. 20 projects (equally split between docs and narratives) are selected annually for this year-long fellowship, beginning with a one-week intensive and culminating with week long one-on-one meetings at Independent Film Week. Open to all first time feature doc and narrative directors in post-production.

Independent Film Week: Project Forum

Formerly known as IFP Market, Independent Film Week is the oldest and largest forum in the U.S. for the discovery of new projects in development and new voices on the independent scene. It is the best opportunity in the nation for an independent filmmaker to find a funder or producer. Independent Film week comprises two programs Project Forum which is comprised of three sections: Emerging Narrative Screenplays, Spotlight on Documentary Works in Progress, and No Borders Screenplays for established producers and the Independent Filmmaker Conference. September 19-24, 2010 (Application Deadlines: May 2010).

Independent Filmmaker Conference: Future of Film

Taking place concurrently with Independent Film Week, the Conference addresses creative initiatives, critical technology, current issues and global market place trends through diverse panel discussions, case studies and keynotes. The Conference is a must-attend social networking opportunity for creative professionals wanting access to the discussion on filmmaking in the current landscape – and where it’s headed next.

IFP Fiscal Sponsorship

Individuals, foundations, corporations or government organizations often seek a tax benefit when donating funds to projects. IFP’s Fiscal Sponsorship Program is a mechanism allowing filmmakers to offer donors the incentive of a charitable deduction for income tax purposes, a service they could not otherwise offer. The program also offers financial, administrative and mentorship support, competitive fees and the reliability of working with an established filmmaker-support organization. Applications accepted year-round.

Filmmaker Magazine

Established in 1992, Filmmaker is a quarterly print publication and online presence covering the craft & business of filmmaking. The authentic voice covers the creative, technical, & business realities facing specialized film. With readership of 30,000, it is available thru direct subscription (print & online) and at newsstands worldwide. Filmmaker features “25 New Faces of Independent Film, alumni of which include, Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck, Ryan Gosling, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Hillary Swank. Published Quarterly.


The Independent Filmmaker Project (IFP) is collaborating with the United Nations Department of Public Information to produce Envision 2010, an annual forum in NYC that unites leaders from the international filmmaking community with prominent representatives from the UN, civil society organizations, entrepreneurs, activists, journalists, economists, public policy makers and NGOs to address global issues through the international shared language of filmed documentaries.

The UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) serve as the focal point for screenings, panel discussions and social networking. The Spotlight Focus in 2010 is the second Millennium Development Goal: achieving universal primary education.

Festival Genius

Festival Genius provides critical infrastructure to support film festivals and independent filmmakers with audience building. Festival Genius hosts online program guides for over 200 international film festivals, capturing audience feedback on 40,000 feature films from over 3 million annual visitors and building a registered membership of 200,000 film fans. IFP now runs these online film festival program guides while expanding the reach of Festival Genius and keeping costs to the festivals nominal. IFP shares Festival Genius audience data with festivals, IFP programs, and filmmakers, offering them a direct line to audience feedback.
Screening Series – IFP provides a number of opportunities to screen the latest in independent features, including programs such as the Film Independent’s Spirit Award screenings, Independent Filmmaker Lab alumni showcases, and sneak preview of upcoming independent film releases.

Industry Connect

Monthly workshops for IFP members designed to enhance professional development and provide networking opportunities among members. Topics cover financing, production, postproduction, sales, distribution, and marketing.

Gotham Independent Film Awards

Launched in 1991, the Gotham Independent Film Awards are selected by distinguished juries and presented in New York City, the home of independent film. They are the first honors of the film awards season that will eventually culminate in the Academy Awards. This public showcase honors the filmmaking community, expands the audience for independent films, and supports the work that IFP does behind the scenes throughout the year to bring such films to fruition. November 28, 2011.

International Programs

Connecting U.S. independent filmmakers at festivals and international markets, IFP has official partnerships with some of the most important international co-production markets and provides access for its program alumni and members to Rotterdam’s Producers’ Lab, Cannes’ Producer’s Network, and South Korea’s Pusan Promotion Plan (PPP). Additionally, IFP has a long-standing association with the Berlin Film Festival and Market.

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