Wednesday, September 30, 2009

IFP Week and the State of Film Festivals as Emerging Technology Takes Over the World

Independent Film Week, running from September 19-24, 2009 in New York City and formerly known as the IFP Market, was always the place to be whether you had a film in your pocket or just happy to see other filmmakers networking their hearts out, hanging on to every word industry professionals expound on revised business models and film festival philosophy. The film festival landscape is shifting out from under our feet just like continental shelves groaning under geological pressures as film festivals revert into individual altered states and the top tier directors/programmers check out of the executive positions. Maybe that's not a bad thing.

Historically, film festivals started out as a means of extending the tourist season in seaside regions producing revenue for the local economies in the off-season months. While there are festivals that still play that card, others that started out as such blossomed (or bloated) into a huge festival business eventually spinning off into year-round, entertaining target-marketed enclaves. Submissions, acceptance, rejections and awards often have been held over filmmakers' heads, overshadowing good filmmaking with the coveted brass ring of getting a distribution deal for theatrical exhibition. Just as the shake out of festival directors and programmers have left us pondering how this is going to affect the way things work for the continuously streaming influx of new and emerging filmmakers, emerging technology is stepping in, automating processes faster, more efficiently and environmentally sound, taking over and touting online festivals and submissions.

Sitting in the audience. I braced myself for another onslaught of streaming video, online distribution platforms, mobile phone screenings, etc. Sean Farnel, festival programmer for Hot Docs, Jarod Neece, SxSW, Erick Opeka, New Video and Christian Gaines, formerly festival director AFI West and currently film festival director for Withoutabox (WAB), all brought out points for expanding the film community, platforms and acquisitions. The IFP staff recorded this panel and it would be a good idea to check it out, particularly on how Christian Gaines sees film festival programmers becoming "curatorial attention managers" providing recommendations for audiences of what they would like to see, therefore, "assuring a strong, provocative, curatorial experience" for audiences who still want to watch films on the big screen and in a communal, film festival setting.

During the Q&A, someone asked the panel their opinion on the recent shake up at Film Society of Lincoln Center New York's Film Festival (going on from September 25-October 11, 2009) without Kent Jones, ten year veteran, associate director of programming and editor-at-large at Film Comment, whose high-profile resignation and departure had the indie film community buzzing. The panel members shrugged and said they knew nothing about it. Maybe that's not a bad thing.

Check out an earlier podcast conversation with Kent Jones at

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