Michelle Byrd

Job description: Executive director, Independent Feature Project

Breakthrough: Pulling off a revamped IFP Market and lively Gotham awards show just two weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks

In the works: A new IFP Screenwriters conference; a more extensive retooling of the IFP market, more emerging talent recognition at the Gotham awards

Deciding whether to hold a major market and awards ceremony while New York was still in a state of shock was not a decision easily made by IFP executive director Michelle Byrd. But for the IFP as well as the concurrent New York Film Festival, it became a way of bringing the community together.

“All of the cultural institutions came out to say people need the arts,” Byrd says. “For a lot of the filmmakers who work in their own communities, there was a real need to be with their colleagues in New York.”

Actors and indie film luminaries showed up in droves for the Gothams, and the event, broadcast for the second year on cable net Bravo, went off without a hitch. “The actors felt it was their moment to say ‘I live here, I’m not afraid and I have to get on with my life,’ ” Byrd says.

Byrd is sometimes asked whether there is still a raison d’etre for an organization to support independent filmmakers. “There are a gazillion stories out there that have never been told,” says Byrd, “And I don’t see anyone fighting to get them told. Being a woman, and especially a black woman, might make me a little more sensitized to the overwhelming lack of diversity in the industry at all levels.

“Personally, I feel a responsibility in acting as a mentor or an advisor, because there are so few black women in the independent film world.”

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