Indie fever hits Gotham

'Elysian Fields' opens event

The Gotham film world bloomed over the weekend with the launch of the New York Film Festival uptown and the IFP Independent Film Market downtown.

The NYFF bowed Friday at Alice Tully Hall with a black-tie world premiere of Alexander Payne’s “About Schmidt,” while the market screenings and panels at the IFP, which also opened Friday, are typically frequented by a jeans-wearing crowd.

IFP/New York executive director Michelle Byrd has streamlined the IFP market, and many in the biz were more motivated coming into this year’s event despite the bleak state of the specialty film financing landscape.

Official opening event was the New York premiere of George Hickenlooper’s “The Man From Elysian Fields” and a launch party at downtown restaurant Metronome.

While the NYFF showcases some of the best in world cinema, with 26 features and 15 shorts (most of which have already screened at international festivals and have distribution), the IFP is primarily about finding and nurturing new voices.

“In the simplest way, the IFP market is for filmmakers who are looking for one of two different things,” Byrd said. “Either pure access, in terms of networking possibilities, or, for more veteran filmmakers, it’s kind of about presenting new work and finding out who’s out there … hopefully, some of our events will result in doors opening for filmmakers.”

But producer Andrew Fierberg questions the value of the market in the current climate. “The IFP has to continue to explore ways to bring the young filmmaker in,” Fierberg said. “There’s not a lot of money in the marketplace. It’s not a very strong environment for it. The economics are different than what it used to be. People used to go to market to buy films. But I don’t know how much the IFP can really be in terms of helping the filmmakers get noticed.”

Opportunity knocks

Jeff Lipsky, who until recently ran Lot 47, begs to differ. “I see the market as somewhat the same way as I always have,” he said. “It’s an extraordinary opportunity for nascent filmmakers to get an authoritative overview about the independent film world on a regional, national and global basis from a wide array of industry experts in a very compact and convenient period of time. I don’t know where they would get this kind of economic education elsewhere.”

Lipsky, among numerous other industry execs, is speaking on two panels during the market week, including one on marketing of specialty pics. Other panels include “The Future of the Independents,” moderated by John Sloss, with panelists Michael Barker, Eamonn Bowles, Howard Cohen, Jon Kilik, Michael Ryan, Michelle Slatter and Christine Vachon; and “The Art of Adaptation,” moderated by David Schwartz, with panelists Nanette Burstein, David Henry Hwang, Tim Blake Nelson and Stephen Schiff.

Buyer panels

The market’s “meet the buyer” series are panels with reps from such specialty distribs as Fine Line Features, Focus Features, United Artists, IFC Films, Miramax Films and the Samuel Goldwyn Co.

For filmmakers and buyers, one of the market’s most attractive programs is No Borders, in which market organizers match buyers and sellers/filmmakers for a series of brief scheduled meetings.

“No Borders is a good way to cruise through and a get a lot of work done in a short period of time,” said Sony Pictures Classics senior veep of acquisitions Dylan Leiner.

IFC Films’ Kelly DeVine added, “The IFP/New York distinguishes itself from regional film festivals by seeking to create a meeting ground for independent filmmakers and independent producers and distributors, supplanting some of the functions traditionally found under the heading of development.”

Docu dock

In past years, the IFP market proved to be a launching pad for such narrative pics as Kevin Smith’s “Clerks” and Ed Burns’ “The Brothers McMullen.” But the market has morphed into a more consistent and fertile arena for documentaries in search of funding.

Documaker Marina Zenovich recalls bringing the first footage for her doc “Independent’s Day,” about the indie film biz, to the IFP market in 1996. “It started out as a work-in-progress,” Zenovich said. “The next year I had something much more together. That’s when I got the Sundance Channel to put up finishing funds.”

The same thing happened with Zenovich’s next doc, “Who Is Bernard Tapie?,” which she unveiled at the No Borders section of the market in 1999. But Zenovich, whose latest doc, “Estonia Dreams of Eurovision!,” airs on the Sundance Channel today, has a message of caution and patience to fellow filmmakers.

“It’s not just about this week,” she said. “It’s about beginning a network. The market, just like going to a festival, is where you could meet people who in the future could have some connection to your projects and your career.”

One filmmaker with high hopes at this year’s market is Robert Maass, who is unveiling 20 minutes of his doc “Big Apple Fishing,” a work-in-progress that centers on the odd characters who fish along the Hudson River and other New York waterways.

“For me, part of the challenge was to get a cut that would be most representative and most enticing, to get people excited about this project, who would be interested enough to get this thing completed and then released,” he said.

Search for finishing funds

Maass, who was a Newsweek photographer for 10 years and has written 10 books for children, is looking for finishing funds from distribs who view his footage in one of the 20-25 screenings to be held at the Angelika Film Center this week.

Former investment banker D.K. Kadajian, who finances his own pics, will unveil 45 minutes of his doc “State of the Union,” which takes a critical look at money, politics and the impact on the underclass.

“I just hope someone falls in love with it,” he said. “What I am most interested in is getting some kind of broadcast deal. The other three pictures in my series will be picked up by Hallmark. But they may not take this film, because it’s a little in-your-face. Still, it’s the film I wanted to make.”

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