Minnesota moneybags

The Independent Feature Project North (IFP/N) recently ventured into new territory, offering an unprecedented range of production grants and exhibition opportunities to Minnesota-based independent filmmakers.

According to IFP/N program director Rebecca Bachman, the purpose is to act as a catalyst in upgrading local production while fostering a regional sensibility. She oversees several programs, including the innovative Blockbuster McKnight Film Fund, which makes four indie production awards annually totaling $75,000.

IFP/N, with headquarters in Minneapolis, is the only regional IFP to take a hands-on approach to production. Bachman also administers IFP/N’s McKnight Screenwriters Fellowship, awarding three $6,000 grants annually, and the new Independents in Flight exhibition program in cooperation with Northwest Airlines, providing four hours of independent film programming each month selected from nationwide submissions for viewing in first class and business class on Northwest’s international flights.

“We re-evaluated our service to our membership and decided there was a void in production and exhibition opportunities,” Bachman says. The Blockbuster McKnight Film Fund, in the forefront of solutions to filling that void, was the brainchild of Mike Sweeney, former owner of the Minnesota Blockbuster video chain franchise. Sweeney, described as a champion of independent film, put up $250,000 in seed money for the production fund in 1994, with administration underwritten by the McKnight Foundation.

The awards may be used toward expenses including research, writer fees and script editing, and must be repaid when investors are secured and production begins. The first two rounds of awards, in 1995 and 1996, have launched projects including Wendell Andersson’s “With or Without You,” now in post-production; Blue Kraning’s and Matt Magrattan’s “Seizure,” optioned by Good Machine; James Bryne’s “Great Lakes,” in pre-production; and Garret Williams’ “Spark,” in production in California.

Along with funding, Blockbuster McKnight recipients gain access to the fund’s steering committee members, a varied group of 27 advisers that includes producer Christine Vachon, producer’s rep John Pierson, Michelle Satter of the Sundance Institute, distributors Marcus Hu of Strand Releasing and Bingham Ray of October Films and Michael Dowling of the William Morris Agency. Several committee members have taken an active role in guiding the funded filmmakers: Casting agent Mali Finn has provided assistance in casting “Spark”; Donna Smith, CEO of insurance provider/completion bonder Entertainment Coalition, is executive producer on “Great Lakes”; and committee co-chair Mary Jane Skalski of Good Machine will produce two upcoming films by Kraning.

Bachman sees IFP/N’s role as catalyst expanding in the future, and says, “The missing link is now distribution and marketing.”

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