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IFFM buyers hold back

Docs for cablers fare best

So far this year’s IFFM is a browsers’ market.

The wait-and-see attitude on the part of buyers is not new at the Independent Feature Film Market. But many see the recent burgeoning of festivals as offering distribs increasing opportunity to base acquisitions on reviews, which are generated by fests but are not allowed at the market.

In terms of impulse buys, traditionally documentaries have fared better in the IFFM than have features, which looks to remain the case as long as cable continues to expand. On Saturday, Rough Cut entry Deborah Hoffmann and Frances Reid’s apartheid-doc “Long Night’s Journey Into Day” drew a full screening room and held its crowd for two hours.

HBO leading

Among cablers, HBO has acquired the most docs, according to market sources, with the newer Sundance Channel and the Independent Film Channel gaining speed.

If the acquisition process is protracted beyond the ending of the actual market, most agree that its networking value remains high, as the event’s pleasant and relatively casual atmosphere is conducive to relationship-building.

Buzz was faint over the first few days of the market, which were said to be quieter than usual, perhaps because of Floyd-related fallout and Toronto-related burnout.

But there were whispers of interest in Michael Sergio’s mobster film “Under Hellgate Bridge”; Michael Swanhaus’ “Pigeonholed,” with Rosanna Arquette; Irene Turner’s “The Girls’ Room,” with Soleil Moon Frye and Wil Wheaton; and Curtis Wehrfritz’s heist film, “Four Days,” a New Voices Canada entry, with Colm Meaney and Lolita Davidovich.

‘Dead Dogs’ lively

In a more alternative vein, the micro-budgeted “Dead Dogs” is generating some interest (despite having been shot in B&W) after having gotten some favorable reviews at the Seattle Film Fest.

The Video Library at SoHo’s John Gibson Gallery — in which marketgoers may view any of the screening films — is busier this year than in the past, organizers say, justifying its having been doubled in size from 16 to 32 monitors.

A seminar on “Distributing Indie Films” packed the Newman Theater at the Public on Saturday afternoon, where indie filmmakers were briefed by experts on the state of the industry.

Panelists included Fine Line Features prexy Mark Ordesky, Sundance Channel exec VP of programming Liz Manne, WinStar Cinema VP Theatrical Distribution Wendy Lidell and Amazon.com Advantage program manager Diane Zoi. The moderator was attorney Steven C. Beer of Rudolf & Beer.

Changing markets

Discussion centered on the problems facing filmmakers entering the changing indie market as well as the changes wrought by new technology.

Manne called the cheaper new technology helpful for opening the field but also noted that it glutted the market. Zoi touted the “democratizing” powers of the Internet — particularly Amazon.com’s alternative distrib option, whereby filmmakers sell videos online on a consignment basis. Ordesky agreed that Internet sales and even online customer reviews are becoming increasingly relevant to distributors’ decisions.

Characterizing theatrical releases as the industry’s “loss leaders,” Lidell advised filmmakers to focus on what she considers to be expanding cable and video markets.

Awards aplenty

Scripter Tanya Hamilton’s “Stringbean and Marcus” won the screenplay award and Zeinabu Irene Davis’ feature “Compensation” won the director award Saturday night at the third annual Gordon Parks Awards to honor black filmmakers.

Among ceremony’s speakers were Terry Casaletta, associate exec director of DGA New York, IFP exec director Michelle Byrd, film professor and helmer Haile Gerima, SAG prexy Richard Masur and Parks himself, who expressed the “hope that Hollywood won’t limit black writers and directors to ‘blackness.'” Awards presentation was followed by a screening of Parks’ 1971 film “Shaft.”

Also on hand was John Singleton, who is currently working with Samuel L. Jackson and Vanessa Williams on a pic inspired by “Shaft.”

The Gordon Parks Awards were sponsored by the Screen Actors Guild, to honor Parks’ historic role in “identifying a market to the larger film industry,” Masur told Daily Variety.