Influential faces at fests

Attendees to know on the circuit

HOLLYWOOD — Festivals are never just about the movies, or about the people who program them: They’re a vibrant meeting place where filmmakers, critics, curators and buyers mingle. In the midst of all this schmoozing, several longtime festival attendees have made their mark, distinguishing themselves in their dedication to film and filmmakers. Below, Variety profiles 10 faces making waves on the fest circuit.

Kay Armitage:As one of the programmers of the Toronto Intl. Film Festival, Armitage is in an extremely powerful position, one that she often uses in part to help foster the careers of women directors. Not only does she go out of her way to find, understand and promote this work, but she maintains an intelligent approach during the festival each year, raising issues that create a vibrant critical context.

Wouter Barendrecht:Think of a significant festival in Europe and chances are Barendrecht has at one point or another been involved. The Fortissimo Film Sales partner has helped with the Berlin Intl. Film Festival, Holland Film Promotion, Dutch Film Days Utrecht and the CineMart of the Rotterdam Film Festival, among others, and has served on juries at Jerusalem, Edinburgh, Venice, Berlin, Rotterdam and many more. But perhaps more significantly, Barendrecht has made taking specialty films to festivals a successful strategy.

Michelle Byrd:The executive director of the Independent Feature Project in New York, Byrd not only oversees the important independent filmmaker organization, but also the annual IFP Market, and its important No Borders Co-Production Market, which links filmmakers and their projects with significant buyers, investors and sales agents.

Cassian Elwes:Elwes, senior veep and co-head of William Morris Independent, is known primarily for shepherding unusual films to stellar success. This year at Sundance alone WMA Independent repped “The Believer,” winner of the Grand Jury Prize, and sold “Go Tigers!” to the Independent Film Channel, “Scotland, PA” to Lot 47, “Enigma” to Manhattan Pictures, “After Image” to Miramax and “Double Whammy” to Lions Gate.

Thomas Harris:A graduate of the USC School of Cinema-Television, Harris programmed the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival up through this year. Thanks to his zealous interest in newcomers and offbeat films, he quickly developed a reputation for guiding inexperienced first-time directors through their initial festival experience. Many filmmakers credit their success to Harris’ care and attention.

Bob Hawk:For many filmmakers, Hawk is an icon. Not only does the longtime indie and experimental film lover harbor a tremendous amount of independent expertise — from festivals to story structure — but he is able to offer gentle guidance and critical advice, helping filmmakers formulate appropriate festival strategies or make important editing decisions. A former member of the Sundance Film Festival selection committee, Hawk has been instrumental in the success of numerous independent features, including “Clerks.”

Hengameh Panahi: Producer Panahi is behind several influential Iranian films, including “The Circle,” and she is the founder and president of Celluloid Dreams, a Paris-based company with an extremely diverse and exciting catalog. Panahi is a formidable force in terms of film sales and marketing.

Richard Pena:As longtime program director of the Film Society of Lincoln Center and director of the New York Film Festival, Pena plays a significant role in the festival scene, one that he has dedicated in part to increasing the awareness of the cinema of other countries in the U.S.

John Pierson:Whether he’s on the festival jury, part of a panel or just a member of the audience, indie film champion Pierson will generally enliven any festival with his irreverence. Known for his support of low-budget features, Pierson’s invested in and repped Spike Lee’s “She’s Gotta Have it” in the mid-’80s, and with his company Grainy Pictures helped with “Clerks,” “Crumb” and many others. The author of “Spike, Mike, Slackers & Dykes” is also the creator of IFC’s “Split Screen.” For a wise, insider’s take on the industry, a filmmaker couldn’t hope for a more informed counselor.

John Sloss:The founder of Sloss Law Office, a company that counsels people in the entertainment industry, Sloss is also a producer of note, with credits that include films by John Sayles, Larry Clark, Richard Linklater and more. He is also a key player in terms of helping filmmakers set up financing, move into production and find distribution, and has acted with his Special Projects division as a producers rep for numerous projects including Chris Smith’s “American Movie.”

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