As I mentioned earlier this week, prompted by the dire situation at the more than 30 year old AIVF -- and aware that other film non-profits are facing tough financial prospects -- 17 of us gathered for an informal discussion in New York on Monday night... (general notes from the meeting follow below)
Among those in attendance at the 2-hour plus meeting in the Kodak conference room were Brian Clark from indieWIRE, filmmaker Tanuj Chopra, filmmaker Paul Harrill, Anne Hubbell from Kodak, journalist Anthony Kaufman, producer/consultant Paola Freccero, MoiKgansi Kgama of ImageNation, filmmaker and distributor Jeff Lipsky, producer and Filmmaker Magazine editor Scott Macaulay, Brian Newman from NVR, Eileen Newman from NBR, Tom Quinn from Magnolia Pictures, AIVF interim executive director Lina Srivastava, Raj Roy from the Hamptons International Film Festival and the Berlinale, producer Diana Williams, and producer Jay Van Hoy. Filmmaker Jim McKay (a former AIVF board member) sent comments for the group by email. As I mentioned previously, the entire informal discussion was off the record to allow for a candid conversation, but indicated to the group that I would take general notes about the topics discussed for those who might be interest. The financial situation at AIVF is understood to be quite serious, with only a small staff remaining and the group focused on raising as much as $70,000 this month so that it can spend time conducting a re-assessment of the organization and a move towards a new type of organization that better serves its national membership. The group would also develop a long-term fundraising strategy based on the new goals for the organization. For those who may not realize the impact of AIVF, it is important to note that as recently as the early part of this decade, the group was offering a number of high-profile programs and services. Former AIVF staffer James Israel, now an indieWIRE employee, recently posted on his blog a list of some of the organization's activities from 2000 - 2003. The group discussed some of the big issues facing filmmakers and non-profits alike today, from the impact of the commercialization of culture in general, to the growing role of film festivals as venues for the sort of networking and education once provided by local media arts centers. In some ways, groups like AIVF can declare victory, some said, since filmmaking has been democratized. But where do we go from here? The directors and producers in attendance generally spoke of a need for greater access to mentors, and a lack of specific resources for emerging filmmakers. The new priority, some felt, needs to be on helping filmmakers make better films, rather than encouraging people to make more and more movies. Others spoke about the importance of making distribution issues a greater priority, finding ways to support the best independent films with marketing resources so that movies released independently, or outside the studio/Indiewood system can navigate the treacherous waters and have a fighting chance in the marketplace. How do we get good films seen, rather than focus so much on getting movies made? A general concern among many is that self-interest has become a primary focus for many people. Another big topic was advocacy -- work done on behalf of filmmakers by organizations that are keeping an eye on the many issues and challenges facing the next generation, from digital rights management, to copyright concerns and orphan works issues. Another example raised was the current situation involving the Smithsonian and Showtime creating a public/corporate partnership that will hamper documentary filmmakers. Who is going to take up these battles, many asked, given that advocacy was a primary aspect of AIVF? Who will lobby on behalf of filmmakers and artists? Filmmakers need to be educated, some said, since many don’t care about these issues and it is crucial that they understand them. So, what are the next steps? Perhaps another meeting, this one specifically about AIVF with current and former staff members, as well as concerned members? Thoughts? Issues? Concerns?