Moonlight, Obvious Child and The Witch are just some of the films that have passed through New York’s IFP Week before going on to receive critical acclaim, awards recognition and, in Moonlight‘s case, the best picture Oscar earlier this year.
The Independent Filmmaker Project’s annual market serves as a place for directors, producers, distributors and other entities to make the connections they need to help films ranging from early development to the postproduction stage make it to the big screen.
The 2017 edition, which began Sunday and wraps up Thursday in Brooklyn, consists of a feature film slate of more than 110 narrative and documentary projects in development from more than 15 countries and a TV, digital and web series slate of 37 in-development projects. The five-day event also features numerous panel discussions with IFP Week alumni like Moonlight director Barry Jenkins and producer Adele Romanski, Obvious Child‘s Gillian Robespierre, Pariah and Mudbound‘s Dee Rees and powerful industry figures like Louie producer M. Blair Breard, Difficult People‘s Julie Klausner, Vimeo CEO Anjali Sud, Young Turks co-founder Cenk Uygur and representatives from such distributors as FilmRise, IFC Films, Oscilloscope, Magnolia, Sony Pictures Classics and Bleecker Street Media.
“We make about 5,000 introductions over [IFP Week] to all of the major distributors, agencies, sales agents,” IFP’s head of programming Amy Dotson tells The Hollywood Reporter. “We take projects all the way from development through postproduction.”
Obvious Child, for instance, Dotson explains, was just a “fantastic script” when writer-director Robespierre attended IFP Week, where she met the film’s eventual producer Elizabeth Holm and representatives from the movie’s distributor, A24.
Going through IFP Week, Dotson says, served as “a Good Housekeeping stamp of approval” for the film. “Once people knew, ‘Oh, it’s been through IFP Week,’ then I think [Gillian would] be the first to say that doors opened that might not have been immediately opened or opened quite as fast,” Dotson adds. “It was really great to bring those two women together and provide all of the introductions necessary so that when the film got made they actually knew distributors, they knew festival leadership, they knew various sales agents. They’d already started those conversations far and away before they’d shot a single bit of the film.”
Dotson argues that with IFP, which is based in the Made in New York Media Center in Brooklyn, people are able to make connections that last longer than the film market.
“We’re around 365 days a year, so it’s not a pass-through type situation in that you come, you leave and you never see these people again,” she explains. “We have this space here, program partners all over the world, access to not just obviously the people here in New York who are looking for incredible content and new talent but also we have people coming from L.A., South Africa, people coming down from Toronto, because I think we’ve kind of garnered a reputation over time that [what’s presented at IFP Week] … is not the stuff that you’re already going to hear about at the weekly meetings.”
Moonlight and Pariah‘s experiences with IFP Week show the value of those enduring connections. With the former title, Dotson says she and Romanski “had been in conversation about a number of projects.”
“She reached out and said that Barry [Jenkins] was working on something new and [IFP Week] might maybe be a good place to kind of test the waters and see what people were thinking this year in terms of were there buyers for it and new players and investors and all of that good stuff. They brought the project, and both of them came and had a number of great meetings again with A24 and others and they were off to the races from that point forward,” Dotson says. “I read probably 1,200 scripts a year and that one brought me to tears. It’s the only one that I can remember in my time here at IFP that I just called her right away and said, ‘I think we’re taking this one.'”
Rees admits that she and her team didn’t have any industry connections when they went to IFP Week, where they “started making relationships and generating awareness for our projects that was helpful later.” Nothing at IFP Week directly led to the financing of Pariah, Rees says, but she did meet representatives from Chicken & Egg Pictures, which gave her a grant for her Eventual Salvation doc, which she was working on at the time. The connections she forged include one with Dotson and led her to return to this year’s market to help other filmmakers with her own experience in and knowledge about the industry.
High-profile titles among this year’s feature film lineup include the Elisabeth Moss-produced Light From Light and directorial debuts from Franke Potente (Home) and Clea DuVall (Layne).