Fruitvale Station, The New Economy of Indie Film & New Black Voices – Notes from IFP Indie Film Week Day 1

The 2013 edition of IFP Independent Film Week kicked off at The Film Society of Lincoln Center today with a case study of the Oakland-based Oscar Grant story ‘Fruitvale Station‘.  Featuring first time feature Director Ryan Coogler and the films’ lead actress Melonie Diaz, moderated by FILM COMMENT Editor Nicolas Rapold, the conversation was an interesting peer into the mind of 1. A first time filmmaker 2. Low budget filmmaking and 3. How to deal with sudden notoriety (especially once The Weinstein Company expresses interest). Without a doubt, Coogler came off as remaining rather humbled by the whirlwind experience associated with the film, perhaps a result of age and circumstance.  Over the course of the 1 hour conversation, Coogler anecdotally spoke on his preliminary meeting with (Executive Producer) Forrest Whitaker, as well as his naive (however, well intentioned) over-dress upon introduction.  Also of interest (though not entirely elaborated upon), was information on the bulk of the films million dollar budget coming via Chinese financing.  Ms. Diaz provided insight into the creative process on the ‘Fruitvale Station‘ from her perspective as Sophina, Oscar Grant’s girlfriend, especially in relation to shoot schedule (affected by a low budget).  She expressed her appreciation of schedule adjustment, allowing her character to “fall in love” with Oscar, therefore bringing out the organic emotions associated with sudden, tragic loss into the forefront.

The Future Economy of Independent Film“, as moderated by Filmmaker Magazine‘s Scott Macauley featured a trio of representatives from the emerging landscapes of digital distribution, Video on Demand and the increased accessibility of (mostly documentary) filmmaking.  Much was discussed (as expected), however our personal view is that this particular subject operates within too vast spectrum.  All aspects simply cannot be addressed within a 45 minute panel event.  Regardless, much of the focus was on the current economic state, as well as the peripheral issues of widespread income inequality.  Jan Van Hoy, producer at Parts & Labor Films, pontificated on the adjustment of filmmaker expectations in regards to back end distribution, citing recent examples in ‘Only God Forgives‘ and ‘Drinking Buddies‘ (having found success on VOD platforms prior to, or in congruence, with a theatrical release).  Personally, the future economy of independent film deals with the complete overhaul of back-end financial compensation.  This is something which has always been the enemy of creativity and the purity of art, yet in an undeniably over saturated market existing within the age of inequality, creators simply must create, adjusting the expectations of how to ultimately “make a living”.

Blitz Wisdom: Malika Zouhali-Worrall (Co Director – ‘Call Me Kuchu’)” was a quick, 15 minute glimpse into the life of social documentary from completed production to distribution.  The powerful documentary, centered around the struggle of Uganda’s LGBT population, has enjoyed a long, successful and relevant life after its p2012 Berlinalle premier.  In the time allotted, Malika Zouhali-Worrall was able to instill a real sense of importance to a subject matter few outside of the social documentary world may take a genuine interest in.  Her advice leaned on organizational affiliation (in the case of ‘Call Me Kuchu‘, the likes of the RFK Organization, Human Rights Watch, as well as multiple international LGBT rights organizations).  Though this was interesting, and even its possibility made for a refreshing reinforcement of global social interest, for me her views on editing characters in post production struck me most of all. Zouhali-Worrall explained how, even in editing, one cannot alienate the ultimate audience (even when that ultimate target may not be fully realised) with over dwelling on an individual.

New Black Voices’ featured a moderated conversation amongst ‘Newlyweeds‘ Director Shaka King, ‘An Oversimplification of Her Beauty‘ Director Terence Nance, ‘The New Black‘ Director Yoruba Richen, moderated by Shadow & Act editor Tambay Obennson. The panel began with Obennson reading from a 1991 Roger Ebert penned article, where the late, great film critic discussed the emergence of a “Black New Wave”, to the agreement (and, sometimes, not) of the panel.  Many issues were brought up including the need for better archived facilities, the reality of the non-existent “white” filmmaking panels (specifically in relation to white men), as well as various interpretations of “blackness” from outward, as well as internalized perspectives.  The panel was adamant, interesting and refreshing, especially when Terence Nance proclaimed (in response to a question regarding the necessity of an African American owned/operated/directed major studio), “Nothing Modeled After the Hyper Capitalist paradigm is a Good Idea“; a sentiment IndieWood/Hollywoodn’t could not agree with more.  In fact, with this one statement the atmosphere in the room seemed to catch fire, veering the conversation into much more “revolutionary” territory. Though discussed from a variety of perspectives, and rightfully so, the consensus of a new age of Black Independent Film was (somewhat) agreed on, although its time span, as well as the ultimate relevance of the term “new wave” (frequently being referred to as “unsustainable” or “limiting”), were all points of respecting debate.

The last event from Day 1 (as attended by IndieWood/Hollywoodn’t, at least) was the MUCH lighter ‘Creativity Games: Headline + Logline‘, presented by New York’s famed Upright Citizens Brigade Theater.  After a day of discussing whether or not the film industry is sustainable, social persecution of the highest caliber, revolutionary mindsets of modern filmmakers (amongst much more), the comedy stylings of UCB Creative Director Todd Bieber was a welcome change of pace.  Though, perhaps, met with a degree of apprehension from a (rightfully) serious audience, the zany nature of creativity managed to prevail as real world headlines became transformed into loglines, which were then improvisationally performed by Beiber from and his troop. A personal favorite dealt with a certain ex-Alaskan Mayor (Not the one you may be thinking of. Instead, think…feline?!) being mauled by a local dog.  Apparently the towns cat mayor held a special place in the heart of a determined Russian spy, set on infiltrating the America’s by way of understanding the behavior of the continent domesticated pet population.

– Steve Rickinson



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