If you’ve just overcome the hurdles of making your first independent film, the experience of finding festivals and distribution for your project can be incredibly daunting. The A-List festivals frequented by Hollywood’s Who’s Who are usually the first choices for an independent filmmaker. Unfortunately, they are also the most difficult ones for small independent films to be accepted into because of the high standards and politics that they employ in their selection processes. Most of the films that win awards and screen at the elite festivals are made either by so-called “specialty” divisions of the major studios, i.e. Warner Bros., Disney, 20th Century Fox, etc. or are represented by high power sales agency firms who specialize in getting their projects into said events to facilitate sales on them. Moreover, the major studios themselves are increasingly using film festival premieres to promote their own projects in order to garner positive publicity and platform their theatrical release.
So in the past thirty years, a system that was designed to promote movies produced in opposition to the studios has been almost entirely co-opted by them, leaving the beginners and true independents out in the cold. Every year, 120 films are selected for exhibition at one particular star-studded festival. These films are chosen from more than 8000 dramatic, documentary and short film submissions. However, most indie directors and producers starting out probably aren’t going to have access to a Angelina Jolie or Johnny Depp right off the bat and seeing as how nearly all high-profile festival projects are celebrity-driven, the chances for an intriguing film with a no-name cast becomes even slimmer. Many first time filmmakers are eager to get noticed with their breakout film that was often done on a small budget with savings or mortgaging their house. They find it harder to attract star power and it becomes an impossible task to stand out against the films that have millions invested in them and celebrity attachment.
Just ask director Dan Frank who applied to all the major festivals with his films Little Bruno and Devils Highway. Frank says, “After figuring out that my independent low-budget films were being ignored because they had no major stars in them, I realized nobody at film festivals were even looking at them and I was wasting my money sending out entry fees. So I entered my films into the New York International Independent Film and Video Festival ( NYIIFVF) and my life has changed for the better. I go to the Cannes Film Festival and Marche du Film every year with them and I’m actually making a living in the film business.” Since the entering the NYIIFVF, Frank’s films have sold to several international territories including: Russia, Thailand and Germany, through the festival’s distribution company ITN Distribution. He’s made a TV cooking series called “Bikini Kitchen” with Stormy Daniels that has buyers interested around the world and produced and directed the documentary Medicinal which has screened in 16 cities and Medicinal 101 and is screening 43 times. “Since my screenings at the NYIIFVF in New York, LA and at the Cannes/Marche du Film. I’ve learned more about the film business that I ever did in film school ” says Mr Frank. His company URD ( Upward Rising Development) is theatrically re releasing Steve Soderbergh epic film “Che” starring Benicio De Toro in Los Angeles.
The NYIIFVF showcases independent films in real independent theaters in NYC and LA and serves as a unique platform for emerging filmmakers to gain a voice and network amongst distributors. No hotel ballrooms or bingo halls are used, unlike other festivals. The festival is known as “the voice for independent film” and receives extensive coverage in media outlets. A cross-section of media outlets which have covered the festival are: Hollywood Reporter, Fox 5, CNN, New York Observer, New York Times, Newsday, LA Times, LA Weekly, Time Out NY, E News, NY Daily News, Wall Street Journal, New York Post, Movie Maker, Star Magazine, Screentalk Magazine, etc. The Wall St. Journal has even called The New York International Independent Film and Video Festival “The independent filmmakers alternative to the grand New York Film Festival.” Indie guru Abel Ferrara said in an interview with MovieMaker Magazine, “This festival is the real deal: Everybody else just talks about doing it, these guys just do it!”
The festival was founded in 1993 by entrepreneur Stuart Alson and is noted for promoting independent films that you’d never get access to in multiplexes across the country, whether it be via the festival circuit or regular theatrical distribution. Alson himself was formerly a stand-up comedian and produced successful live shows in New York before making his own feature length independent film. However, after the film’s completion he began enter it into the festival circuit and began to understand the politics that dominated it as well as now. Alson noted, “I was a businessman and didn’t have time to attend events and schmooze festival directors. I created my own festival because I was tired of entering a lottery that was rigged. When over 2000 filmmakers were sending in their $50 submission fees and all that was happening was their checks were being cashed and they’re paying for the 100 films that do have stars in them, I realized the only way to develop a true independent film festival is to give independent filmmakers a chance to actually show their work-not just give them a rejection letter.”
Alson then experienced the difficulties of distribution when he traveled to various film markets to sell his film and realized that distributors didn’t want to pay independent filmmakers for their work. Alson said, “This made no sense to me when the distributors kept the money they sold the film for and told filmmakers it was under ‘expenses’. I then created my own distribution company that actually pays filmmakers.” As a result of that experience, Alson formed the festival’s distribution wing, ITN Distribution, which travels to major film and television markets where it has successfully acquired and licensed quality product in all major territories. ITN Distribution has quickly established itself as a major player in the world of distribution and specializes in negotiating the best deal possible for international and domestic filmmakers and buyers. ITN’s objective is to become a top source for attracting, acquiring, understanding and selling product; their international presence at Cannes/Marche du Film, NATPE and AFM has shaped a realistic approach to selling, programming and closing deals with buyers worldwide.
“The New York International Independent Film and Video Festival is an integral part of every filmmakers journey to achieve greatness in the art of film making,” says New York based actor and director Matt Jade. He has appeared in over a dozen films in the festival since 2001 and has made many valuable contacts to move his career forward because of the festival. Jade is a working actor on TV shows and major motion pictures and his independent films The Gleam and Searching for Bobby D have received distribution and are available in Hollywood Video, Netflix and Blockbuster. Each year success stories from alumni from the New York International Independent Film and Video Festival emerge. For example, Australian Director Greg McLean’s first film ICQ screened at the 2001 festival where it won Best Director. He then moved on to write and direct the international box office hit Wolf Creek. Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber’s (The Butterfly Effect) first feature film Blunt won an award for Best Comedy at the 1998 New York International Independent Film and Video Festival. More recently, New York director Lana Pashina’s documentary Svetlana About Svetlana premiered at the 2007 NYIIFVF and since then, has scored US/Canada distribution with First Run/Icarus Films as well as airing in Russia and Europe.
Her New York and LA premieres at the NYIIFVF attracted international press from Europe. Pashina says, “The festival was a vehicle to ultimately get distribution for my documentary and it opened the doors for new opportunities. The PR marketing of the festival was amazing and such good exposure.” Pashina is now in pre-production in LA for her first feature Reflections with Das Films. Holistic practitioner and former geologist turned screenwriter Dr. Andrea Levinson is proving she has the goods to become just as successful in the film business. Recently Levinson completed the festival circuit of her first film Death, Taxes… and Chocolate! in Los Angeles, Cannes and New York. “Getting into the New York International Independent Film and Video Festival is the best thing that ever happened to me. And it wasn’t fixed, it’s the real deal,” says Levinson.
She continues, “Since being in the film business, I feel like I’m in a shark-like environment. However, I felt I could really trust the NYIIFVF. The festival has exceeded my expectations. I had a wonderful experience and distributors are calling me and I don’t need to call them. I like that the festival has educational seminars for filmmakers. One time, I had a bad experience at one film festival that was fixed, however at the NYIFVF, we won Best Comedy and Best Screenplay without knowing a single person and having ‘connections.'” Dr Levinson’s film Death, Taxes…Chocolate! is a comedy based on a true story about a group of baby boomers who take charge of their lives and destiny. Levinson has begun to work on the sequel. She has two distributors interested in DVD rights and it iss being considered for theatrical release. Due to her exposure at NYIFVF, a number of South American and Iranian film festivals have invited her to screen as well.
Ultimately, The New York International Independent Film and Video Festival cares about filmmakers. They are passionate about exposing the films and documentaries that regular people make without subjecting them to the internal politics that the bulk of many other festivals are governed by. They are proud of their filmmakers and have a long list of festival friends, delegates and repeat clients. It is very important that you choose the right film festivals to enter your movie into if you want to realistically increase your chances of receiving commercial distribution and winning awards. Of course, it would be nice to win an award at an A-list film festival and have a bidding war over your film. However, you have to be realistic and find a festival that is friendly to small independent filmmakers and their projects.
The New York International Independent Film and Video Festival will at the very least give your film a quality screening in a superior, as well as proper, theatrical screening in either New York and Los Angeles. They genuinely understand the needs of true independent filmmakers and are the professionals when it comes to working with small budgets and big ideas. The festival represents a new wave of independent filmmakers looking to get their voices heard and movies seen and offers a unique opportunity for members of the film industry as well as delegates and attendees without the pretentiousness. According to popular Micro Cinema Magazine’s editor Dave Sardella, “For any aspiring musicians, producers or directors, the NYIIFVF is the place to have your projects seen and reviewed by the best of the best. This world renowned festival can be the launching pad to a successful career.”