Netflix. Amazon Prime. Hulu. YouTube. Not to mention your neighborhood movie house.
It’s also a double-edged sword, according to Dennis Cieri. The co-founder of the NYC Independent Film Festival says the competition between filmmakers all fighting for the same space is brutal.
That’s where film festivals come in. They can help attract eyeballs to a film that could get overlooked.
“The average person brings up Netflix, sees 5,000 movies, and goes with the movie they’ve heard of,” Cieri says. That might mean a movie recommended by a chum or Facebook friend. Or, it’s the one that snared all that film festival buzz.
That modest but unmistakable noise can make the difference between someone seeing a film or just swiping past it on the Netflix queue.
The NYC Independent Film Festival hopes to create just such a clamor.
This year’s festival runs from April 27 to May 1 and features more than 200 films. The event also promises panels and seminars aimed at giving tomorrow’s filmmakers a hand.
And it takes the “independent” label seriously. A few big names will be featured during the event, like Jon Voight and William Fichtner who co-star in “American Wrestler: The Wizard.”
The movies in play were all made with modest budgets but significant soul. The assembled directors “needed to make movies. They needed to practice their art,” Cieri says. “What we look for is people who still understand that dreaming is what we must do.”
Film Festivals Sampler
The event features a bevy of genres. Horror. Coming of age yarns. Music videos. Short sketch comedy.
Asked to pick a film that captured the festival’s spirit, Cieri name-checked “People of the Delta” without much hesitation.
The film’s director traveled to Ethiopia and wanted to capture what he experienced on screen. Only the documentary format didn’t feel right. So he crafted a narrative feature with a realistic edge.
“He blended that documentary feel while still getting to the truth behind the culture,” Cieri says. “He made me proud that we’re helping the small-budget guy.”
The 29-minute film is told from two competing tribes and features a manhood ritual as well as more a expansive take on their future.
The festival has come a long way since its humble roots seven years ago.
That first festival struggled to snare participants for panel discussions. And some of the films featured struggled to present compelling narratives. The heart was there. The skill level was just starting to blossom.
That’s no longer an issue going into year seven.
More Voices, Not Less
Nor is the diversity issues plaguing Hollywood seen as profoundly on the indie level. Cieri says plenty of women directors are part of this year’s lineup. So are filmmakers who feel compelled to make more than movies. They want to make a statement.
Directors from 20 or 30 years ago weren’t as plugged in to the modern world, he says. Now, the directors he meets want to spark social change.
Cieri vows to draw the line at outright sloganeering, though.
“If [filmmakers] send us something that’s obviously a piece of propaganda then we’re not showing it,” he says.
“A movie that was well made, that said fracking was a good thing and showed why it was a good thing with a balance of sources … would we show it? Yes,” he says.