Howdy and Happy New Year! I moved to NYC ten years ago and still live in my first New York apartment in Hell's Kitchen. I am 36 and single, I walk a lot and take the subway (but rely on cabs when its late and I'm tired). I write about movies and movie people (and keep a blog), so I travel quite a bit to film festivals and events all over the place. Berlin is a favorite city to visit, and I try to get out to L.A. whenever I can to see my parents in the 'The 909' -- I was born in a small SoCal desert town called Indio (near Palm Springs) where my grandparents and relatives settled after moving here from Mexico in the early 1900s.
You are co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of indieWIRE, briefly describe what the indieWIRE editorial empire is all about. How did it come into being?
I co-founded indieWIRE 9 years ago, it grew out of iLINE, which was a network of indie filmmakers I co-founded in 1995 while I was still working at ABC-TV here in NYC. indieWIRE's primary outlet is a news, information, and community website for filmmakers and people who are passionate about indie films, foreign films, documentaries, and film festivals. Every day we publish reviews, news, interviews, festival reports and we host blogs, as well as provide discussion boards and classifieds.
What is your definition of "independent film"?
The short answer is "I know it when I see it." American independent films as far as I am concerned can include movies made by Michael Moore, and even Mel Gibson, or those made by filmmakers like Jonathan Caouette ("Tarnation"), Shola Lynch ("Chisholm '72"), and Bryan Poyser ("Dear Pillow"). Today, with films being made and distributed by a wide range of companies (some corporate-owned and some indie), I find that being independent is all about the passion and vision of the filmmakers. That said, it's increasingly difficult for unique films from both emerging and established filmmakers to reach audiences.
You've been covering the Sundance Film Festival for several years now. How do you feel the festival has changed in terms of the films selected? atmosphere? people attending? parties?
With regard to Sundance, I guess I've become one of those old-timers who talks about "the good ole days" -- oh how I miss the Sundance of the early 90s. As independent films have reached wider awareness, Sundance has become a major media event. Today it draws people like Paris Hilton and Britney Spears who hang out in overly branded luxury condos and crowded parties that have nothing to do with the movies playing at the festival. It's simply annoying. The moment I knew the festival had changed was outside a party a few years ago when a bouncer yelled, "If you aren't famous you aren't getting in here, and I don't recognize any of you!"
That said, Sundance is still a great place to discover new films and filmmakers and that's what keeps me going back.
What are your favorite film festivals?
Berlin and Toronto are two favorites. Each serve the international film industry but also welcome large local audiences. I just spent time on a jury at IDFA in Amsterdam, one of the biggest documentary festivals in the world. That's another great festival with a huge local audience. I also really like smaller fests like the Florida Film Festival and the Atlanta Film Festival. Seattle has a great international fest, SXSW in Austin is terrific, L.A. has solid festivals, and we have numerous great fests here in New York (New Directors/New Films is an annual highlight). Given the challenges that distributors face in releasing smaller films from emerging filmmakers, festivals are the best places today to see these films in movie theaters. The challenge is that filmmakers don't make a dime when playing a film on the festival circuit.
What advice would you give a filmmaker whose film doesn’t make it into any of the major film festivals?
Be creative, passionate and persistent. Focus on your niche: queer fests, doc fests, regional fests, experimental fests, etc. We cover all sorts of festivals each year and like people in the film business, we are always looking for those gems that no one has seen or heard of. Sometimes you find those films in the most unlikely places.
Many people who want to make it in film move to Los Angeles, this was especially the case following 9/11 and now with all the shakes-ups at Miramax... What do you think the future holds for the New York film community?
New York City has a rich and vibrant film culture. Hollywood is a company town and movies are a big part of that city, while in New York (as with places like Austin, Seattle, San Francisco, and other areas), film is an important aspect of the arts culture. There are terrific institutions and people in this city committed to maintaining its film culture and community. We'll be just fine.
Documentaries have come into their own over the last couple of years. What do credit for their recent acceptance/success?
I love documentaries; they are a personal passion of mine. The emergence of mini digital video cameras in the 90s was an important catalyst for emerging and established doc filmmakers. Those filmmakers have implemented various styles in making their movies and made docs feel less like medicine, some are truly entertaining while at the same time being informative or advocating on behalf an issue. And now with the explosion of reality TV and the consolidation of the media, audiences have embraced non-fiction stories and sought documentaries as alternative sources of information.
What effect, if any, do you think the film industry had on the outcome of the 2004 presidential election?
Some indie insiders have blamed Michael Moore for Bush's disheartening victory, I blame Karl Rove. Films and film people motivated many voters and it's important that those who were stirred to get involved not become disillusioned but instead remain engaged in what is going on.
We are the midst of award season. What are your thoughts on award shows?
Awards season, which now runs for a full six months, from September through February, has become way too important. While many people in independent film may not want to admit it, awards drive their business decisions affecting which movies get made and when those films are released. Awards, critics groups and even top ten lists can bring greater attention to worthy movies, but too much attention and money is being spent on awards season.
For you, what were the highlights of 2004?
Some film highlights: "The Aviator," "Bad Education," "Before Sunset," "Bright Leaves," "The Corporation," "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," "Maria Full of Grace," "Super Size Me," "Tarnation" and a bunch of other films that I recently listed on my blog.
On the business side, the changes at Miramax have been stunning. We are all curious to see what it will become. Harvey and Bob Weinstein will no doubt create a new company, but a number of the key people that worked with them over the years to build Miramax have already left to join other companies. Focus Features and Fox Searchlight have emerged as the new dominant Indiewood companies, but keep an eye on what Bob Berney and his partners do at Newmarket. Sony Pictures Classics, Zeitgeist, New Yorker, Strand are stalwarts, while newer outfits like Magnolia, Wellspring, Roadside, Taran and Palm are releasing bold work.
Look into your crystal ball, any predictions or buzzwords we should look out for in 2005?
There is a panel at Sundance this year looking at the intersection of blogs and documentaries. I am curious to see what that is all about. Technology remains an important factor right now. How and when DV projection and Internet distribution will affect independent, foreign, and documentary film is an important area to follow. I moderated a panel discussion at the Tribeca Film Festival last year exploring the challenges facing people of color in film today, that’s a vital topic that I hope the film establishment will embrace. While audiences are clearly embracing stories from various cultures and peoples, not enough is being done to diversify the film business.
What do you see in the future for indieWIRE? For you?
indieWIRE is a tiny company. Simply, we hope to continue to grow and evolve.
I'd personally like to do the same.
Give an example of something you witnessed or experienced that had you think "only in New York” or "God damn, I'm glad I live in this city."
Labor Day 2001 I was sitting on the roof of my friend Brian's East Village apartment with a bunch of friends, watching the sunset as we debated which skyline we loved more, midtown and the Empire State Building/Chrysler Building or downtown and the World Trade Center. That was a really special moment.
Since this is the "city that never sleeps", tell us a good 3am story.
I really want to tell my friend's Sharon's taxi story, but I'd better not. So more recently...Somehow I always forget how hard it is to get a cab on New Years Eve in Manhattan. I was wandering around the Lower East Side early New Year's Day, unable to find a cab and even more desperately in need of a bathroom. My prospects seeming rather bleak, I found an isolated corner but never found that cab. Moments later, somewhere near Pike & East Broadway I stumbled across a group of friends and ended up staying out way too late...
Who is your favorite New Yorker (dead or alive) and why?
Andy Warhol. I've read his diary and would have loved to meet him.
You're in a time machine that can take you back in time. What day in NYC history would you go back to?
I'd love to have taken the first subway ride or been at the opening of Central Park.
Billy's Topless is now a bagel shop, no more smoking in bars or restaurants, Times Square has been Disneyfied, what's next?
Probably a West Side stadium, although I think its a bad idea. Being from California, I'd like to see a Trader Joe's in Manhattan?
If you could change just one thing about New York City, what would it be?
Please plant more trees and flowers. Also wider sidewalks and fewer cars in Midtown would be great.
What source(s) do you turn to for news?
New York Times, Variety, Gothamist, LA Times, CNN International, Google News, The Onion, Curbed, NY1, WSJ Online, Reuters, various blogs, and SMS news alerts on my new Blackberry phone.
What advice would you give Bush as he embarks on his second term?
He and his crowd would reject any advice I'd give, but here's one: Drop your divisive campaign for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.
What are your New Year's resolutions?
I hope to make time to visit my friend Tim while he is living in Argentina.
If you could ask God one question, what would you ask?
Are you for real?
Interview by Mindy Bond