Attending Independent Film Week in New York

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Jason Hutt is a Brooklyn-based documentary filmmaker. His company Oxbow Lake Films creates feature length independent documentaries and short films for a diverse roster of not for profit clients such as MoMA and Jazz at Lincoln Center.

I received a GO NETWORK! Micro Grant to attend "documentary day" at the week-long IFP Filmmaker Conference in New York City. 

The IFP is a tremendous resource for independent filmmakers. I attended my first conference more than ten years ago shortly after moving to New York and it was amazing. I attended almost every panel and came away with a very good understanding of how the industry works and how other people are making and distributing films. To this day I recommend it to all young filmmakers who are just getting started. It’s an invaluable crash course.  

As a documentary filmmaker you spend most of your time engaged in the filmmaking process, and more time with your subjects than colleagues and industry professionals. Since that first conference I’ve only attended one other IFP conference (in 2009) so I was excited to have the free time this year to attend the single day that was dedicated to documentary filmmaking, and even more excited to receive a Micro Grant to pay for it!

I like to attend conferences, as I did ROI in 2011, with the attitude of, “I don’t know what I don’t know.” I’m never sure what nugget of wisdom will mean the most to me, and it might not even be evident that day. Sometimes that information comes in handy days, weeks, months or years later. So I sit in on all the talks, even the ones that don’t pique my interest, to absorb other people’s experiences, and to be inspired or educated in ways that I never anticipated ahead of time. 

So I spent the day at Lincoln Center attending panels entitled, "Measuring Your Documentary's Impact," "Art of the Documentary Pitch," "Short Documentary Series," and the keynote address by Cara Mertes of the Ford Foundation.   

One of the most relevant panels for me was “Short Documentary Series,” because I’ve been in touch with two of the three panelists in the past and it was good to hear exactly what kinds of films they’re looking for, how they produce them, etc. The “Pitch” panel was also enlightening. Three filmmakers had two minutes to pitch their projects to executives from PBS and HBO who then gave feedback. It was helpful to hear what the executives found interesting about each pitch, and also to see the different approaches that each filmmaker used to describe and sell their project. 

Overall, by attending the conference I was able to learn about the latest trends and best practices in my industry, which will allow me to better position me and my projects moving forward. I was also able to check in with colleagues and network with executives from foundations and television. I keep up on current events in blogs and websites, but nothing beats the energy and immediacy of actually being in the same room as likeminded others, who are as passionate about documentary film as you are. And as with ROI, the energy lasts for a while after the event is done.