IFP set a goal earlier this year to implement more rigorous selection criteria. How did the criteria change?
We decided to be really focused on work in development. In the past we took 70% of submissions, this year we took between 25% and 40%, depending on the section. There’s a very small percentage of projects that have screened elsewhere, and they’ve primarily screened in 2002. That was new for us this year, and we made some very tough calls. There were lots of filmmakers with very good work, and we had to say, ‘Your project is great, but it was already at Sundance.’
When you cut narrative projects at IFP by 40%, you basically raised the profile of docs. Was that intentional?
We made the changes to try to beef up the market’s narrative section. We were doing really well with the doc section, so… if it’s not broken, don’t fix it. We cut the numbers down because we wanted to streamline, simplify, and create less to wade through. The documentary community read it as, ‘Look at the focus on docs.’ But, we were trying to reach a balance. There’s more screening time for docs, but title numbers are even.
Do you think the market for theatrical docs is growing?
There have been some successes of late. It’s still difficult for a doc to make a big splash theatrically. What’s been working for some filmmakers is figuring out their niche market and doing a lot of grassroots marketing to build an audience for their film. That lifts it up in the general marketplace. It’s a tricky thing, but I’ve seen it happen quite a bit. Look at Sandy Dubowski’s Trembling Before G-d. Theatrical opportunities are there for docs, but they’re not the same as for narrative films.
What’s the biggest mistake you see doc-makers make over and over again?
DV cams have created more opportunities for filmmakers, but I don’t think every director with a vision is a cameraperson. You need to know what you’re doing technically.
Also, docs about one’s own life are very difficult films to make and to make work. When they work, they’re fabulous, but what is it about the story that transcends the personal to reach a broader audience? It’s really important to ask that question before you make the film.