Panels at IFFBoston 2016 encourage collaboration, participation

The Local Film Fan’s Guide to IFFBoston 2016 | Part 1

While IFFBoston may be the best place to catch the next big movie before the world catches on — or a microbudget gem with a more difficult path to distribution — it’s the festival’s unflinching commitment to independent film and amplifying the voices of local filmmakers that makes it such a vital yearly destination for the region’s cinephiles. In addition to the fantastic representation of New England films on the schedule alongside the latest by the heaviest Hollywood hitters, IFFBoston boasts a series of panels addressing key issues in the world of independent film open to fans and professionals alike; pitching your idea, ways to acquire funding in an ever-changing economy, insights into the casting process, racial representation in the documentary world, and more.

IFFBoston’s collaboration with the UMass Boston Film Summit continues in 2016. Initially a film series founded by professor and award-winning documentarian Chico Colvard in 2012, this year’s Film Summit takes the form of two panels with practical and intellectual applications: the “Mass Works-in-Progress Competition” on Thursday 4.28 at 4pm moderated by Lisa Simmons of the Roxbury International Film Festival and The Color of Film Collaborative, and “#DocsSoWhite? — Diversity & Inclusion in the Golden Age of Docs,” moderated by Colvard on Saturday 4.30 at 1pm.

A spirit of collaboration and participation runs deep in this series, based in part on Colvard’s mission to make “the ZIP codes to go and explore.” Colvard is a Somerville resident, but has “been a part of UMass Boston for 25 years. So I’m quite comfortable going back and forth, but in my journey between the two places over the years, I know there aren’t a lot of people who do that.”

“We did decide to split up the venues this time for the summit,” says Colvard, “because the thing that usually happens, in my experience, is that most people, when they come to a screening [at UMass], it’s usually their first time out there, and they’re really surprised by just how beautiful it is … But the idea is to have that work in the reverse order as well, and there are a lot of people who are part of the UMass Boston community who don’t know about the Somerville Theatre, who don’t take part in IFFBoston events and screenings.”

Simmons is dedicated to bringing stories of the underrepresented to the forefront through RIFF and The Color of Film, by “support[ing] independent filmmakers of color, or those people who are making films that tell more diverse stories of people of color across the world.” For Simmons, collaboration is key to this mission, citing the many ways Boston’s film festivals, rather than seeing themselves as in competition with one another, often cooperate indirectly — such as consciously working to avoid scheduling overlaps — and directly, by actively participating in joint events and advocating for one another’s goals.

“Eighteen years ago,” Simmons notes, “there were five festivals, and now there are so many. But there’s room for all of them.”

In this spirit, Simmons will be moderating the Mass Works-in-Progress Pitch Session, which gives filmmakers the opportunity to present their idea before a panel of experts as well as an audience made up of programmers, funders, and general filmgoers. A live pitch for a film, for Simmons, is “richer than if you’re reading it off the page or seeing it in a video. It’s really exciting. I think it’s another great way to support independent filmmakers, and I love the fact that IFFBoston has done this and understands the importance of it. I think it’s great that it’s in Boston, and adds the next level up to what we have to offer in this city for filmmakers.”

Other panels focus on the nitty-gritty of bringing a film to life after its conception. Artists looking to take aim at structural challenges in launching a project should be sure to catch “Crowdfunding to Build Independence” on Saturday 4.30 (presented by the Mass Production Coalition), and “All For One: Film Co-Ops and Collectives” on Sunday 5.1 (presented by the LEF Foundation).

The relationship between keeping an artistic vision alive while faced with practical decisions is the focus of the remaining two panels. On Sunday 5.1, the team behind documentary The Guys Next Door will discuss the most vital part of the process in “Finding the Film: How Two Directors and One Editor Collaborated on The Guys Next Door.” (Be sure to catch the film at 2:15, shortly after the panel.) For those curious about acting opportunities in Boston, whether as part of an independent production or riding the wave of Hollywood’s recent fascination, “Acting and Casting in Boston” takes place Saturday 4.30, with a terrific cross-section of local industry people with different approaches to the subject: Zak Lee, director of The Ghost Bicycle (playing at this year’s festival with shorts block F); Lisa Lobel, co-owner and casting director or Boston Casting; actor Bill Thorpe of Joy and Mystic River; and IFFBoston veteran Mark Phinney (Fat, IFFBoston 2014).

“The thing I hated about LA was exclusion,” says Phinney, who started in the business on the West Coast before coming back East. “I hated exclusion, so when I came back here, I wanted to do the opposite of that.”

Phinney is a passionate advocate for Boston independent film, and for the scene to find its own voice distinct from other showbiz towns. “I’m constantly trying to connect people and urging people to make their films,” says Phinney. “And I think that’s the first answer, the way it starts. There is an indie film scene here, and it is a great art scene, but I think people are afraid to go make a film because it’s hard and it’s big … But you just got to do it. If you believe in it and want to do it, just do it, and people will come around. And then people will connect to each other, then the next person will make a film, then that actor will be in that person’s next film. And it just grows that way. Everybody starts working with each other.”

“It doesn’t need to be an industry town,” Phinney concludes. “It can be an independent film town, though, for sure. I’d actually it rather be that way.”

Click here for more info on all of the panels at IFFBoston 2016.