IFF managing director Lisa Trifone talks about her gig (a volunteer position, like all jobs at IFF), this year's lineup and the fest's new partnership with Earth House.
NUVO: In general, how do you make it all work as an organization? Are you in stable financial state? Do you get enough volunteer help?
Lisa Trifone: We're actually an all-volunteer organization; I don't even get paid to do this. We do it because it's important, and because in Indianapolis, as a world-class city, we deserve the same level of exposure to film culture as we have to fine art and music. We depend on the support of donors and sponsors to be financially stable — and we're getting there. Every year we present bigger and better events, it's an opportunity for us to prove that we're sustainable and that we're in it for the long haul. The goal is to create another thriving arts organization in Indianapolis, and it's one festival, one event at a time to try and get there. I use that word sustainability a lot, looking at organizations like Big Car, Indy Reads, People for Urban Progress and other small but quickly growing local non-profits. There's a thirst for these types of grass-roots organizations that bring something tangible to the city — whether a book store, a community center, or in our case, a film experience — and seeing the success of these organizations is a huge inspiration to keep plugging away at what we're doing, too.
NUVO: From your vantage point you see a pretty good survey of the kind of films being made any given year. Can you pick out any particular trends, styles or approaches that defined this year's submissions?
Trifone: These things are always on kind of a delay with the film festival cycle. After September 11, it took a couple years but then you started seeing all these kinds of 9/11 documentaries. Sometimes we get two great submissions that deal with the same themes, and then we have to make a tough decision to say that one film of those is the best to expose our audience to these particular issues. This year there have been a lot of stories about financial crises, especially in the documentary world. I was pleasantly surprised with the American Spectrum about where we landed, in terms of variety. People hear film festival and think of a certain type of film — low budget, amateur actors. But because filmmaking has become this amateur-friendly medium where you can find a good camera, write a tight script and knock a film out, our pool to choose from just gets better and better, because more and more people are telling their stories.
NUVO: And as far as selecting films, quality is an element, but do you try to have a spectrum of choices from across American life and throughout the world?
Trifone: Yeah, well, quality is always number one; that's never going to be compromised. We want people to go out and see a good film, so that means it's well-written, well-produced. But that doesn't always mean polished; there may well be a film that is more loosely edited or uses a familiar device, but they've created a tight enough package as a whole that the experience from start to finish is worth the price of admission.
NUVO: So you don't try to represent certain countries on a given year, for instance.
Trifone: We really don't; we don't say we have to have a film from Japan, and then go out there to find it. It's develops more as, these are the great films — and, look! — we happen to have a film from Japan. Down the road, it's my vision as a programmer to do more curating; there's all kinds of sidebar potential for different kinds of exposure — female filmmaking, films from Asia, films from Asia, retrospectives on a certain director. There's all kinds of opportunities moving forward, and I think that all plays into how we're growing as an organization, becoming more sustainable to build ourselves into a year-round staple of film in Indiana.
NUVO: You're making big use of the Earth House, where you moved your offices earlier this year.
Lisa Trifone: Yeah, we're excited to be partnering with Earth House. With our offices there now, it's been an amazing opportunity to have a venue — when your bread and butter is showing films, you need somewhere to show them. We'll start screening there on July 23 as our kind of late-night screening spot. If you take a look at the schedule, all the films that are screening at the Earth House have been at other festivals: Rubberneck was at Tribeca, Crazy Eyes at South by Southwest. You can kind of use that as an insider tip if you're looking for things that have been elsewhere and are in Indy now.
NUVO: Have you the submissions been getting better — and the quality of films — with each passing year?
Trifone: That's probably up to our audiences to say at the end of the day, but this is our ninth film festival, and every year we get more and more people saying, “Oh, yeah, I totally know you guys,” and recognizing that there is this opportunity to bring their films to Indy.
NUVO: And then the icing on the cake is the opening and closing films.
Trifone: The Oranges, the opening film, was a 2011 Toronto International Film Festival selection, and it's got Hugh Laurie, Catherine Keener, Oliver Platt and all kinds of other recognizable faces. It's an under-the-radar passion project for all these recognizable faces, and that's what these actors love to do: make a really good script that does a festival run. It'll be out in the fall, but this is the first Indianapolis screening. Then we close with a film out of Austin called Somebody Up There Likes Me that's got Nick Offerman and is by a filmmaker by Bob Byington. It's quirky and funny and dry, and we're hosting a party afterwards where we'll have pizza from Hot Box and ice cream from brics, which makes total sense after you see the film.
NUVO: What else are you excited about?
Trifone: I'd like to mention our Hoosier Lens category, because we get a lot of questions about our interest and relationship to local filmmaking. It's always a balance for us: We want to promote and be a venue for all the amazing local filmmaking that's happening while bringing in all the other films from across the country and world that Indianapolis wouldn't normally see.