September 25, 2003

Discover Your Inner Indie

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What a difference a year can make. Last year, the odds of the Independent Film Makers at Cornell becoming a thriving organization looked about as good as the Jamaican bobsled team winning an Olympic gold medal. Although IFMAC has been helping Cornell students produce films for almost twenty years, the club had dwindled to the point that last year, they no longer held weekly meetings. In addition to a weak leadership structure and declining membership, a scandal involving the use of SAFC funds for the president’s personal use threatened the clubs very existence, along with the former president’s right to graduate. Fortunately for him, the charges were dropped and the president was permitted to walk with the class of ’03. Fortunately for them, the damage to IFMAC would not be irreversible.

While IFMAC may have been lacking in membership and organizational leadership in the past five years, one key ingredient was still present: a growing interest in independent film making within the student body. With the surge in popularity of independent films, spurred by such renowned festivals as Sundance and Cannes, more and more Cornell students dream of becoming the next Kevin Smith. The demand was there. All IFMAC needed was someone with the leadership capabilities and the passion to bring the organization back on its feet.

Enter Lauren Wells ’04. The senior film major knows first-hand how difficult it is for a student to produce an independent film. For reasons ranging from funding the impossibly high production costs to finding actors, it is simply too much for one student to take on alone. Relying on the Cornell Film Department to meet the needs of all budding film makers is just not an option. Due to the difficulty of getting into film classes, and the existence of only one member of the faculty dealing with film production, the department does not have the resources to meet the needs of all students with a desire to produce a film. Furthermore, many film classes are only open to upperclassmen or film majors, thereby excluding a significant number of students with an interest in pursuing films. With so many factors preventing students from easily producing films, Wells knew that an independent film organization was the best way to get students of all years and majors involved in film production. So she decided to take IFMAC into her own hands.

Teaming up with fellow film major Jeff Cedeno ’04, the duo set out to revamp IFMAC by following a simple formula: Bigger. Better. More. One of the major problems in the past was a lack of publicity. In an attempt to increase membership, IFMAC announced meeting times in various film classes, along with the standard chalking and quarter-carding techniques. The hard work paid off. At their first meeting, they were expecting to be able to count all of the attendees on their fingers. Instead, they were met with around thirty-five new members. In addition to a large, enthusiastic membership, the organization has also gone through a massive structural change. In the past, the group was primarily guided by one director’s vision, while the members generally assisted in bringing the director’s brainchild to fruition. However, this year the focus is more on collaboration. The increase in membership brought with it more diversity in interests, with people choosing to specialize in everything from soundtrack composition to set design. With the re-introduction of weekly meetings, IFMAC has the opportunity to present workshops to help hone the skills of aspiring film makers, ranging from such topics as equipment lessons to screenplay techniques to editing workshops. Finally, IFMAC also plans to produce more films and do more screenings. Currently, plans are in the works to showcase the work of IFMAC members at a spring screening. This screening will include the work of Cedeno and Wells, who have produced a short, experimental piece using digital video.

One factor that IFMAC has working in its favor is a partnership with another student group focused on film making, the Digital Video Club. Three years ago, the DVC broke off from IFMAC, in response to demand for more of a focus on Digital Video production. However, as many members of IFMAC also expressed an interest in Digital Video production, the two groups have become more closely aligned, and are benefiting from the sharing of equipment, among other resources.

Another problem that IFMAC has successfully overcome has been regaining the support of the SAFC. Despite last year’s issues with illegal spending, the SAFC recognizes that it cannot hold the actions of one person against an entire new crop of passionate, enthusiastic students. According to Wells, there are simply too many people who want to see the IFMAC thrive to hold grudges against the past actions of one individual. While they are still awaiting to hear the SAFC’s final decisions regarding budget approval, indications are that IFMAC will be able to secure the necessary funds for new editing stations and film cameras.

As for the future of IFMAC, both Wells and Cedeno take heed of the wise words of Whitney Houston: they believe that the children are the future, and therefore must teach them well and let them lead the way. Well, maybe underclassmen don’t actually classify as children. But still, Wells and Cedeno are both optimistic that the enthusiasm of the freshman and sophomores will keep IFMAC going strong after their graduation this spring. In addition to the passion and the drive of the club’s younger members, they have had the opportunity to learn from two mentors, Wells and Cedeno, who have undoubtedly taught them well.

Archived article by Talia Ron