Dead Presidents

An annual conference that helps indie filmmakers finance their projects gets canceled -- for lack of funding

With its funding officially cut from the 2001-02 city budget, the nonprofit International Film Financing Conference (IFFCON) has been forced to cancel its January 2002 shindig. For eight years, the annual event introduced top American indie filmmakers (feature and documentary) to an array of top executives from theatrical distribution companies, European public TV stations, and American cable TV networks. IFFCON put San Francisco on the map for a certain segment of the industry, which convinced Supervisor Michael Yaki four years ago that the organization deserved financial support from the city. But when Yaki lost his seat in last fall's elections, IFFCON lost its major ally -- and, now, $65,000 in crucial funding. "I don't want to be naive," says IFFCON co-founder and Executive Director Wendy Braitman. "It's not about IFFCON's value in a big sense. It's about no one championing it. We're a political casualty."

Mayor Brown's press secretary, P.J. Johnston, concurs. "Yaki championed IFFCON at the add-back stage -- where budget proposals come to the board and it has the ability to add or cut -- two years in a row. Last year the mayor's office budgeted for IFFCON through the Office of Economic Development, knowing we had a floor jockey, so to speak. We did the same thing this year, except we don't have Michael Yaki. These board members don't have a strong enough sense of what IFFCON does and means to the city, but the mayor certainly supports it." Aware that she needed a big stick at City Hall, Braitman spent months pursuing a meeting with Supervisor Gavin Newsom, but the closest she got was a last-minute cancellation. (His office didn't return our calls.)

Despite her disappointment, Braitman sees IFFCON's forced hiatus as an opportunity to reimagine the conference to match the current filmmaking climate. Back in 1993, when Braitman and Michael Ehrenzweig modeled IFFCON after a Rotterdam Film Festival program, things were different. Says Braitman, "There were more opportunities abroad for co-productions, especially with European television. In general, there was more interest in American independent films in the '90s. That interest has waned, mostly because the marketplace has gotten flooded." Braitman reflects for a moment. "I'm sure there's a purpose IFFCON can serve. We'll use this time to figure out what it is."

The Wanderers The competition between the Hollywood trade publications is so intense that they'll print even the wispiest evidence of a movie deal. Hence last week's Hollywood Reporter item that Philip Kaufman (Quills, The Right Stuff) was in negotiations to direct a remake of Hitchcock's Suspicion. "We're not doing that, as far as I know," said Peter Kaufman, the director's son and producer, when he answered the phone in their North Beach office. "It was a very early meeting that Phil had." A meeting is barely a puff of smoke when you consider that the filmmaker has lost years developing projects -- such as an adaptation of the best seller The Alienist by Caleb Carr -- that never came to fruition. "He feels like he's made 30 films that haven't been made," Peter sighed. "He storyboards the whole film; he knows where the camera goes."

Peter divulged that Phil is simultaneously developing a Liberace biopic with Robin Williams and working with Jack Nicholson on an adaptation of Saul Bellow's Henderson the Rain King, to be shot in Africa. "They've wanted to do it for 30 years," Peter confided, "but Jack feels like he's old enough now to play the character." You'd think a Nicholson picture, with Philip Kaufman at the helm, would get an automatic green light, but Peter demurs. "Everything's hard now -- it doesn't matter who you have -- unless it's right down the middle. Anything that's a little bit out of the ordinary is harder than ever to set up. It takes a brave soul at some studio to say, "I see the possibilities.'"

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