Partygoers quaff electric blue Martinis in celebration of independent film

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It was a party with brains, a thinking persons’ event featuring fine champagne, inventive food and IFPinis. IFPinis? Yes, the electric-blue martini de jour served at Independent Film Project Minnesota’s (IFP MN) 20th Anniversary Party, held last Thursday at the Varsity Theater. While more than 150 attendees imbibed and noshed, a distinguished panel of independent film professionals discussed the state of their art and what distinguishes it from commercial filmmaking enterprises—touching on such aspects as studio control vs. artist creativity; big bottom line vs. small budget; saturated distribution vs. modest marketing reach-outs; and the general public vs. the increasingly sophisticated indie-film audience.

IFP, a non-profit membership organization located on University Avenue in St. Paul, has tenaciously served this region’s independent media artists through grants, education, mentorship, fiscal sponsorship, youth programs, networking, and equipment access for two decades. According to Jeffrey Scherer, an architect and principal with Meyer Scherer & Rockcastle and a former IFP board member for 3 years, 2 years as its chair, “IFP is the only organization that transcends all media and facilitates the artists-business-agent alignment. IFP understands the critical intersection of talent, money, technique, facilities and connections.” Learning the importance of that intersection were a small phalanx of young aspiring filmmakers who interviewed selected guests arriving to the event for a video to be posted on IFP’s Web site.

Most of the panelists had Minnesota ties. The lineup included Brad Anderson, Best Buy Co. CEO; actor Kimberly Elise (Beloved, The Manchurian Candidate, Diary of a Mad Black Woman); Bob Graf, Executive Producer of the Coen Brothers’ upcoming film A Serious Man; Wyatt McDill, writer and director; Megan Huber, commercial film and television producer; Alexander Rosenstein, former entertainment and corporate lawyer, now with Fredrikson & Byron; director and screenwriter Carl Seaton (One Week); and actor Rich Sommer (The Devil Wears Prada and cable television’s current buzz, Mad Men).

The panel’s consensus? If you can handle the financial and organizational pressures, independent filmmaking is the place to be. One panelist summed up the independent filmmaker as having “the right to remain creative. Inspiration, creativity, vision and passion, all come before the bottom line.” Another panel member described an independent film—as opposed to a big studio production—as having a “soul.”

Master of Ceremonies Robyne Robinson arrived late due to traffic, but once on stage the Fox News 9 Anchor, a former IFP board member, enthusiastically took charge of the evening. The New Standards played both before and after the VIP dinner. A rousing party followed, attended by an additional 200 IFP fans, featuring a live auction with Kieran Foillard (The Local, Kieran’s Pub, The Liffey) as the enthusiastic auctioneer and the very cool music of Wayne McFarlane & Ipso Facto—and, of course, those electric blue IFPinis.

“The venue was perfect,” said Jane Minton, IFP’s executive director for 19 years. “Robyne so totally gets IFP, and Foillard was unbelievable! It was great seeing Brad Anderson having fun and chatting graciously with everyone. And seeing Kimberly Elise again. She is so elegant, eloquent and a sweetheart. It was just a great evening.”

Mason Riddle writes on the visual arts, architecture and design. She has contributed to publications including Artforum, Metropolis, the Star Tribune, and the Pioneer Press. She is guest editor for the upcoming Public Art Review #39: Between Rural and Urban, which explores public art in the suburbs.