October 31, 2006

IndieWIRE Turns 10: A Decade of Online Film News

indieWIRE was born as a free daily e-mail publication in 1996, and over the past 10 years has been honored with a "Webby" Award for best film website, called a "must read" by Variety, branded the "online heartbeat of the world's independent film community" by Forbes, and dubbed "best indie crossroads" by film critic Roger Ebert. Documentary interviewed co-founder and editor-in-chief Eugene Hernandez to reflect on indieWIRE's beginnings, how it bloomed and where it's headed in the future.

 

When you started indieWIRE in 1996, did you have grand thoughts? Or did you just think it would be fun to start a chat room for film lovers?

Eugene Hernandez: We started indieWIRE as a free daily e-mail publication in July 1996 with the idea of creating a news source for the emerging online community of filmmakers we had begun to connect with. Inspired by publications like Variety and Filmmaker, a group of us--including Filmmaker publisher Karol Martesko, Brian Clark from GMD Studios, co-founder Mark Rabinowitz and myself--wanted to develop a free website that would offer a daily alternative publication covering indie, documentary and foreign films, festivals and the industry. But there was never much of a grand plan, especially not in the early years. In the first week, we began to question whether it was too ambitious to try to publish every day. By our second week, as people began to respond, we realized that we were onto something.

 

When did the light bulb go off that this could really be a job for you?

While trying to keep indieWIRE going in my spare time, I quickly realized that I'd have to leave my job at ABC to really devote the time necessary to developing it. At that point, we weren't really much of a business; it was just a small group of us working on indieWIRE in our spare time. It wasn't until maybe 1999 that I truly realized that we might have the ability to grow the website into a legitimate business with employees and salaries.

 

What's your favorite thing about indieWIRE?

I personally love the opportunity to see movies and talk to filmmakers; it's that simple. I particularly love film festivals, where I have the chance to see and write about movies early on in their life cycle. We are particularly excited when we discover a new film or filmmaker and share it with our readers. Movies like The Blair Witch Project, The Corporation, Super Size Me and, recently, Shortbus are films that we saw at festivals and were among the very first to write about. I say it often: I truly love my job and the opportunity to travel to festivals and events in search of cool new movies. I also appreciate the chance to participate in panel discussions, and now to teach [at The New School], to talk with other people who are into the sorts of movies that I am and to share some of what I've learned along the way.

 

What are your top film festivals?

I really enjoy the Berlinale; it's a great city with a diverse, eclectic film festival that is perhaps my favorite. That said, of the bigger fests, I still find many terrific new movies each year at Sundance and Cannes, and I think that Toronto may be the best all-around international festival of its kind. Of the smaller fests, I have a personal passion for documentary and had a great time at True/False, and always love attending any doc fest.

If there were one thing I would say I am particularly thrilled to have developed while at indieWIRE, it is the passion for documentaries. I still remember watching The Cruise at the 1998 Los Angeles Independent Film Festival, and something at that morning screening clicked for me and propelled me to learn more about docs. I subsequently explored further the work of the Maysles Brothers, Pennebaker and many others.

 

indieWIRE has really stayed on top of the game, technologically speaking, since 1996. What's its future of?

We don't have a history of planning that far into the future. But I think the development of SF360 [a San Francisco bureau] with the San Francisco Film Society is a really exciting recent accomplishment. The online community that preceded indieWIRE, dubbed iLINE, was intended to become a site serving filmmakers throughout the US through smaller regional bureaus. It only took us 10 years to launch the first one!

The other highlight this year is the launch of indieLoop [a social networking environment], a new site within indieWIRE that I am sure will continue grow and evolve in ways we haven't even imagined yet. There are nearly 2,000 members already and I hope it will be a valuable resource and community for many filmmakers, students, film industry representatives and fans.

So, we don't have any major changes in mind, other than to try to continually adapt to the changes in film around us. We've implemented a few new features recently to try to cover more of the many cool new films that come along--such as the "New This Week" column and the indieWIRE Interview weekly e-mail interviews with filmmakers.

If I have any regret, it's that there are so many movies that we are unable to cover adequately in indieWIRE. We are working on that. Even though space on the Internet is endless, with such a small staff and limited resources, we have to be selective about the films and filmmakers that we cover in indieWIRE; we are trying to find ways to include more of those movies and moviemakers on indieWIRE.com.

 

Sarah Jo Marks is a Los Angeles-based producer.

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