"He Must Make Films. It's What He Does." Meet Dennis Cieri, the Founder of NYC's Indie Film Festival

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It's not for the critical acclaim. It's not for the muss and fuss of stardom or name recognition. It's not for the fluttering fancy of black ties and velvet ropes, VIP's, or champagne flutes brimming to the top or overflowing. 

It's not a gaudy affair. There's nobody roped off and gawking at celebrity. It's not about the big studios, personalities, or names-- and even when there are big names in attendance (which is almost always the case), you won't hear about it.

It's not Sundance. It's not Cannes. It's not the Tribeca or even the New York Film Festival. 

It's NYC's Independent Film Festival, running 7 years strong, opening April 27th through May 1st. 

So, you get it, right? It's indie-- which, to be clear, does not nor ever should be understood to mean "hipster." It's the showcase for raw, untapped talent, undiscovered artists, and those who are simply compelled to create art in film.  

But what is it? Who goes? What's the point? What does one do at a film festival, and what's at stake? 

I caught up with Dennis Cieri, the founder of the NYC Independent Film Festival to get to the bottom of all of this, and his perspective, from the questions he did answer to the questions he couldn't, was absolutely refreshing. 

"I'm a filmmaker." 

A born and bred New Yorker, Dennis currently works with his wife on science-based documentaries. They work on the same stories; shrimp crises in Georgia, the fishing industry in Nova Scotia, even New York City's beloved Gowanus Canal. 

He's lived in every borough but Staten Island, and from the time that he was 16 he's been in some facet of film, theater, painting, or performance. He's held down corporate jobs. He's worked on Wall Street. He's worked for corporate America. He's been a painter. He's owned a bookstore. He's done it all. 

He's been both the starving artist and one to experience success. At the heart of it, though, because of what he is simply compelled to do, he is a filmmaker.

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via Film Festival Life

He's not a self-aggrandizing figurehead of the industry. He's not one who postures or pushes for recognition or validation or some empty compliment. He's an indie filmmaker. It's what he does, and that's precisely what the NYC Independent Film Festival is all about.

"We do actually get big names, but we don’t make a big deal of the big names because usually they've done a film for a friend of a friend, or it's outside of their normal career work, so there's always somebody who shows  But we don't make an issue of it because that's not what we're about."

Big names to emerge or involve themselves in the film festival include John Voight, who's in this year's festival with the film American Wrestler: The Wizard; Ross Marquand and Xander Berkley, actors on AMC's The Walking Dead, to name a few.

Of course, again, that's not the point. 

"We basically stay focused on the indie filmmaker, the guy who basically has a job or doesn't have a job, or he's a starving artist, or he does have a day job, but he must make films. 

"He must make films. It’s what he does, and we try and build a community some place for them to come, to have a community and see that they're not alone. You got a guy from Chicago who's a car worker and he makes movies, but he doesn't really have a place that supports him. So we bring him here. That's why we're here; to show them that there is a support system."

So what does Indie mean, and what's the point of this particular film festival?

"Indie doesn't mean bad, it means that it's low budget... If somebody makes a well-made indie movie for $22,000 they should be here."

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via SmartDestinations.com

The Indie Film Festival itself is a few things; it's screenings of films, panels and seminars on finance, production, legal questions. 

All of it is geared towards the struggles of executing this great idea on a very tight budget, and while most indie filmmakers would not mind being self-sufficient from their movies without that second job, this festival offers tools and resources to navigate the world of filmmaking beyond that. 

It's not the heads of huge studios telling you that you need between $50-100 million in marketing alone to make a good movie. It's not about that. 

"Even a movie that’s a horror movie, it brings up conversations. If there’s an idea you hadn’t thought of, that’s still cool, right? And that’s still going to come out of Indie Filmmaking. A well-thought out idea takes time."

And that's it. That's the most important aspect of all of this. 

I asked Dennis about this; that what captures the spirit of this kind of festival comes in an introspective moment of self-validation; that moment where as an artist you can step back, look at the finished product of what you've created and say, "This is good. This is worthwhile."

Dennis agreed. 

"I actually feel that every year. That happens every year. You see friendships build. Alliances build. People have gotten contracts. People have gotten funding. People have gotten distribution. Did they get it directly because they were here? Who knows? But we know they were here."

"There are 7 billion people on this planet. That's literally five-times more people than when I was born, and I’m not that old. I see there’s a huge market for indie films. If an indie filmmaker can find people to pay small sums, how many people of these do you need? How many are there room for? The market is still growing, and I still see a lot of room for these filmmakers."

Film festivals aren't just reserved for the high-brow and hoity-toity. It's not for the people that "know what good art is," whatever the hell that means. 

"It’s fun. It’s just plain fun. Going to the movies is still a social experience. If you actually go to a film festival, there’s still a conversation. You see movies that you’re not going to see any place else."

This year's festival looks incredible with hundreds of films and hundreds more filmmakers from nearly 40 different countries around the world. 

The festival kicks off Tuesday, April 26th, with their opening party, and runs until Sunday, May 1st. We'll be there, but you can get your tickets right here

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[Feature Image Courtesy MerchantCircle.com]
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