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New England Film

     This is a happy column. I'm here to salute a marvelous web site, newenglandfilm.com, designed for film and video makers, also film and video lovers. The brainchild of enterprising university postgraduates, Michele LaMura and Geoff Meek, newenglandfilm.com has managed in only a few months (it went online in April 1997) to approach its co-publishers' ambitious objective: a one-stop resource center of definitive news and information about what's happening in New England media, with a special emphasis on the independent scene.

     What do you get? A monthly online magazine featuring sharp interviews with New England-based film and video makers, inside stories about New England film festivals, and some surprisingly snappy film reviews. Good writing.

     Also, a rigorously updated listing and description of upcoming film and video-related events. You want choices of what films to attend this week? What speakers to hear? newenglandfilm.com is definitely your spot. Also it's where you find out details about the mini-film festivals cropping up all over New England. How to submit your film for consideration. How to attend.

     Also, job listings in media, a "for hire" page, and a massive listing of area productions, from Amistad to 16mm BU grad shorts.

     I met with Meek and LaMura in their Winchester apartment, where newenglandfilm.com is produced, and obsessively improved. Meek, who is completing a Masters in Computer Science at BU, is struggling, as its "Web architect," on "parameterizing" newenglandfilm.com's job postings database. "That way you could say, 'I want a film job in this town...that pays this much...that lasts this long.'" LaMura, who has a Masters in Screenwriting from Emerson, wants, as editor, to expand the area coverage away from about Boston. What's the media scene in Maine? In Connecticut?

     Meanwhile, LaMura says, "I've had no trouble getting writers, even if we can't pay them." Her regular reviewers, Julie Wolf and Kiersten Conner, were also graduate students at Emerson. Wolf, a broadcast coordinator of WGBH's Caption Center, was recuited by LaMura in a screenwriting class to contribute to her start-up online project. Conner, a technical writer for O'Reilly Associates (she's completing a conquering-the-Net book, The Whole Internet: the Next Generation) approached LaMura about writing film reviews. That's what she'd done as an undergraduate for the Columbia Spectator.

     Soon, LaMura was faced with a thorny editorial problem: what to do when a reviewer assigned to an local independent movie doesn't like that movie? LaMura asked herself, "Why should newenglandfilm.com tell people about a film they've never heard about, and tell them not to see it? We want free speech but we also want to promote local films."

     Wolf confronted the issue of how critical to be when reviewing the local Boston film, Black and Red and White All Over. Her solution: "I managed to say diplomatically that the film was a bit heavyhanded, and too long. I didn't want to turn people away from the movie, yet I had to say those things or I wouldn't be ethical."

     Then there was Kiersten Conner's take on the Boston film, The North End. "Michele told me about the screening, and how she really liked the movie," Conner told me. "When I watched it, I got a sinking feeling in my stomach because I hated it." The solution: two reviews, Conner's (bad), LaMura's (good).

     Should there be special dispensation for independent films?

     "No, they shouldn't get an automatic break," Conner said. "However, I'm not going to criticize an independent film because it's grainy. I will if the plot's ridiculous and/or offensive to women."

     Both Meek and LaMura are concerned, as they must be, how to make newenglandfilm.com a profitable venture. "Our first year, we've concentrated completely on content and design, and attracting visitors. We have reached 3,500 visits a month, beyond our projections." LaMura said. "Now we have to sell it. We believe that newenglandfilm.com is perfect for advertisers because we have such a targeted audience. According to our online survey, 60% work in production companies or independent film and video, 20% are writers, 20% are actors, students, etc."

     Newenglandfilm.com objectives for 1999? "Our first hire, a sales and marketing person," LaMura said. "And 10,000 visitors!"

GERALD PEARY
Boston Phoenix, May, 1998

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