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ITVFest: 10 years of attracting talent

Independent television is putting Dover on the map

To learn more about ITVFest, watch trailers of submitted works, or to purchase tickets, visit www.itvfest.com.

DOVER—Next month, Hollywood will arrive to the Deerfield Valley.

Directors, writers, producers, and network executives will descend on the region for the 10th annual ITVFest, starting Sept. 24. The four-day independent television and film festival showcases projects that have appeared in realms outside the major networks.

Members of the film industry have been the festival’s biggest champions, said Executive Director Philip Gilpin Jr. — so much so that the festival has committed to making Dover its permanent home through at least 2021.

And next year, the festival will launch an online network that will showcase the people and projects that have appeared at the festival.

This year’s 93 juried submissions include show pilots, short films, and web series in the genres of drama, comedy, reality TV, and documentary.

More than 1,000 people are expected to attend this year’s festival, including representatives from HBO, Starz, CBS, and other major networks and studios.

ITVFest has grown into an industry event — a claim to fame in itself for an industry that focuses much of its events in California or New York.

People attend the festival one year, fall in love with it, and tell their friends to attend, and as the festival has grown it has attracted more and more talent, Gilpin said.

It took the industry a few years to catch on, Gilpin said. Those in the industry took time to see that Dover, Vermont could host a professionally run festival with great panels and screenings.

Gilpin said a producer who attended the festival in 2013 said that when he first told executives his project screened at ITV, the executives gave him blank looks.

But fast forward to 2015 and, according to Gilpin, this same producer is now meeting with executives who say they want to attend ITV.

A decade of celebrating independence

ITVFest is 10 years old overall, said Gilpin, who took the ITV helm in 2012. Dover has hosted the event since 2013.

When ITV launched in 2006, it was the first independent television festival in the country, he said. By 2010, the festival had gained a reputation for attracting talent. Many of the shows that appear at ITV already have substantial online audiences of anywhere from 5,000 to 100,000 people, he said.

Gilpin describes moving the festival to Dover as ITV’s renaissance. Here, the festival gained a destination feel.

“It has an industry retreat feeling,” said Gilpin, noting that Hollywood now talks about the region.

When people come to ITV, they’re focused on the festival and the people here, he said. They’re not getting pulled in multiple directions as can happen in bigger cities.

Moving the festival out its birthplace of L.A. broke some unwritten rules, he said. Gilpin built it, but would anyone from L.A. or Vermont come here?

How the industry would respond to a festival in Vermont and who would become the festival’s main audience were risky questions.

“There was definitely the unknown going on on both sides,” Gilpin said. “Both sides of the coin were looking at each other asking who would jump first.”

The industry has jumped first.

Gilpin estimates that 85 to 90 percent of the festival’s support comes from outside Vermont — great for Dover, as the festival brings new people to the valley.

That’s what Gilpin first pitched when he introduced the concept of ITVFest to the local community. He said he hoped it would become an economic engine for a valley where tourism is the primary business.

Gilpin estimates ITV brings up to $3 million in direct new revenue to the area from spending on things like lodging and restaurants.

The festival also brings people to the area during a traditionally slow weekend, he said.

All the national and international coverage of the event in media circles has also added Vermont to the “lexicon of the entertainment industry,” he said.

Gilpin points to a BMW commercial filmed in town last year and Dover’s film grant as two signs of the town’s shifting its identity to become home to a professional television event.

‘What drives everything’

What keeps Gilpin enthused each year about ITV?

“Discovering an amazing show or amazing new artist,” he answered. “That’s what drives everything.”

Submissions have increased over last year, Gilpin said. More networks, such as CBS Interactive, have pledged to pick up at least one show from this year’s festival.

Gilpin has also noticed an uptick in the number of agents and entertainment reporters on the attendee list.

ITV is now New England’s largest gathering of network executives, he said.

People coming to ITV this year hail from the traditional tinsel towns of Los Angeles and New York. Gilpin adds that people will also come from London, Ireland, Australia, the Middle East, Denmark, and the Netherlands.

And ITV continues to grow.

“It’s all going so well,” he said.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #319 (Wednesday, August 19, 2015). This story appeared on page A1.

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