They have an indie jones

Author: Carol Schaal '91M.A.


About the time Erin Trahan (Notre Dame class of ’96) was born, the woman who would one day be her college professor was helping birth a different entity—a group for independent filmmakers and videographers.

“It really was the beginning of the whole independent scene,” says Jill Godmilow of the activist organization AIVF, the Association of Independent Video and Filmmakers. The group started in the early 1970s as an advocacy, networking and resource venue for grassroots directors and producers.

While Godmilow, a Notre Dame professor of film, television, and theatre, continues as an independent director and editor of documentaries, the AIVF no longer exists.

A part of it does remain, however, and that’s where Trahan enters the scene. The Boston-based freelance writer and editor is the managing editor of The Independent, an online version of the AIVF’s print magazine, which ceased publication in 2006.

“It’s designed to maintain the spirit of the original organization,” says Trahan, with a focus on activist filmmakers.

For Trahan, simply learning about filmmaking was an eye-opening bonus of the English/sociology major’s time at Notre Dame. One of her English classes included a film studies component, and, she says, “I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, you mean I can think about film the same way that I think about books?’”

So she took a class on filmmaking, and, the summer after her graduation, recorded sound for a film Godmilow was working on.

“My technical skills were not the strength I brought to the table,” she says now with a laugh.

After several years of working for nonprofit organizations in Oregon and then in Michigan, Trahan moved to Boston with her husband. There, she did some production work for films, but “I had no interest in being on set.” While she was “fascinated by the artistic process and how filmmakers and other artists go through the process of creating their work,” Trahan learned that her true love was writing.

So she started writing about film, which, in the circuitous way these things work, led to her job on The Independent. She’s also the editor of, and she writes about film for The Boston Globe and about youth issues for a variety of publications. Oh, and she’s working on an MFA in poetry at Bennington College.

If Trahan’s life seems a bit tumultuous, the same can be said for the role of independent filmmakers. Both Godmilow and Trahan will tell you that the plot for indies has changed drastically in the last few years. For that you can thank a thing called YouTube.

“I’m, like, horrified,” Godmilow says not so jokingly about the video-sharing website, which is, as any viewer knows, “cluttered with junk.” Still, she says, “It’s one of the best things that’s happened to media. . . . I have seen some extraordinary things.”

For The Independent, says Trahan, the advent of YouTube has created opportunities to expand its audience. “We hope that the more we continue to facilitate a conversation about what independent filmmaking means, the more we will attract people who understand the value of such a conversation and will join in it through our site.”

The publication, found at, continues to cover film festivals small and large, says Trahan, as well as to offer advice on filmmaking technology. It also contains archives from the previous print publication of AIVF, classified ads, forums, a listing of resources and a column by “documentary doctor” Fernanda Rossi. “Reading her columns over a year is like going to film school,” Trahan says.

Carol Schaal is managing editor/web editor of this magazine.