Meet the prolific filmmaker, gallery owner and underwater chess inventor
Etan Ilfeld takes multitasking to a whole new level.
It wouldn't be out of line to ask Etan Ilfeld whether he ever sleeps. After listening to him tick off the different ventures he's involved with, it's a wonder he has time to. The Israeli-American who now calls London home is the owner of an art gallery, two bookstores and a media company. He also organizes an international mind sports competition, a film festival, writes books, edits a magazine, produces films and has even invented a new form of chess that takes place underwater. Got all that?
Having spent his youth in both the United States and Israel, Ilfeld graduated from Stanford University before coming to London in 2006 to get a master's degree in interactive media. In 2007 he came into possession of a small piece of real estate, and thus was born Tenderpixel, a gallery focused on emerging artists who incorporated technology into their work. Soon after it spawned Tenderflix, a film festival that maintains a cult following to this day.
"It was a really spontaneous thing. I never had any plans before I came to London to open a gallery, but I made a bunch of connections through school in the art world here, found this gallery space and one thing led to another," Ilfeld told From The Grapevine.
A recent show at Tenderpixel gallery addressed nature. (Photo: Tenderpixel/Flickr)
Eager to test this midas touch of his, in 2010 Ilfeld bought well-known mind, body and spirit bookshop Watkins Books.
"My mom is an astrologer, and she would always go and visit it [while in London] and basically it went into bankruptcy," Ilfeld explained. "I thought it could be worth trying to save and turn around, and so I did, and was able to make it successful. Again, it was a totally spontaneous leap of faith."
Ilfeld also got the idea to relaunch the bookstore's magazine, Watkins Mind Body Spirit, a once-respected quarterly that had become little more than a catalogue under the previous owners' reign.
With Ilfeld at the helm, the magazine introduced a list of the world's most spiritually influential people – it included such celebrities as Oprah Winfrey, Ekhart Tolle and Alejandro Jodorowsky – which earned it a new audience. Today it's widely circulated, with copies available in the United States in such places as Barnes & Noble and on Amazon.
You would think Ilfeld would have had his hands full with all of this, but in 2010 he took on even more responsibility, being appointed the chief organizer of the Mind Sports Olympiad, an annual board games festival in London that attracts people from around the globe.
Truly passionate about the games involved, he even invented one of his own, diving chess, which has become an integral part of the event.
At about the same time he took the helm at the Mind Sports Olympiad, he was also putting the finishing touches on a book, Beyond Contemporary Art, which when released in 2012 was received enthusiastically in many corners of the art world.
"I was really pleased with its reception," he said. "It was sold in MOMA [Museum of Modern Art, in New York], at the Centre Pompidou [in Paris] and at the Tate Modern [in London], which is sort of the holy trinity of modern art museums, if you will," he explained.
With the Ilfeld empire firing on all cylinders, in 2014 he opened a bookstore next to Tenderpixel, called Tenderbooks. He also acquired Nourish, a health and cookbook imprint; Angry Robot, a popular science fiction imprint; and Watkins Publishing. Repeater, a fiction imprint, was added to the lineup in 2015. All four now operate under parent company Watkins Media. When all is said and done, nearly 100 books will be published by the company this year.
"It's quite a big umbrella," Ilfeld said of all his current ventures. Luckily, he's also been successful at putting together a team of employees he trusts.
"I've got a really cool team of people, which is inspiring," he told us. "So far, so good."
This trust leaves him time to dabble in other, more glamorous fields. He recently earned a credit as executive producer on the film "Remainder." Based on a best-selling novel, it was directed by internationally renowned Israeli artist Omer Fast and recently played at the prestigious Berlin Film Festival.
"Omer's such a rock star and I really think the film has a chance to do some big things," Ilfeld said.
So with all this activity, it begs the question: What's next for Ilfeld? Well, he might be ready to slow down just a bit.
"I'm super focused on trying to grow this publishing side because the impact there is really big, and it feels so good to be able to contribute so much to the world."
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