When It Comes To Independent Filmmaking

Independent films are where its at now, in my opinion, due to the horrible dreck that tends to come out of Hollywood these days.  There is just not that much out there in the big budget scheme of things.

Independent film gives filmmakers a more free reign on the themes that they explore.  However this can lead down the path to self-indulgence.  It’s always good to see filmmakers come up with stuff that is not only original, has its own voice, but also remains true to the filmic form and doesn’t go off the deep end into maudlin themes and overdone emotions.

Nonetheless, it is important not to get bogged down in terminology, especially given the growing chasm between the studio multimillion dollar “event” films and almost any level of independent production. The issues are not just semantic but substantive. For if there is a raison d’etre for the robust presence of independent cinema, it involves the changed nature of the Hollywood film industry over the last two decades. While the 1970s stand out as one of the greatest creative periods in Hollywood history, during those years the economics of the film industry underwent an extreme paradigmatic shift. The blockbuster mentality has always been part of Hollywood, but the hundred-million-dollar-plus gross of Star Wars created a different set of exigencies. As the 1970s gave way to the 1980s, the independent world of filmmaking (which had been, until then, primarily a refuge for a New York-centered avant garde, other regionally and ethnically based cinemas, and the exploitation and genre work of Arkoff and Corman) gradually repositioned itself as a legitimate alternative to Hollywood. At the same time, the critical successes of European art films allowed for a new American independent cinema to emerge. Among the early independent films, Victor Nunez’s Flash of Green, Wayne Wong’s Chan is Missing, Peter Masterson’s The Trip to Bountiful, the Coen brothers’ Blood Simple, Jim Jarmusch’s Stranger Than Paradise, and Bill Sherwood’s Parting Glances gained particular recognition. Breaking theatrical distribution barriers and garnering accolades and awards, these works helped to establish the foundation for an independent film industry.

But revolution, cultural or otherwise, is neither a linear nor a direct process. True, more independent films are being produced now than ever before. In fact, only a decade ago the total independent output amounted to slightly more than a twentieth of what it does today, some fifty films versus close to a thousand productions in 1996. But only some twenty-five independent films had any significant release (grossed a million dollars or more) last year, and along with those, only another fifteen or twenty features gained notable theatrical visibility. Hearing such grand media proclamations about the ascendance of independent cinema, one would have thought a massive reorganization and redirection of the film industry had occurred. The reality is something else.

Gilmore, Geoff. “The state of independent film.” National Forum 77.4 (1997): 10+.