Long Live Indie Film : Reports of Its Demise Have Been Exaggerated

By Gilmore, Geoffrey | The Nation, April 2, 2001 | Go to article overview

Long Live Indie Film : Reports of Its Demise Have Been Exaggerated


Gilmore, Geoffrey, The Nation


Independent film is at a crossroads. After a decade of outstanding growth, the emergence of a new generation of filmmakers and the maturation of an older one, the effective transformation of an industry and of an art form, the question of what independent film actually is and where it's headed is bound to stir discussion and debate. After eleven years of directing the Sundance Film Festival, perhaps I can offer perspective from a post that has allowed me a special understanding of the trends and developments that have characterized the growth of the independent film arena.

Throughout the past ten years, the remarkable success of independent film has been accompanied by a constant drumbeat thumping out the message that independent film is dead, or has become synonymous with studio output. Simply put, this isn't true. There are reasons one might believe this to be the case, but an examination of the broader independent arena leads, I think, to a different conclusion.

That independent film, generally speaking, has ambitions to be commercially successful is certainly true. But that does not mean it is now no more than a creature of the market, like most studio productions. Indeed, independent film at its best is still aggressively, passionately, creatively driven and original. Just look at the films. Which of this year's Independent Spirit Award nominees--Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Requiem for a Dream; Before Night Falls; You Can Count on Me; or Chuck & Buck--could have been made as a major studio film? None. Perhaps more significant, do any of these works suggest an arena that is aesthetically indistinguishable from even high-quality studio productions like Gladiator, Cast Away or, for that matter, Erin Brockovich? To anyone familiar with these works the answer is, I think, the same. None of the Independent Spirit nominees are derivative of commercial product. None are formulaic or mainstream in their appeal.

Low-budget works like George Washington, Everything Put Together, Our Song or Urbania, all Spirit Award nominees, have even less resemblance to mainstream studio filmmaking. Each of these films was produced for less than $500,000. They deal with subjects that include homophobia, SIDS, poverty and issues of social class, race and marginality. They focus on African-American, Latina and gay protagonists. Analysts of the doom- and-gloom persuasion would undoubtedly make the point that these films all had or will have a limited theatrical release, that the bigger, more commercial independent films have been crowding out the archetypal low-budget, "truly" independent films. It's true that what I call "indie-studio" works are released on hundreds, even thousands of screens, thus relegating smaller films to just a few theaters. But that was always true. Pessimists would also say that the competitiveness in the theatrical marketplace, the number of releases fighting for exhibition, forces most low-budget films to go directly to video--but actually there are twice as many independent distribution companies now as there were five years ago, which makes it more likely that a greater number of films will find theatrical release, however brief.

In fact, there was never a golden age for independent films. The relative success of low-budget works like Clerks, The Brothers McMullen or El Mariachi says more about their freshness and distinctiveness as feature releases than it does about an ideal past when independent film was more fully appreciated. At the same time, the changing marketplace and evolving agendas of major independent distributors have a much greater impact on the availability of low-budget work than whether independent filmmaking has gone "mainstream." Most major independent companies used to pride themselves on finding audiences for difficult-to-market films--that is, distinctive, interesting independent work. Now, having seen how much money can be made from the more "commercial" independent films, most of these companies are loath to take on pictures that don't have relatively easy marketing handles.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Long Live Indie Film : Reports of Its Demise Have Been Exaggerated
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.