American Smart Cinema

American Smart Cinema

American Smart Cinema

American Smart Cinema

Excerpt

In 1999, screenwriter and film producer James Schamus delivered the keynote address at the Independent Spirit Awards in California, an event honouring achievement in the West Coast independent film scene. Subsequently reprinted with the title ‘A Rant’ in the collection, The End of Cinema as We Know It: American Film in the Nineties, Schamus’ address traced some of the consequences of what he saw as the gradual absorption of the independent filmmaking sector into the commercial system. Citing the exponential increase in the total box office monies earned by independent films over the previous thirteen years, and, further, the massive increase in the percentage of these returns that ultimately went back to the major studios, Schamus was at once applauding and lamenting the fact that films recognised at events like the Spirit Awards had overwhelmingly succeeded in breaking into the major system of commercial exploitation and finance. While positively attributing the increased production and visibility of films with ‘something to say’ to the enormous growth in the major media empires, Schamus also voiced a common concern that these empires would ultimately threaten the existence of such films. Schamus was here arguing for the preservation of what he saw as a tangible ‘civic space’ where ‘freedom of speech [was] the exercise of a fundamental right and not a privilege purchased with the promise of profit’ (2001: 256).

In the years since Schamus’ address, critical interest in the effect that he described has steadily developed into a range of differing contextualisations of contemporary American ‘commercial/independent’ filmmaking. Peter Biskind’s Down and Dirty Pictures: Miramax, Sundance and the Rise of Independent . . .

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