Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

One Film Thinks Big, One Looks for Its Niche among Fall Influx of Indies

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

One Film Thinks Big, One Looks for Its Niche among Fall Influx of Indies

Article excerpt

Remember the emperor in "Amadeus" who complained there were "too many notes" in Mozart's music? After struggling for years to build an independent-film movement free of Hollywood domination, some participants are worrying that the campaign has succeeded too well - allowing too many movies into a marketplace that's not robust enough to accommodate them all.

If the gloomiest predictions come true, a handful of eagerly awaited "indies" may reach a significant number of theaters in coming seasons, but the rest will kill each other off by spreading audiences too thin. This could discourage new filmmakers from entering the field and hand yet another victory to Hollywood's power brokers.

The modern wave of indie filmmaking began in the 1960s, when John Cassavetes used his earnings as a Hollywood star to finance a series of highly personal productions still unsurpassed for integrity and originality.

A milestone came in 1989 when Steven Soderbergh's comedy "Sex, Lies, & Videotape" took the Cannes festival's top prize and an Oscar for best screenplay, becoming a box-office smash along the way.

One of its messages was that indies could make big money if launched and marketed right. If anyone missed the message on that occasion, they got it when "The Blair Witch Project" flew into theaters last year, brewing up the healthiest cost-to-profit ratio in American film history.

This sounds rosy until you talk with a practicing indie filmmaker like Bette Gordon, whose haunting "Luminous Motion" opened in theaters last spring. She fears indie production is proceeding too prolifically and haphazardly, creating a glut of pictures that today's fragmented marketplace - divided between theatrical films, video, and other media - simply can't support.

"There are more and more people making movies," she told me recently, "but we're almost at the point where there's too much product and not enough distributors and theaters that will show it. Critics go out on a limb and ask the audience to be more critical and engaged, but distributors and theater owners are scared they can't make their money back. So many films are made, and few of them see the light of day. Something has to give."

It's possible that more young talents will turn to the Internet or straight-to-video production, handing their limited share of the theatrical scene back to the big studios by default. …

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