Friday, May 21, 2010
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
Independent Nation; Independent Film
The Sundance film festival has just ended; the stars and directors of America’s favorite art form have all gone back to the warm L.A. air or the bitter cold of the New York winter. Why is it that directors and actors, who make millions per picture, sacrifice money and sometimes their reputation for an event nestled in the mountains of Utah’s Wasatch front? What significance do independently funded films bring to them as professionals ? In what ways have independent films shaped our lives and society?
Defining independent films
What is an independent film? An independent, or indie, film is one that is primarily funded outside of the major studios, i.e. Paramount, MGM, Fox, etc. Indie films are seen as being mostly character driven with gritty visuals and simplistic techniques used for lighting, audio and cinematography. Scripts for independent films are meticulously written and have the ability to reflect certain societal struggles and issues; an example is the film Moon starring Sam Rockwell. In this film, Rockwell plays an astronaut sent to the moon on a three year mission with the responsibility of overseeing the mining of rocks used as fuel on Earth. Without giving anything away, this film is a character study on identity, self worth and the definition of humanity. The best -- and probably the most difficult --part about art is conveying a message to the public without taking away from the entertainment aspect of their experience. Moon is enjoyable to watch and provides one with pure entertainment, but tackling the definition of humanity is no easy feat, especially in two hours.
Independent films have the freedom to explore many subjects in society that are seen as taboo or unmarketable. Oftentimes studios don’t have the capability to explore these same thematic elements, giving rise to a culture of cinematic independence. This type of film emerged in the early 1900’s, during the era of the silent films, and have since steam rolled their way in to the lives of nearly everyone. The pioneers of indie films were seen as risk-takers in their time, leaving the guaranteed money of the large studios to walk their own creative path. United Artists was founded by Charlie Chaplin and three other silent film stars specifically for the purpose of controlling their own futures and the pictures of which they were a part.(Siklos) Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas, two of the most acclaimed directors and producers in American history , founded American Zoetrope, the production company of films such as Apocalypse Now, The Good Shepherd and Lost in Translation.(Zoetrope) As these examples show, independent films are a great avenue for the expression of ideas, and also have the ability to succeed financially, even without big budgets and cookie-cutter formulas.
Why do stars, both directing and acting, choose indie films?
While attending the premiere of the movie Get Low, starring Bill Murray and Bob Duvall, I asked,” Why did you both decide to do this film? What was it that attracted you to it?” Mr. Murray responded,” It looked like it would be a good time. No, I joined on to this film to be a part of this unique script and story, one that was very well written and different from anything that I had ever been a part of.” Mr. Duvall then responded,” The director was very good and I was excited to work with him. The story was amazing, but the cast is why I joined this project. It was a very special opportunity.” These two men are two of the most respected and popular actors in our time, and they can do any “project” that they choose. Why then was this film such a special opportunity? In Mr. Murray’s words “the script and story were unique… and different from anything else I had been a part of.”
When asked, the director of Get Low, Aaron Schneider said,” This has been my dream for years, since college, to create a project as unique as this, with such an amazing story inspired by true events. I have dedicated everything to the making of this movie and I am deeply moved that you appreciated it.” Aaron Schneider won an Oscar for best live action short, but he worked mostly as the Director of Photography on TV shows and the occasional movie; he was not some wunderkind who was handed every opportunity. Yet, he attracted two of the biggest stars in film history to his project, because of hard work and a great idea, independent of a large studio. The beauty of technology today and the avenues created by the indie film industry, is that anyone can bring their idea to life no matter how far-fetched. What I learned from these precious moments of dialogue is that a great idea is a great idea and even the biggest names in an industry will take a chance on an independent film maker.
The impact of independent films on our society
In this technological age, the flow of ideas and messages between people has never been as important or prolific. One of the most poignant examples of an independent filmmaker with a message is Michael Moore. Never before has a filmmaker stirred such controversy and created such fervor by taking on some of the most talked about political and moral topics, filming them in a way that appeals to the masses, helping to shape the discussions and opinions of many people.
Many aspiring independent filmmakers are also able to successfully convey their own messages through internet videos, blogs and message boards . YouTube is one of the most popular avenues for this type of filmmaking , having a market share of around 43 percent in the United States with more than six billion videos viewed in January 2009.(comScore). This is a testament to the popularity of video and the role that it plays in our culture allowing Average Joe and his buddies the ability to become titans of entertainment
One of the cornerstones of our society, and the most basic of rights, is freedom of speech and the ability to express our individuality. Independent film has become an important outlet for this freedom of expression. The Sundance Film Festival is viewed as the leader in independent filmmaking and innovates ways to help small productions gain mainstream notoriety. This festival alone last year brought Utah $92 million dollars in economic revenue, further cementing both the importance of the festival and the films that it showcases. We are in an age where our society--through festivals, access to technology, and the internet—allows anyone to affect many different audiences with any number of issues and themes, helping to shape our unique culture through an independent perspective.