I’m still following the recent conversation about the independent film crisis relatively closely in the midst of long marathons of grading and fighting off an early fall cold. Like everyone else, I’ve been following many of the recent debates about where this indie asteroid is hurtling. For every article celebrating the principle that movies can now “debut on your iPhone,” there are dozens of others that offer far more sobering accounts. A.J. Schnack has a roundup of some of the recent discussion, starting with Anne Thompson’s now widely-cited TIFF column describing the indie marketplace as a bloodbath and concluding that “The old independent market is over. A new one will take its place. But we are smack in the middle between the end of one paradigm and the start of another, and it’s a scary place indeed.” A.J. goes on to offer pointers to reports from the Indie Summit, including discussions from Eugene Hernandez and Thompson, who served as a co-moderator. Thom Powers considers the implications of these issues for documentary filmmakers.
But one issue that deserves further consideration is A.J.’s discussion of the place of film festivals in the indie crisis. Noting that five of the major festivals for documentary have undergone significant changes in the last year, he observes that “for many festivals, the days of largesse have passed. No travel, no accommodations, no screening fees.”
The IFC Blog has a thoughtful take, pointing out that arguments based on “quality” (that we just need “better” movies) are faulty, given the diversity and unpredictability of people’s tastes. While a number of festivals and venues have used public enthusiasm, or audience curation, to define what films will play in a given venue, such approaches may be limited and may prevent challenging films from finding a wider audience.
In a related matter, Melissa Silverstein has an engaging interview with Sally Potter about her most recent film, Rage, which was initially released via cell phone. Potter discusses her concept of “poor cinema” and the challenges introduced by making films so cheaply. On one level, Potter is optimistic, arguing that music downloads may help (in some cases) to stimulate music purchases and that such an approach may benefit filmmakers as well. In digging around for more detail on her concept of “poor cinema,” borrowed from Jerzy Grotowski, I came across an earlier report by Potter about the making of Rage and the challenges the new indie models raise for film production. While it is easy to romanticize the idea of the basement auteur, the solitary figure making brilliant films outside the normal production cultures, there is a risk (acknowledged by Potter) that such a practice does in a sense
steal work from others who would otherwise be employed in one capacity or another. A film is not a solitary process, like writing a book or painting. It is a collaborative medium, an interface of art and industry, and therefore money is involved for those people – from sound recordists to editors to lab technicians – who depend on being paid.
I think that what often gets lost in some of the more reductive attempts to analyze DIY production is the genuine costs of labor (and the implications of working on smaller crews that Potter describes). The first episode of Rage is now available online, with more episodes to follow later this week.