Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The State of the American Independent Film


Okay so after reading Filmmaker magazine’s blog I had to chime in on this. In the latest entry Scott Macaulay talks about the debut of where independent film is headed, and he sites two films that are fueling the fire of this discussion. They are Andrew Bujalski's Mutual Appreciation, and Kelly Reichardt's Old Joy. I have not seen Reichardt’s film, but have seen the trailer in a theater near me. I have on the other hand seen Bujalski’s Mutual Appreciation, and his first film called Funny HaHa. I also have seen Reichardt’s first film River of Grass awhile back, and it was that film that introduced me to Larry Fessenden a filmmaker I admire very much. What kind of got me steamed was the assumption that these two filmmakers are what are defining the American independent film scene of today.

In the post Macaulay talks about the discussion about the independent film scene today and where Reichardt’s and Bujalski’s films fit in. Both films seem to be introspective dramas that explore the lives of two or more characters. Now I like character driven type films. Done right they are interesting, and explore events & emotions that are not unfamiliar to it’s audience meaning me. I have not seen Old Joy, but do have every intention on seeing it if and when it gets to play in my neck of the woods. I remember seeing the trailer in the theater, and taking note of the striking cinematography of the piece. I am equally impressed upon hearing that Reichardt had about 6 or 7 people to her crew, and the script was 50 pagers, so some free-forming happened while making the film. From what I hear in the reviews it sounds like an interesting film. When I saw River of Grass long ago it was one of the films that inspired me to actually try getting my own film done.

Now Bujalski on the other hand is a bit different for me. I watched Funny HaHa, and didn’t think too much about it. Maybe it wasn’t coming from the same angst I experienced in my youth, and Mutual Appreciation is more of the same to me. Maybe I wasn’t identifying with its subject, but what I really wanted to do is slap the character upside their head and yell, "Snap out of it". I mean it’s one thing when it’s teen angst, but twenty something angst is enough to drive me nuts. I mean I was around when St. Elmo’s Fire came out, and even then those characters didn’t interest me though I was hot for Demi Moore, but that was my own twenty something lust not angst. I applaud Bujalski for filming his feature in 16mm, but someone tell Mr. Bujalski that they’ve developed this new technology called DV, and it really does work well with small films like his. Bujalski even shot Mutual Appreciation in black & white, which when I saw it I wondered why. Maybe he was using that last batch of film stored in his freezer for film stock. I couldn’t get past the first 15 minutes of the film, but I did manage to watch all of it in time. The words that came to mind were pretentious & un-interesting. If that’s what passes for art films today then Bujalski is right on. But with only two films how is it that Bujalski is considered a great artist. Some compared his work to Cassavetes and I really didn’t think so. Cassavetes films are so much more deeper then Bujalski’s films. They have a lot more substance then any of Bujalski’s films.

Okay so I’m not a fan of Bujalski’s work. He does have his admirers, and I myself did order Mutual Appreciation from Bujalski’s website. I’m an open minded film devotee. I’ll go out of my way to see a film that doesn’t get high exposure in theaters, and art houses. I do believe that such films like She’s Gotta Have It, or Sex, Lies, and Videotape are better examples of American independent films. Both filmmakers listed in the blog entry have only made two feature films, and to argue that they are what represent the American independent film scene of today is just plain stupid conjecture. I believe that Bujalski has his hand on the pulse of a certain segment of our society that his films resonate to, but somehow I miss the message Bujalski is sending out.
Don’t get me wrong Bujalski is a talented filmmaker as well is Reichardt, but I find it hard to believe that by comparing two filmmaker’s works we can suddenly gauge how the American independent film scene is doing today. What about other filmmakers such as: Tom DiCillo, Larry Fessenden, Alison Anders, Jim Jarmusch, hell even Robert Altman. Where are the comparisons with these filmmakers. Are these filmmakers too yesterday? I think NOT!

The list can go on, and on. What about such other filmmakers who aren’t well known as the above. Such filmmakers as Daniel Myrick & Eduardo Sanchez or even for the matter Steven Soderbergh who completed a interesting film entitled Bubble not too long ago. All are still engaged in the commerce of filmmaking. I haven’t even started on the numerous other filmmakers whose work seems to go straight to DVD and who have a following there. (Lance Weiler, & Stefan Avalos just to name a few). It’s a wide open market, and though I think Bujalski & Reichardt are doing interesting work in the field of cinema I do believe that the field is much bigger then that. The American Independent movement is much bigger then just two individuals, and I think we ALL know that

1 comment:

Stefan Avalos said...

I stopped believing Filmmaker Magazine's hype about the same time I first was mentioned in it.

They need to fill their pages with something, so - hell - why not proclaim the next trend? No one will remember it next year anyway, and they get to keep selling magazines to the next crop of suckers. I mean, indie hopefuls.
At least it's nice that they're mentioning relative unknowns (true indies) inside the magazine - even if the cover is populated with such 'indie' artists as Kate Winslett.

Truth of the matter is that true American Independent cinema (as Filmmaker Magazine likes to romantically consider it) has been in its death throes for quite some time. Who watches it? Really - who watches it? Besides a handful of cities, where does it actually screen?

Festival screenings aren't going to pay the rent, and neither will a five ten or even twenty city run. How many people actually saw Primer in a theater?...or most indies for that matter? Sadly, the fact that you think Lance and my last movies as "straight to DVD" is proof of that.
Of course even 'straight to DVD' is incredibly difficult to get - but thank god for it or we'd all be in serious trouble.

Indie is alive and well -- It's genre films. That's where the true indies are making their living.

Filmmaker Magazine might not ever ever proclaim it or write an article about it -- but the true face of indie filmmaking - is people like Ken Hall or Brian Avenet Bradley.

If you haven't heard of them - look 'em up.

Good blog. Good luck with your movie.

Stefan
http://www.stefanavalos.com