Sunday Discussion: Where Have All the Indie Gems Gone?
by Alex Billington
September 21, 2008
As I sit here, under the awning of the famous Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, Texas, I'm wondering why I haven't seen more indie gems. If you don't know what I mean by indie gems, let me give a quick explanation. I travel to film festivals all over the world all year long in search of independent films, created with budgets smaller than most college tuitions, that are phenomenal works of cinematic art. In essence, I'm looking for those movies to fall in love with, those little movies that hardly anyone knows about but are the best movies of the year. Between Sundance, SXSW, Telluride, and Toronto, I expected to find quite a few of them this year, whether they're dramas, comedies, horror, sci-fi, or otherwise. But this year I've been coming up a bit short and I don't really know why? Was it the writer's strike or was it something else?
I really don't know the answer to this question. Hell, I don't even really know how to ask this question. Maybe I haven't gotten enough sleep and should be asking myself whether I need more? Maybe I just haven't enjoyed too many of this year's movies when others have love them? Either way, I know there are gems out there, I just need to find them. There are a couple of big exceptions, and when I mention these, I mean that they really stood out: Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire, Kim Ji-woon's The Good, The Bad, and The Weird, Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler, Rian Johnson's The Brothers Bloom, and most recently, Tomas Alfredson's Let the Right One In. But there are so many films, like J.T. Petty's The Burrowers or Derick Martini's Lymelife or Brian Goodman's What Doesn't Kill You, that I felt should have been gems, but weren't. They just fell a bit short and I can't exactly figure out why.
I guess one of the reasons why I'm bringing this up today is because I don't think I've come across this year's Juno or Fido. Unfortunately my favorite films from Sundance, specifically The Wackness and Baghead, got destroyed by Sony Pictures Classics during their theatrical exhibition. And my other Sundance favorites, including The Escapist, Hell Ride, American Teen, and Assassination of a High School President, have either not even been released or got buried during the summer season. So maybe my complaint is actually with the the distributors and the state of independent cinema. I fall in love with these movies and try so hard to promote them, but then lose all my energy when they end up buried by studios. It's not that they didn't connect with audiences, it's that they didn't have a chance to begin with!
Maybe Darren Aronofsky already figured this out. In our interview with the filmmaker, he mentioned that the independent cinema system is cyclical. "The economy's in a tough place and there's not a lot of free money right now. So it's really, really hard to make film, especially original film, especially risk-taking film. But it's going to come back, it has to, because people just get bored and they want to see something new and something different." I see so many mediocre films at festivals all year long that I eventually get burned out. At this point in time, I'm tired of the typical drama, I need something more. I already hate lavish period pieces (like The Duchess), that seem to have found a place at film festivals. Hopefully when our economy gets back to normal (if ever), we'll start to see more original indie films again.
Hopefully as this year starts to wrap up, I'll run across a few more gems. If not, I'll at least end this year with some new favorites, but not exactly a large quantity of them. Whether it's the writer's strike or the economy or something else, this year won't live up the past few years before it. There are some great films that I'll walk away with, including the five I mentioned above, but it won't be the most unforgettable year. Maybe it's the distribution system? Maybe it's my evolving taste in film? Maybe I'm just getting tired of the same mediocre dramas? I'm not entirely sure why there weren't as many indie gems, but I guess I'm just not overly satisfied with the indie films this year. I could be entirely wrong, in fact, by January I could be saying that there were some fine films and I was just full of it back in September. Who knows?
Whatever the outcome, there is one thing that's certain. Be on the look out for the few indie gems I do mention, because they definitely are true gems. The few of them that I have found are truly remarkable.
Amethyst photo courtesy of adamantine on Flickr.