Unfortunately, “independent film” has become something of a marketing term, a catchall for the likes of Sundance Channel or IFC programming: a limited number of narrative films, made more or less outside Hollywood, having some personal creative vision—quirky, original, provocative—that appeals to mostly niche audiences (with occasional breakout hits like The Blair Witch Project). For me, that’s only part of “independent film.”
I prefer to think of independent film very broadly, as a large and diverse range of films, genres, sensibilities, filmmakers, and audiences—from all over the world and with varying degrees and kinds of independence from mainstream commercial cinema. I like one recent article that playfully helps get at this diversity. Observing that “every film isn’t either indie or studio,” the writers of How to Classify Movies Now That “Independent Film” Is Dead came up with ten categories that together reflect a range of independence, from the greatest (including “underground” and “Malick-wood”) to the least (“studio” and “explosion-ganza”).
For me, even these categories are limited. Part of what’s cool about independent films is how they work against traditional approaches to film, ranging widely in their production circumstances, subjects, genres, tones, styles, etc. They may be highly collaborative or individual, as commercial and slick as Pulp Fiction or as plain as the Rodney King beating video. They may be esoteric, or wallow in pop culture, or both. They may have clear or ambiguous storylines, or no stories at all—maybe even nothing recognizable from our world, as with the abstract animated short films of Stan Brakhage, many of which resemble Jackson Pollock paintings in motion. The more inclusive the idea of independent film, the greater the ability to appreciate this most unruly and eclectic of cinemas.
One list of categories for “independent film” that’s closer to home for me is on The Valley Film Festival’s own submissions page. We welcome all kinds of independently produced films, including—but not limited to—animation, comedy, drama, erotica, experimental, family, horror, mockumentary, music video, musical, rockumentary, sci-fi, student-produced, thriller, trailer, and viral. Another imperfect list, but still way better than what the “independent film” brand has come to mean.
This post is part of a series in which I talk about independent film in a more detailed, wide-ranging, and personal way than I usually do here. And it’s a chance to hear from you. Feel free to post a comment anytime or let me know if you’d like to write a post.
By James Latham