It’s cool that independent film is grassroots, though not equally for everyone. For better and worse, there’s a lot of crossover in production, distribution, and consumption practices today, with many indie films resembling those of Hollywood, and vice versa. Also, in addition to being a space for freer expression outside the mainstream, indie film has long been a training ground for people aspiring to Hollywood, or a refuge for those who got there and left, or, in some cases, an option for those who manage to do both.
Here at the festival, we support people and films of all indie stripes. Personally, I appreciate the most grassroots of filmmakers who somehow make their films their way and with the most limited resources; who aren’t connected and won’t get traditional distribution, and are OK with it. God bless those occasional filmmakers who come to our Q&A sessions after screening their films and say they aren’t in the biz and don’t want to be. That’s honesty.
I can’t speak with the authority of a struggling grassroots filmmaker, but I tend to think that the lack of resources can be a good thing, promoting creativity. The lack of money, time, and experience certainly hinders the production of a film, and its potential quality, but also can help. Limits can be opportunities, and less can be more—you don’t necessarily have to spend a lot to make something that reaches people. Amanda Todd’s video about social media and bullying, seen by millions on YouTube, is just one example.
Another great grassroots indie story is The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Original, provocative, low-budget—and that’s just the film. Even more grassroots was how audiences used it for years to create their own carnivalesque floorshows in second-run theaters around the country. With their various homemade costumes, props, vocals, and dancing these audiences created parallel productions right there, partly spontaneous and partly ritualistic, inspired by the movie. As a kid, I first saw Rocky Horror at a public community college screening in my rural hometown of Grants Pass, Oregon. I’d heard about the floorshows, but had to wait for another time to see one. That came a few years later, when I was applying to colleges, and traveled with a friend for the first time to Portland. We checked out some schools, but the highlight of our trip was seeing Rocky Horror with its people. Still later, in the West Village, the NYC audience lived up to even higher expectations. Now, with multiplexes and home viewing so prevalent, these shows are pretty much history.
Kinda. When I visited Grants Pass recently, I found that the old downtown movie theater where I first saw Jaws and Star Wars has switched to live events, including midnight screenings of Rocky Horror with the floorshow. Rednecks in drag? That’s a time warp I’d like to see.
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