So Many Indie Films, So Many Reasons

ArtsBeat - New York Times Blog

By THE NEW YORK TIMES  With nearly 900 films released in New York theaters last year, Manohla Dargis argues that there are too many lackluster, forgettable and just plain bad movies pouring into theaters. Is flooding theaters — especially with indie releases — good for movies and moviegoers alike? With another edition of the Sundance Film Festival about to start next week, she took a casual survey of some 70 film professionals, asking them about the state of indie film. Here is a sampling of their answers, edited and condensed:

How would you characterize the state of American independent cinema?

“I am a bit pessimistic about the audience. The number of people who want to see movies that aren’t franchise-type spectacles is very small. The movies might be there, but where are the distributors and where is the audience? (The latter’s moved on to television, I think.) So my vote is for strong and poor.”
– James Gray, filmmaker

“Times are tough for art house cinemas in the U.S. If they are tough in New York, which has the biggest, most sophisticated, most diverse audience in the country, they must be horrendous elsewhere. Audiences are shrinking for specialized films where theatrical moviegoing is concerned. Paradoxically, as fewer people are eating the pie, the pie’s only getting larger.”
– Karen Cooper, director of Film Forum, New York City

“Strong. I am not referencing the marketplace or financing. I am talking about excellence in filmmaking, original ideas and the characters explored. I also feel the sheer numbers of creative people seeking to express themselves through the art of cinema makes me optimistic.”
— John Cooper, director, Sundance Film Festival
A scene from the documentary
“Perhaps fiction film has suffered a loss in cultural urgency while television shows like ‘The Wire,’ ‘Breaking Bad’ and ‘Girls’ rise in prominence. But when you factor in nonfiction, independent film looks as vital as ever. Think of the conversations – not to mention court actions, policy changes and television punditry — stirred by the work of Laura Poitras, Andrew Jarecki or the makers of ‘The Invisible War.’”
– Thom Powers, international documentary programmer, Toronto International Film Festival

“Most arthouses have become nonprofit organizations. At their best these organizations create a strong sense of community, like a sanctuary of sorts. On the other hand, theaters that once dedicated 100 percent of their efforts toward the exhibition of film are now splitting their time managing all the things that come with maintaining a nonprofit. In this way the film exhibition industry stands to become a little less filmy.”
– Rachel Hart, associate director, Cinema Arts Centre, Huntington, N.Y.

“The cost of releasing movies just goes up. Social media while a great new tool is incredibly expensive. It’s something people do not talk about. It costs a fortune to create a group of followers on Facebook or Twitter and even more goes into keeping them engaged.”
—Ryan Werner, consultant; former senior vice president of marketing and publicity for IFC Films

Almost 900 new releases will have opened in New York City by the end of 2013. Is this good for independent cinema?
David Cross, left, and Daniel Radcliffe in “It’s hard for anything to stand out of the crowd. And with VOD numbers so oblique it’s so hard to determine/assess success. The day ‘Kill Your Darlings’ opened in NYC 16 other films did too. ‘Kill Your Darlings’ did 10 weeks at the Sunshine — pretty great I think! But it has barely made $1 million. But — given the reviews and Dan Radcliffe — it will probably be a monster on VOD. How can we translate that success into the movie’s overall identity of being a success or failure?”
– Christine Vachon, producer

“Many of these films are being released theatrically for the wrong reasons. Either they are doing a faux release to trigger cable TV or VOD deals, or they are vanity projects. These films clog up theaters and add to an environment that makes it hard to get attention for the films that deserve it. Hopefully, as online distribution outlets reach some kind of maturity, these films will find ways of reaching audiences without requiring a theatrical platform.”
— Ira Deutchman, managing partner, Emerging Pictures

“Aside from the extra viewing and writing for some New York critics, the 900 releases are actually good for 900 of those films. Those movies are actually seeing the light of day (or I guess enjoying the dark of a movie theater). What astounds me is the fact that there are probably anywhere near another 10,000 to 15,000 movies made in a given year that don’t get released. Could any of them have been any worse than some of those that were lucky enough to be released?”
— Jonathan Sehring, president Sundance Selects and IFC Films

“The impulse to make a film has far outrun the impulse to go out and watch in a theater. It’s upsetting to think that filmmaking has become a hobby for those who can afford it or that so few of these films are having any impact at all. On the other hand, if it’s exciting and satisfying to create a film and try to find an audience, then why judge those who can create that opportunity?”
– Janet Pierson, head of South by Southwest Film

“It used to take a village to make a film, but now a feature can be made by the village idiot!”
– Mark Urman, the distributor Paladin

“What’s really become apparent is just how important curated discovery tools are for consumers. The pushing and recommending engines of this huge volume of work, how it continues to develop intelligence around your own personal tastes and how it delivers that content to you, that is the next big thing we need to improve.”
– Joseph Beyer, director of digital initiatives, Sundance Institute

“I think the problem is less the sheer number of films than their lack of vision, ambition, accomplishment. Do we really need another film about hapless hit men? Children of dysfunctional families? The film should have a reason for existence beyond the fact that the person making the film wants to be a filmmaker. If that’s done, the ‘glut’ will take care of itself.”
– Howard Rodman, screenwriter

If you could change one thing about American independent cinema what would it be?

“Take cameras away from young people; close film schools; defund the trillions of festivals. O.K., I’m being facetious. But there was a time when making films was a passion for the same number of people who wrote poetry. Today, there is the belief that anyone can make a movie. The other one thing I’d change: Expose young people to great classic movies and groundbreaking independent films in a theater, rather than the steady diet of romance, comedy, and violent end-of-world nonsense they currently consume.”
– Karen Cooper, Film Forum

“The obsession with casting name actors in every role. You wish that financiers would take more chances with casting. Why not spend some time figuring out fresh ways to market unusual films as opposed to casting the same people in everything because of their foreign sales numbers.”
– Albert Berger, producer

“The one-week run makes sense for studio tentpoles, but it should not be the standard by which all movies are booked into the theater chains anymore. Digital Cinema allows for an endless variety of programming at the arthouse and the multiplex. Off-peak hours are the perfect time to allow indies to gather audience and have a life. ”
– Liesl Copland, agent, William Morris Endeavor
James Gray, left, with Joaquin Phoenix on the set of their 2009 film Magnolia Pictures James Gray, left, with Joaquin Phoenix on the set of their 2009 film “Two Lovers.”
“I would do something completely, utterly un-American— I would encourage some kind of state financial involvement in order to preserve the arthouse segment of the cinema. I recognize that there is a greater chance I might win an Olympic gold medal than this happening, but I can dream, right?”
– James Gray, filmmaker

“Make Netflix pay for something (even pennies) for each time a film is viewed.”
– Gregory Laemmle, president of Laemmle Theaters

“More paid-for movies and less piracy.”
– Nolan A. Gallagher, chief executive officer and founder, the distributor Gravitas Ventures

“The most impactful change that could happen right now for filmmakers and producers would be some access to Big Data. The fact that the consumer-viewing data that is being collected by digital distribution networks is so guarded is the biggest clue of how valuable it is. To see the economic landscape clearly and soberly would help mitigate losses and risk and push us to innovate faster and stronger in how we create sustainable direct-to-fan economies.”
– Joseph Beyer, Sundance

“There are many funds to help get films made, but maybe someone should create a fund to pay people not to make their films. (Joking, sort of.)”
– Ryan Werner, consultant

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One thought on “So Many Indie Films, So Many Reasons

  1. The true filmaholic hears a song from the soundtrack and
    knows exactly where it comes in during the film. But television do
    not provide the same pleasure of watching a movie as does
    movie theatre with its huge screen and surround sound system.

    But Alfredo’s death has released him from this promise.

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