Open Questions: Are Indie Movies Dead? Does It Matter?

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Cut! Studios such as Paramount and Warner Brothers are slashing funds for "independent" films. hide caption

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The pre-Oscar countdown has officially begun, with the Venice Film Festival just concluded and the Toronto festival in full swing. It turns out we're still arguing over whether indie film is dead. In The New York Times, critic A.O. Scott raises the question and concludes that...well, it's not clear what exactly he concludes. That there were too many good movies last year, so it was hard for them to make money, so it's not necessarily bad that there are fewer this year? He also seems to conflate the question of the future of independent film with a growing feeling that 2008 is a ho-hum year for quality movies.

Somewhat baffled by Scott's approach and conclusions, I throw the following three questions to you:

1. What do you consider an independent film for the purposes of a discussion of whether they're dead?

2. Given your own definition, are independent movies superior to mainstream releases?

3. What films remain on this year's calendar, either independent or not, that you're most excited to see this year?



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After seeing the preview of "Milk" that you posted last week, I definitely want to see it. I'm not as familiar with all the other stuff coming out this fall, but I will make an effort to see "Milk." And I don't get out to the movies a lot lately, so that says something.

Sent by Amanda in Austin | 12:16 PM | 9-8-2008

I don't believe that independent films are dead, though they are fading. An independent film, in my opinion, is one with a smaller budget than mainstream films. Because of the lack of a budget, indie films must rely on great acting, a well-written script, visionary directors, etc. to accomplish an entertainment factor for under $100 million. Since indie films can't afford special effects and CGI, it extracts the brilliance of the people involved and that usually results with a trip to the podium for a golden statue.

In my opinion, independent films are superior to mainstream releases on the basis of producing more quality films... which explains the recent outburst of indie films at the Academy Awards. Though it's still obvious that the bigger the budget, the bigger the audience and therefore the mainstream films gross a lot more. It's a shame that a mainstream film with a big budget cannot produce quality at the same time (last movie that achieved this in my memory is Lord of the Rings: Return of the King).

The movies that I'm most excited to see this year include the Coen brothers' Burn After Reading, Clint Eastwood's Changeling, and my David Fincher's The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Fincher's film (scheduled to be released on Christmas) is the film I'm most excited about because after a number of independent films that garnered high praise (Fight Club, Se7en, Zodiac) he's finally given a budget over $100... so I'm really stoked to see what he can accomplish with that.

Sent by Rob | 7:02 PM | 9-8-2008

See, when I think "indie movie," I think: pretentious, ironic hipster-types, which is unfair, I realize. But I still want to tell them, "Why do you rail against 'mainstream' movies when yours suck, too." I don't even know of a precise definition of indie movies, and I'd be curious to see other people's, to see if I've actually enjoyed any of them.

Sent by Katie | 7:13 PM | 9-8-2008

Honestly, when I see something like "Are Indie Movies Dead?" I think: "Oh god, who cares". I'll go see a movie if I hear about it and it looks interesting. I could care less who finances it, and frankly, some "indie" movies seem to have as much marketing punch as their corporate counterparts, so..

Now, granted, I know I'm just an uninformed one of the masses, but... I buy movie tickets, which is pretty much all they're looking for in this game anyway.

Are indie movies dead? I doubt I'd notice.

Sent by Liz | 12:00 PM | 9-9-2008

"Are indie movies dead?" Man, I hope not. In my opinion, indie movies tend to be about people and their situation and what they do, what happens to them. This sort of story-telling is what I would like from the fiction I read, too. I like to see life through someone else's eyes, to experience things I would never otherwise be exposed to.
The last big movie I went to, Dark Knight left me wanting to leave before it was over, it was so loud and big. I think it was an thought provoking story with interesting characters, if a little too long in spots. I think there is room for both kinds of films since we all have varying amounts of mainstream and indie in us.

Sent by Amanda | 12:16 PM | 9-10-2008

I, quite frankly, find it a silly and limiting question. Is this article asking that young filmmakers, without the support of big studios, aren't going to make interesting movies anymore?

Or is it asking something far more vapid? That shoegazing, 80s music idolaters are going out of fashion as their supporters are growing up faster than they are?

Is it asking if the Coen Brothers are dead? (ha!) Or if Zach Braff's career is dead? Or if that means ANYTHING, besides the fact that people couldn't be tricked into the same bomb twice?

If the question is, "are the uninformed masses becoming wise to bad movies?" I would say no, and shame on you for asking (sure, you didn't actually, BUT YOU WERE THINKING IT). Audiences will always drive towards something new and exciting, no matter how awful or boring critics and armchair pop culture philosophers want to call it.

I'd go the opposite direction. I would say that audiences will always appreciate fresh, entertaining new perspectives. There is no expiration date on NEW. I don't think either the film industry or the film-going public is ever going to be jaded enough to get up and say: "Alright then, we've had enough of that revolutionary garbage, we will now only support Batman sequels and Tom Clancy adaptations."

So, to finally answer the question posed, defining Independent film as anything other than film made Independent of the studios is as silly as saying that it is either more or less respectable than films that started off with scads more money. Money and experience don't automatically make good movies, but they certainly don't automatically make bad ones either. No movie audience should be treated like a crowd of predictable apes and no filmmaker should be treated like soulless cash factories.

Except those Disaster Movie guys.

Sent by AJ | 1:13 AM | 9-16-2008

"If the question is, "are the uninformed masses becoming wise to bad movies?" I would say no, and shame on you for asking (sure, you didn't actually, BUT YOU WERE THINKING IT)."

I'm not sure who the "you" is in this post, but if it's me, I assure you, I was not thinking anything along these lines. Nor was I thinking anything about Zach Braff or "'80s music idolaters." Interesting set of responses, though.

Sent by Linda Holmes | 7:42 AM | 9-16-2008

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