"I've never seen more depressed people in my life than I did in Cannes last month."
So said ex-Miramax president Mark Gill in a provocative June 2008 speech headlined "Yes, The Sky Really Is Falling," about how bad things are right now in the independent-film world.
But along with his dire analysis — "it will feel like we just survived a medieval plague; the carnage and the stench will be overwhelming," Gill said of what the landscape will be like for those who survive the current shakeout — the indie veteran offered his colleagues a few glimmers of hope.
Among them, he listed the notions that "there actually is a growing audience for quality," and that "in this Darwinian new future, there will absolutely be a premium for good films on TV, pay-per-view, on-demand, Internet — or whatever that large pipe that goes to all of our houses will be called."
There's no Holy Grail on "that large pipe" yet, no one-stop Web shop for easy-to-find, easy-to-watch indie content. Not yet, anyway.
But some sites are working to serve that "growing audience for quality" — and the indie filmmakers they admire. Among them:
• Slamdance.com, the Web home of the festival that's been the beginner-filmmaker alternative to Sundance since 1995. Regular Web-watchable features include Anarchy, an online short-film competition judged by the site's audience, and $99 Specials, a series of short films shot in 99 days on an under-$100 budget. The latter spawned the TV series Significant Others, which ran two six-episode seasons on Bravo.
• Jaman.com, a favorite of film blogger and About.com indie-movie guide Marcy Dermansky. It's got a slick, eye-friendly interface, user-powered social-media features including an inventive "Find by Mood" feature that helps you find the right weepie for a rainy afternoon, and streamable, ad-supported freebies both classic and new. And for those disinclined to spend two and a half hours in an office chair watching a Bollywood musical, it's even got an interactive how-to on hooking your computer up to your TV.
• SnagFilms.com, recommended by James Rocchi, senior writer at the movie blog Cinematical. It's documentary-fan do-gooder paradise: Browse by topic (politics, health, music and arts, etc.) or by channel (ITVS, National Geographic, PBS and so on), or search by filmmaker. Find something that sounds good? Watch online, then introduce the impassioned auteur you've just discovered by embedding her whole movie on your blog. (Or your Facebook page, or ...) And if you're moved to action, SnagFilms invites you to support the cause she's documented by donating to a charity she's selected.
Among bigger players, Netflix's Watch Instantly feature (and its TV-connected option), Amazon's Unbox service (and its partnership with TiVo), and Apple's iTunes (and its allied AppleTV) all offer a varying selection of indie films to watch online, download and play later, or push to your TV.
But most of the films you'll find at the outlets listed above will need to have found a distributor or won a film-festival slot — both increasingly rare these days.
Which is where the just-launched IndieRoad.net sees a niche. The site aims to be a kind of indie-movie iTunes: Filmmakers submit their films; you buy, download and watch.
The pitch, explains co-founder Vince Di Pierro, is that IndieRoad is the brainchild of indie-industry veterans, who are scouring festivals and film-school campuses for up-and-comers and screening submissions for quality.
That expert filter is meant to help indie auteurs dodge what Cinematical's Rocchi describes as the YouTube dilemma: "I've made this piece of art — you can find it between the Mentos experiment and the sleeping cat."
The hope, says Di Pierro, is that without the clutter, on a site devoted exclusively to indie films, one of those up-and-comers will find a following — and that Di Pierro and his partners will be able to work their connections and broker a more traditional distribution deal.