Manohla Dargis has an interesting piece in The New York Times about the current state of independent film. She traces a brief history of indie film in the US, and, reaching the present, draws a line between the “independent” of speciality divisions (basically cheaper, artier Hollywood) and the truly “independent” of filmmakers like Kelly Reichardt, Ronald Bronstein, Lance Hammer and Azazel Jacobs.
The news [of speciality divisions shutting down] has inspired passionate response, as well as the usual gloom and doom. Certainly it is bad news for those who have lost their jobs, but I’m not persuaded that it means all that much for true independents, those who have never worked inside the studios, never wanted to and probably couldn’t if they tried. I don’t think it means much for Kelly Reichardt, who made the lovely independent film “Wendy and Lucy,” and is unlikely to direct the next comic book blowout, because her aesthetic sensibility and worldview are of no economic use and interest to the studios or to most audiences either. That’s not a bad thing, not even remotely, especially for those who think films have worth beyond their box office returns.
I suppose my immediate response is that I hope that more of these kinds of films can be nurtured and encouraged because it seems to me that it is awfully hard to make a living on the truly indie end of the spectrum. Is this the price we pay for trying to make films that mean something or are we just buying into outdated ideas about “suffering for our art”? Artists contribute to the economic health of the communities and societies that we live in more than we perhaps realize (see Richard Florida’s The Rise of the Creative Class) and in our haste to avoid being seen as crassly commercial or financially driven we accept that we will never be able to pay our rent if we want to make these kinds of films. I’m over-simplifying the case somewhat but this is what I often see and hear when I talk to real, live filmmakers in the real, live world that I live in and to be honest I veer between delighted optimism (exciting technology, brilliant filmmakers, innovative thinking) and crashing despair (debt, endless work, debt) in the work that I do.