At The New Inquiry, Brandon Harris assess the state of independent filmmaking in an era when even Spike Lee resorts to Kickstarter to raise funds to make a movie. The short version: things are bleak. Here’s an excerpt:
John Waters and Steven Soderbergh have, quite publicly, given up on making more movies (at least for the time being, and in Soderbergh’s case, disingenuously). In an era in which traditional gatekeepers are increasingly marginalized and algorithms decide which new movies will be mentioned in your Facebook newsfeed, the Paul Schraders and Hal Hartleys of the world, despite the successful Kickstarter campaigns they ran, have little drawing power or name recognition. While the middle aged humanities professor who loved Blue Collar and Henry Fool might not know what Kickstarter is, his film-student son is likely too young to have encountered those directors’ work. Having lived and worked in an era with fewer players and a lot more money, many of these artists are now faced with shrinking budgets and crowded release windows, which makes their work smaller in scale and less relevant to the culture at large. If they want to continue making features, it seems they’ll have to get used to it. Which begs the question, is it still worth it?
Some of the people charged with mentoring a new generation of American independent filmmakers don’t seem to think so. At the recently concluded Seattle International Film Festival’s annual “catalyst brunch,” the Independent Filmmaker Project’s Amy Dotson gave a fearless keynote address. The organization she is Deputy Director and Head of Programming of is, by its own word, the oldest “non profit organization created to support the courageous work of artists and technicians working in independent film.” It still claims to be first and foremost about shepherding new voices into the cinematic sphere. Yet, at the beginning of last year’s Independent Film Week, a yearly confab of makers, producers, and industry types that the IFP holds each September, Executive Director Joana Vicente told Indiewire that “There are too many films out there.” Dotson’s speech to the assembled directors and producers, programmers and publicists, guests and donors in Seattle was even more declarative. “You are not a filmmaker,” she said, “You can be a filmmaker, of course, but you cannot continue to singularly define yourself as such.”
Image: Publicity photograph for Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up, 1966. Via The New Inquiry.