What is an Independent Film according to Maggie

January 16, 2014 : 1:48 am | by Maggie Sanger


In the 1980’s when movies like “The Godfather,” “Jaws,” and “Star Wars” came out, the movie industry realized that they could make a lot of money from just one film. This switched their focus to making a large, popular blockbuster that appealed to a large audience and, in turn, made more money. An independent film almost seems to defy these sets of ideals. Michael Newman’s “Indie: An American film culture” aims to capture the spirit or core of what an independent film is today. There are many strategies he suggests that sets these films apart from mainstream cinema.

Independent films are widely shot with very little or no funding at all from a major film studios. This could be because the filmmaker is new, unknown, or hasn’t made a name for him or herself yet. I think that a lot of young filmmakers, or first timers, shoot low-budget films not only because they have to, but also to prove themselves. Most independent films are made outside of the studio system and are independent of Hollywood and big studio head production companies. A great example of this is the movie “She’s Gotta Have It,” written and directed by Spike Lee. A penniless Spike Lee was so determined to make this movie that he compelled the actors collect and save all of their cans for the recycling money.

The storytelling in indie films differs greatly from that of mainstream Hollywood films in the way that the characters, rather than the plot, hold the focus. Newman points out, Hollywood actors are more one-dimensional, like what you see it what you get. In independent films, not only do the characters look more like real people, such as our family and friends, but they have depth. They interest the audience members so much in ways that are thought-provoking and complex that leave us wanting to know even more about them and their inner workings. Newman stresses the importance of characters in indie films and how they affect, inspire, are a key element of the meaning of the film. This is an important component of indie films because it makes others aware of the social characters that otherwise would get little to no attention from mainstream, Hollywood media. This also applies to the independent visions expressed in indie films. They touch on issues that would otherwise be too controversial. For example, the strange and uncomfortable films such as “Donnie Darko” and “Eraserhead”, or the frightening horror films such as “Night of the Living Dead” and “Evile Dead.”

I think my favorite thing that Newman did was to offer the idea that, when viewing films, you want to approach them in a game-like way. Watching a movie involves a lot more than just looking. The audience has to actively participate in the viewing. This means experience it, interpreting it, and thinking critically. This kind of game-like viewing, gives the director creative control over how we view their film. It allows them to illustrate to us what they are trying to convey, which I think is a staple part of think ndependent filmmaking process.

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