A year ago I posted a few brief thoughts on the Sundance Film Festival. Now, a year later, I still want to write an article on what makes a film “indie” or not. In some ways, it’s totally arbitrary (what makes a regularly-updated website a “blog?”), especially now that the “indie” label is being used (with some success) to promote films. Take for example Little Miss Sunshine, a winner at last year’s Sundance Festival, and Best Picture nominee at this year’s Oscars.
Sunshine had a reported $8 million budget, a cast of Hollywood A-listers that few studio films could muster, flavor-of-the-month directors, and a WGA screenwriter. It sounds like a studio picture, and it should, because it was green-lit, partially funded, and for much of its production owned by Focus Features, an LA-based distribution/production company that has made almost thirty Hollywood films in the last five years and released over seventy-five.
So, is Sunshine truly independent of the Hollywood machine? Is it independent of Hollywood’s ideals? It certainly fits the modern ideals previously displayed in the edgy-enough-to-be-indie but still establishment-made Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Brokeback Mountain, also produced by Focus Features. Is “indie” perhaps a genre now, as opposed to a label for a film without Hollywood ties?
I was doing some half-hearted research on this disheartening subject when I found what is very nearly the article that I was planning to write. David Bordwell has written an excellent piece on the Sundance phenomenon and the indie plague, entitled Visionary Outlaw Mavericks on the Dark Edge, and it should be required reading for anyone with even a passing interest in moderm film.