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Sunday, September 03, 2006

Independent film gets more independent than ever in 2006 with the arrival of 7 new features in theaters

What were the films that defined independent film back in the 1980s & 1990s? What were they like? How were they made? Most of them were character studies. They were mostly dialogue driven. They were made for budgets that were ultra-low by Hollywood standards: from around $20,000 to around $150,000. They did not feature any Hollywood stars or television personalities. These original indie films that I speak of are: Stranger Than Paradise by Jim Jarmusch, She's Gotta Have It by Spike Lee, The Unbelievable Truth by Hal Hartley in the 1980s, and Slacker by Richard Linklater, Clerks by Kevin Smith in the early 1990s. Each of those films introduced a new American filmmaking sensibility, plus unknown directors and unknown actors to the world.

Between 1984s Stranger Than Paradise and 1994s Pulp Fiction, independent film went Hollywood, and thus Indiewood was born. Indiewood came quickly into maturity in the 1990s assisted to a large degree by the Sundance Film Festival and Miramax Films. Indiewood is an arrangement that resulted in the multi-million dollar budgeted, Sundance film festival honored, Hollywood actors starring Little Miss Sunshine being promoted & sold nation wide as an independent film in 2006.

Another significant but so far barely noticed film event of 2006 is the re-invention of the independent film industry by a significant number of filmmakers embracing self-distribution. Real indie film struck back against the total Hollywoodization of independent film this year by returning to its mostly character & dialogue driven & no-star roots with 7 ultra-low budget, high quality D.I.Y. (do-it-yourself) produced & self-distributed feature films hitting the US theaters & alternative screening venues. The films are: Kicking Bird by Kelley Baker, LOL by Joe Swanberg, Mutual Appreciation by Andrew Bujalski, Four Eyed Monsters by Arin Crumley and Susan Buice, Date Number One by Sujewa Ekanayake (that would be me, if I didn't write this article it may never exist, so, in true D.I.Y. fashion, I am cool w/ doing the work to point out an important occurrence in the film world), Jumping Off Bridges by Kat Candler, and Head Trauma by Lance Weiler. This new batch of indie filmmakers go further than their 1980s & 1990s predecessors by embracing self-distribution. The existence of the web as an inexpensive marketing & communication tool, and the acceptability of digital formats for projection by theaters have enabled the new indie filmmakers of 2006 to embrace self-distribution. All of the self-distributed films mentioned above are either film festival selections, award winners, or audience and reviewer pleasing projects. Collectively the films are scheduled to play over one hundred screenings at various cities of the country during the remainder of 2006, with as many screenings having already occurred.

Lance Weiler leads the pack among these new self-distributing filmmakers by having made a profit (& continuing to make money on) his first self-distributed feature The Last Broadcast. Weiler is opening his new feature Head Trauma in about 20 theaters, with most runs being at least 1 week long, and has organized a nation wide DVD release that will immediately follow the theatrical run. In Lance Weiler a sustainable model for building a profitable indie film career through self-distribution can be found.

Two well researched and well written articles, each about some of the films & filmmakers mentioned above, have recently appeared in IFC.com and indieWIRE.com. Here are the links, follow this story further at these places:

IFC.com story on Mutual Appreciation, Date Number One, and Head Trauma

indieWIRE story on Four Eyed Monsters and Head Trauma

And here are the official websites for each movie, along with links to pages that list screenings:

Kicking Bird
screenings

LOL
screenings

Four Eyed Monsters
screenings

Mutual Appreciation
screenings

Head Trauma
screenings (scroll down)

Date Number One

screenings

Jumping Off Bridges

screenings

The new wave, the DIY distribution wave, in American indie filmmaking is here. And it is good news for many because the DIY indie path allows those filmmakers who are willing to do the work and those who are willing to work at developing their skills to build a filmmaking career without the difficult-to-get support and endorsement of Hollywood or Indiewood. This current situation featuring ultra low budget digital video film production and self-distribution is an old filmmaking dream of independence made real, a wonderful event, a reflection of the vibrancy, innovation and the adaptability of the ever growing independent film community.

- Sujewa

This essay is dedicated to Sarah Jacobson, Jon Moritsugu, Gene Cajone, and Greg Pak, 4 filmmakers who have kept the idea & practice of self-distribution alive & relevant in the years leading up to 2006/year 1 of the Indie Film Self-Distribution Movement.

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