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      Article 11

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What Makes an Indie Film Appealing?

Do you want to think or do you just want to be entertained? This is a question that is asked of every movie goer that goes to the movies as they are faced with the choice between mainstream or indie films.  When you consider the fact that ultimately many of those people make the decision to watch movies that have little or no publicity and a miniscule budget compared to a mainstream film, you must ask yourself the question about what it is that keeps people craving independent films? The answer is both simple and complex and it has to do with people wanting something different, intellectually stimulating and emotionally satisfying. 

The problem that most people have with mainstream movies is that they usually do not offer anything different. The decisions of The Big Six film studios such as Universal, Paramount or 20th Century Fox to green light a film project are based purely on business models. These models include certain elements that minimize or eliminate any investment risk. These elements are things such as having big name actors, writers, producers and directors attached, having a classic or well known story and extensive testing beforehand of every artistic decision with public focus groups prior to accepting it as part of the project.

The Big Six film studios spend hundreds of millions of dollars on most of their mainstream film projects and they are not willing to take any risks with untried products or people. Unfortunately, this means that the creative aspect of their movies is usually lacking because they are not willing to try anything new.

One of the most critically acclaimed indie films of 2011 that came out of the film festival circuit was Martha Marcy May Marlene by writer and director Sean Durkin. It is a stark look at the life of a young woman played by Elizabeth Olsen who is trying to come to terms with the effects of living in an abusive cult in the Catskills. It is an emotional journey that examines the inner thoughts of this woman and how she tries to deal with the trauma she suffered before she escaped and returned to the traditional way of living back in the real world. Often dark and cynical, this film makes you think hard about what reality is and how we should deal with it as we partake in this mysterious event we call life.  It is the kind of movie that indie film audiences love.  It offers a bleak, yet interesting story that the Big Six studios would never tell.

The budget for Martha Marcy May Marlene may have been small, but the ideas it puts forth are very big. It is unique, intellectually challenging and enlightening. It is not a movie for people who do not want to think too much. Because of this fact, it excludes certain potential movie goers and this made it a bit of a risky investment that the Big Six were not willing to take. 

Another popular independent film of 2011 was Meeks Cutoff, a period film set in the 1880s. Directed by Kelly Reichert, this spellbinding tale of early American pioneers heading west on the Oregon Trail is a great example of the kind of movie indie film audiences value greatly. It is the antithesis of a mainstream film in every way. First of all, its a western, and very few films of this genre are being made these days by the Big Six studios mostly due to the fact that they just do not appeal to everyone in this modern age of technology.

Also, there is no room for the sponsors of film studios to have product placement in a western movie. No name brand cars, soft drinks, buildings, clothing, shoes, tools or food can be placed into the background of scenes because none of these things were invented yet during the days of Wild West. This is a major point for indie film goers who typically feel that product placement has become way too blatant in the mainstream films these days. Meeks Cutoff offers independent film audiences a chance to watch a film that is devoid of corporate meddling onscreen.  It is a breath of fresh air in a film industry that is polluted with commercialism.

While Meeks Cutoff is different than mainstream movies because of its genre, it is also different for its philosophical style of storytelling.  Socially relevant and politically poignant, this movie investigates the issues of trust, justice and honesty in a civilized society as the characters are forced to choose between their guide and protector, or a perceived enemy. These are deep thoughts that cannot be expressed in a hurry onscreen. While some people may consider this film to be slow in its pace at times, the indie film goer understands that it is just part of the process of being stimulated intellectually when you watch independent films.

The independent film industry is surviving today not because indie films make a lot of money. Most of the films that make it out of the film festival circuit barely break even and rarely make a profit. These films are made because there are still some true Artist filmmakers out there who believe in the art form of filmmaking more than the business side. These independent filmmakers are carrying the torch of creativity in their business. They provide audiences with unique stories, intellectually stimulating issues and emotional satisfaction.  Most importantly, they offer something different than the same old recycled, commercialized films that mainstream Hollywood cranks out these days.


2012 Copyright.  Michael Connelly

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