Why is independent cinema on the rise?
A year ago, the Academy chose Spotlight to win the Oscar for Best Picture. Directed by Tom McCarthy and with an award-winning screenplay he co-wrote with Josh Singer, the film shines a light on The Boston Globe’s investigation into allegations that Catholic priests were sexually abusing children.
The independent movie, backed by Open Road Films, took on studio powerhouses like Mad Max: Fury Road, The Revenant, and The Martian and came out on top.
It wasn’t the only indie film to win nods from the Academy last year. Brie Larson picked up a Best Actress win for Room, and Alicia Vikander won Best Supporting Actress for The Danish Girl.
These works join a host of true independent cinema and pseudo-indies – small-budget movies made by big studios’ specialty divisions, like 2015’s Best Picture winner Birdman – that have made waves at the Oscars, Golden Globes, and other awards in recent years.
Call it an indie revolution, if you want.
The growing popularity of low-budget films made outside Hollywood demonstrates audiences’ dissatisfaction with business as usual in Hollywood. The big studios spend money-making and remaking big-budget action and science-fiction films instead of telling new stories. (Spider-Man is set for a reboot this year – Sony’s third attempt at the franchise in just 15 years.)
Why focus on high-budget, high-risk films?
“I sat at a roundtable several months ago with all of the studio heads, and all they were talking about was China,” Jonathan Sehring, the president of IFC Films, told The Financial Times in February 2015. “Could Driving Miss Daisy travel to China? I doubt it in this day and age. It’s just a different economic model. The middle-budget movie has, more or less, disappeared now and the independents, or specialty divisions within the studios, are filling in the gap.”
And they’re doing it well
Indie movies focus on human subjects: growing up, relationships with parents, siblings, and friends, societal forces like race and gender, illness, and other challenges. They turn the spotlight on the unsung heroes who uncover and fight corruption or ignorance. They explore moral and ethical dilemmas and impossible choices.
The focus is often on character and story development instead of the next explosion or the coolest special effects (although Ex Machina showed indies can do effects even better than the big studios when they put their minds to it).
This willingness to take on tough stories instead of pure entertainment is earning indies their place on the podium. Since the Best Picture category was expanded, around half of the spots usually go to indie films – sometimes more, when you include low-budget imports from England, Ireland, and elsewhere.
Along with Spotlight and Birdman, recent indie and pseudo-indie Oscar winners have included The Hurt Locker in 2010, The King’s Speech in 2011, The Artist in 2012, and 12 Years a Slave in 2014.
Independent films have proved they’re worthy. Now it’s your turn. Want to join the indie revolution? The Wayward Festival is looking for films by anyone who has a story to tell and thinks outside the box. Films in any genre are welcome, and our entry fee is $10.