Yesterday, I started my reflection on the last decade of American Indie Film. I will conclude it tomorrow (I promise). Today, I wonder what opportunity did we miss over the last decade.
There wasn't really ever a transfer of power in the film biz, was there? During the growth of AmerIndie, Hollywood remained a business of blockbusters. Yes, previously underserved audiences got full on banquets of offerings as the menu of filmed entertainments grew more diverse, but the clamoring hordes born from the niches didn't climb the castle walls as some have claimed; the same power sat on the same throne as before. Fanboys & geeks were inevitably the masters once Hollywood embraced the logic of tent poles -- so there is nothing surprising about their current reign. And yes, Hollywood's current crop of top directors were born from that indie big bang of the nineties, but for those directors, Indie always seemed more like a training ground than sort of a manifesto. And the power in the Hollywood system, still rarely rests with the directors.
What is it that happened between Indie's growth in the 1990's and now? What did the last decade do to the hopes and dreams of The Indie Wave? When Indie kicked into gear, I thought the Art Film was firmly grounded as one of the American genres. It sure has lost ground with fewer practitioners than I ever dreamed possible. Is that a function of market-based realities? Surely the drive and ambition that fuels Todd Haynes, Kelly Reichardt, and Ramin Bahrani must linger in others. So many still create without any audience/market in mind (7000 films/year in USA - a market that reasonably consumes 600), I don't think I can blame neo-liberal/late capitalism for this one, alas.
Is the absence in the cultural mindscape of a new wave of Art Film a symptom or character trait of those that came of age in the last ten years? I refuse to think we are lacking in those that aim for art over success (not that those are incompatible...). Mumblecore and YouTube's unadorned reality based creations certainly have their ambition, even if formal presentation is not generally one of them.
I have often felt that in the last ten years we became A Culture Of Distraction. Everything competes for our time and focus, and we get trained to shift rapidly from one attraction to the next (and you know what? We are damn good at it!). Navigating the onslaught, positioning ourselves to withstand the winds of everything that passes us by, becomes a necessary goal. We need to find our filters and our discovery tools. We need to stop skating on the surface, and learn to love to drill down deep. Now is not the time for simple sensation, but thoughtful understanding.
Slowly we build defenses and tools -- make choices. It is this move from impulse to choice that I hope partially defines the present moment and the next. But I still wonder, what is the choice that most creative types make? Does survival (and financial well-being) dictate everything? If people knew they could have a different sort of cultural industry, would they change their behavior? Are they every really going to be ready to do what is truly needed to ensure a diverse and open culture?
Still I wonder though: was an opportunity for a truly free film culture missed in the decade that just slipped by? Audience changed, but our methods and work didn't. The leaders never embraced the community, be it the creators or those that appreciate the work. The business never evolved beyond the "sell". Instead of pushing the product through, we could have created a two-way flow. I saw my opportunity two decades ago, and despite that (or because of it) kept telling myself: I NEED TO PREPARE FOR THE NEXT WAVE.
But really I just rode it out instead, doing what I had been doing. Was it really ever going to be enough to deliver a good story well told for the right price? Was it ever right to focus on the product without much attention to the infrastructure that both delivered and dictated its substance. When we sold Good Machine at the end of 1990 I kept telling myself that now was the time, and I kept telling myself thatevery three years until we got to the Now.
I feel good about all the movies that I helped make this past decade, but I also feel the responsibility to help find a way to make more diverse and ambitious work a sustainable industry -- and I know that THAT can not be driven by individuals. We have to build it better together.
Was the tornado of digital disruption too great to ever get a real focus on what that would be? Did the filmmakers that would have led the charge, simply go elsewhere in this expansive online universe? Or did the noise everyone was making simply just cancel each other out? Was there too much going on for anyone to get traction? It can't be that we lacked the political impetus; surely the establishment of the greatest disparity in wealth since The Great Depression should have been enough to send the masses to the barricades.
But it wasn't. What happened?
This rant will conclude tomorrow. Thanks for reading!