The Academy Award nominations for the 2006 ceremony have been released and with them an interesting development has occurred: the majority of the films nominated fall under the title independent.
As Richard Corliss noted in an article posted on Jan 31 at Time Magazine online “this is an Oscar year more dominated by non-blockbusters than any since 1997.” Four of the five best pictures are “indie” productions, as are many of the films featuring acting nominees.
With this influx of quality independent movies finally getting attention in the mainstream media, let’s take this opportunity to address what it truly means to be indie.
The image of indie cinema for many is probably that of a film made on the cheap with a group of unknown actors and a quirky story. Classic examples of this include Kevin Smith’s "Clerks" and Robert Rodriquez’s "El Mariachi."
While this type of indie filmmaking still exists because there will always be struggling young filmmakers trying for their big break, these aren’t the films that are garnering the big award attention this year.
Actors sensing that Hollywood has little to offer them in the means of challenging acting have been flocking to the fringes and in many cases forming their own production companies to produce something a bit different.
Perhaps the most successful example of this is George Clooney and director Stephen Soderbergh’s company Section Eight, which produced "Good Night, and Good Luck" and "Syriana" (both of which are up for at least one Oscar).
For a film to be considered independent it simply must be produced outside of the major Hollywood studios like Fox, Sony, Disney, Universal and Paramount. These studios may later pick up indie films with good buzz for distribution. This definition encompasses both "Clerks" type films as well as the increasingly more polished and slick looking films being produced outside of Hollywood.
This description is almost too broad as it also includes, believe it or not, the last three "Star Wars" films, which George Lucas did produce separate from the studio system, although you’d never tell as these films follow all the Hollywood formulas to the letter.
An indie film doesn’t necessarily have to be eccentric or edgy, but for these bigger budget independent films, there is something to be said for having what could be called an independent spirit. This is the same spirit that drives aspiring filmmakers to make their first film and it is the spirit to dare to be different.
This sort of spirit does creep into Hollywood itself every once in a while, especially if you’re a director like Steven Spielberg, who has the clout and reputation to make whatever he wants.
Corliss even noted that you could make a case that Spielberg’s Best Picture nominee "Munich" is indie since “what Hollywood filmmaker is more his own man than Steven Spielberg?”
Does all this mean that American cinema isn’t as barren as some would lead you to believe? Yes and no. Good films are being made and even Hollywood is slowly learning. Warner Brothers had the insight to hire indie filmmaker Christopher Nolan to add substance and credibility to "Batman Begins."
Still as long as there’s a buck to be made in brainless entertainment, Hollywood will keep churning it out because indie doesn’t bring in the big money. What it does bring in is awards. Hey, at least it’s a step in the right direction.