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The famous Sundance Film Festival is the one event during the year that independent filmmakers have to strut their stuff and show the masses that you don’t need to be in league with Universal Studios to produce something that is universally effective.
The main features that used to separate independent film and mainstream film were the names of the producers and the actors. A film was considered indie by definition when it was not funded by a major corporate film company. A limited project may produce limited means for hiring big-screen actors and high-quality effects, thus the films were self-reliant on the message and talent the director had managed to budget within the production. However, with names like Ashton Kutcher, Amanda Seyfried and Daniel Radcliffe all gracing the credits of some of the top films at Sundance, this doesn’t seem to be the case anymore.
Many independent production companies have seemed to be able to score high-paying sponsors, and though the name on the check may not be one of the Hollywood’s top studio contenders, it’s obvious you don’t lure Matthew McConaughey to star in your movie from sheer love of the script.
The definition of indie seems to have changed over the years since it went from simply an economic label to a branding demographic. The rise of the hipsters and their market have put more actual corporate interest into a culture that is founded on consciously shunning all things marketable, and now I believe the only thing left that separates the independent film from the mainstream is the actual message.
The benefit of being completely unaffiliated with a major film studio is that the content is yours to control within the film. Your backers, if you have any, are not focused on remaking classics, serializing sequels or immortalizing pop-culture literature on the big the screen. They are focused on selling the one-time story they have dared to portray, such as the political issue within a documentary or the social issue within an interpretive arts piece.
If box-office numbers aren’t your game, you also don’t need to worry about the amount of people you might offend or have to appease to see success with the majority of your film. Major corporations backing films with overly controversial material sometimes wind up with a lot of angry viewers banging on their doorstep, asking who to wave their picket signs at. With independent films, normally, the more controversial, the better, since controversy attracts crowds and publicity the project might not receive otherwise. Yet this has also changed, since today’s era of censorship seems to involve censoring even the illusion of censorship on all levels.
People consume controversy in mainstream because it feeds their appetites for something they think sets them apart as more open-minded individuals. This may also be the reason there is an indie boom in the entertainment industry. People assume supporting independent artists in music or films puts them above the propaganda-pushing agendas of major corporations, but, in actuality, it’s only attracting the supporters of artists from behind the scenes, since corporate sponsors have learned the angles to work.
I’m not against financial support for film projects, since we all know it takes money to create anything in this world. Still, the independent film, by its nature, symbolizes an expression of intellectual thought that IMAX effects may simply not always be able to give. The A-list turns that they’re taking now in independent film seem to overshadow that.