The New Golden Age Of Independent Film
In an age where superhero and action blockbusters are always around the corner, a massive simultaneous tonal shift is happening in the world of filmmaking. Independent films are breaking through the usually insular barrier of the festival circuits and into casual filmgoer’s word of mouth. For a few years now, studios like A24 and Blumhouse have come out swinging with small budgets and limitless ingenuity. Independent films in the early years of the 21st century, of course, had their standout moments. In the years before Rotten Tomatoes was a household name, foreign films like Let The Right One In and Oldboy managed to make enough impact on audiences to get their own western remakes so the success of independent films is nothing new. What is new is the prevalence of highly successful and critically acclaimed independent films in just the last decade.
A24 Studios, a New York based film studio founded in 2012, have made huge waves at the Academy Awards with a Best Picture win for Moonlight and a Best Actress win for Brie Larson for Room. While these accolades are impressive enough for A24, an indie startup, I’m more impressed by it’s lengthy catalogue of cult successes. In the short time since it’s founding, A24 has released incredibly powerful titles like Green Room, The Witch, The Lobster, 20th Century Women, Swiss Army Man, Morris From America, and the groundbreaking documentaries De Palma and Amy. The foresight and rapid successes of studios like A24 are not only unheard of but a relatively new phenomenon that we should all begin paying attention to, including industry bigwigs.
Founded in 2001, American film producer Jason Blum’s Blumhouse Studios, have also made their own waves in the industry. Using a similar methodology of A24, Blumhouse also takes big chances on small projects for vast monetary and critical gains. Blumhouse is responsible, most notably, for projects like Paranormal Activity, Insidious, and The Purge franchises but where it truly shines is when it takes chances on smaller scale projects. Blumhouse, and it’s verifiable masterpieces Whiplash and Get Out, not only won Oscar glory but placed the studio on par with fellow independent film maestros. Get Out, directed by comedian Jordan Peele, won over a vast array of fans and broke just about every record for a black directed horror film that existed. A mixture of a dark comedy and an unapologetic (and horrific) take on race politics in America, Get Out only cost the studio 5 million bucks to make, but through word of mouth, it ended up taking home over 250 million dollars at the international box office. Projects like Get Out not only prove that Hollywood’s timeless tactic of “spend money to make money” is broken but it also proves that it’s antiquated. As filmmakers become younger and more diverse, Hollywood needs to begin taking chances on them because when films that stress diversity take in over 100% in profit, there are no more excuses.
Independent films that highlight racial struggle like Get Out and Moonlight and feminist projects like The Witch and It Follows, with strong female protagonists, are needed now more than ever. Also, Moonlight along with films like Tangerine, portray to mainstream audiences the harsh reality of being LGBT and POC in America. The beautiful thing about independent film isn’t just the tenacity and bravery of taking a chance on small projects, it’s an opportunity for the rulebreakers to get behind the camera and tell their own stories. Independent film is a chance for punk rock storytellers to shine a giant spotlight to the underbelly of America, of the world. For 100 years, white men have controlled the narrative of, well, narrative in America and I think the only way forward for egalitarian filmmaking is to give the little guys (and girls) an opportunity to tell their story and show us their struggle. It’s so important to look up at a giant screen and see yourself looking back, to see yourself as the hero or even a glimpse at your own experiences and as long as Hollywood is ivory tower (emphasis on ivory) that will never happen for a lot of folks.
I love independent filmmaking for a lot of reasons and the fact that we are living through one of the most turbulent times in American history, film becomes an escape for many folks. Having such a massive resurgence of small budget and meaningful cinema at our fingertips in just the last decade might be the medicine we all need right now. The next time you hear someone complaining about Hollywood not having any original ideas or someone griping about the next big remake, send them over to A24’s library and allow them to experience what us cinephiles have known all along, that the truth is out there.