If you plan to watch the Oscars, you need to watch the Independent Film Spirit Awards!

Why? Well, it’s quite simple- Hollywood wouldn’t be where it is today without fearing the underdog- ie Independent Films. In order to truly appreciate the films this weekend at the Independent Film Spirit Awards (5pm EST on IFC) you need to have a basic understanding of what makes a film “Independent” and why the term, and the genre, is so freaking important.

Full disclosure- I am a voting member for the Spirit Awards and an Independent Filmmaker. I think Independent Films are extremely important and the Spirit (hence the name of the award)of these guerrilla filmmakers should be recognized and celebrated.

So here is a super quick history of the American film industry-

Way back in the day, The Motion Picture Patents Company (MPPC) formed a big, fat trust comprising the major American film companies of the time, the leading film distributor, and Eastman Kodak, who was the primary supplier of film stock at the time. The MPPC centralized and standardized film production, distribution, and exhibition, effectively prohibiting all competition.

Non-members of this trust were called “Independents” and banished from the filmmaking realm. Thus the term “Independent Film” was born!

The MPPC was later disbanded, but production companies grew into vertically integrated conglomerates that owned studios, distribution divisions, and theaters, bringing “The Studio System” to life.

To oversimplify the industry today, Hollywood makes three levels of films:

  1. Blockbuster Films- produced by the major studios like 20th Century Fox, Columbia Pictures, Paramount Pictures, etc — with budgets in the hundreds of millions.
  2. Independent content produced by subsidiary and smaller studios- rarely for more than $20 million. (This is the eligibility cutoff for The Independent Spirit Awards BTW!)
  3. Independent content produced by small studios and freelance producers, rarely for more than $10 million. (Despite the small budget, these films are often purchased at festivals and distributed elsewhere!)

Now, “what makes these Independent Films so important?” you ask. In short, Independent films take risks. Risks that studio produced films rarely take because Independent films don’t owe anything to anyone other than the audience watching. Even more important are films that, by their nature, disrupt and redefine the genre of film, like The Blair Witch Project, Memento, and Clerks, to name a few. Without the filmmakers who are constantly pushing the boundaries of medium, spurring the competition and creating some of the most unique and inspiring films the world has seen, Hollywood would have fizzled out years ago.

Here is a quick run down of the films that are nominated for the Independent Film Spirit Awards tomorrow:

Best Feature:

American Honey

Chronic

Jackie

Manchester by the Sea

Moonlight

Best Director:

Andrea Arnold- American Honey

Barry Jenkins- Moonlight

Pablo Larraín- Jackie

Jeff Nichols- Loving

Kelly Reichardt- Certain Women

Well, that’s pretty much everything I could cram into this short read. When you watch the awards tomorrow (did I mention that they are on IFC at 5pm EST?) to help celebrate the underdogs, the outcasts, and the pirates of the film industry- I hope you will recognize Spirit of these filmmakers, who often make films with little money and big hearts. So cheers to the industry pioneers who are creating some of the best content the studio system has seen in its history.

Mandy is a filmmaker and Producer. Say HI anytime @MandyFreeze

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