THE “INDEPENDENT” SPIRIT AWARDS

Did you know that the word “independent” as used by the media, Hollywood, and most filmmakers has actually nothing to do with the true definition of the word?  Did you know that the term “independent” is actually used by those people as a description for a new genre?

If there were any doubt in your mind, you can now rest easy.  Here’s proof.

Your “independent” film is eligible for consideration at the “Independent” Spirit Awards if your film cost less than $20 million.  That’s right.  TWENTY Million Dollars.  (I laughed out loud when I read that.  Literally.  Beyond LOL.)

If Film Independent had any real interest in celebrating the art of true independent filmmaking, they would limit the budget ceiling at $250,000 including post work.  A film made for anything greater than that amount should never be considered.  On that note, they should have a special prize for films made for less than $50,000.  (Currently the ‘no budget’ film category considers any film made for less than $500,000.)

Film Independent does not define “independent” solely on financial terms.  I bet you didn’t know that Film Independent considers a big-budget studio-made film an indie “if the subject matter is original and provocative.”

That means the word Independent is just like Comedy, Drama, or Thriller.  It’s now a genre.

[In terms of financing, Film Independent looks for “economy of means” and “percentage of financing from independent sources.”]

Uh huh.  I bet.

[The film needs to be American, which means it has a U.S. citizen or permanent resident in at least two of the following categories: director, writer or producer.  For example, Saudi Arabia’s Oscar entry “Wadjda,” with a Spirit nomination for best first feature, is an American co-production, while the directors of Danish-British-Norwegian docu “The Act of Killing” are U.S. citizens.  Alternately, a film can be considered American if it is set primarily in the U.S. and at least 70% financed by U.S.-based companies.  Everything else is considered international.]

That seems okay to me.  Although, I’d open it up to the International market to be fair.

[To be eligible for the Film Independent “Independent” Spirit Awards, a film needs a commercial run in the calendar year or to have screened in one of these six designated festivals: Los Angeles Film Fest, New Directors/New Films, New York Fest, Sundance, Telluride or Toronto.]

[Nominations for the Spirit Awards are made by committees for three areas: American narrative films, international narratives and documentaries.  The committees include filmmakers (directors, producers, actors, etc.), film programmers and critics, past nominees and members of the board of directors.  The final awards are voted on by the entire Film Independent membership.  In 2013, there were 43 committee members looking at 325 entries.]

So there you have it.  The word “independent” as it relates to movies has been totally redefined.  It no longer means what it says in the dictionary.

The Sundance Disease

My dislike for Sundance has nothing to do with the original message of Sundance.  I genuinely think Robert (Redford) had a great idea.  The original concept is beautiful and very valuable, celebrating filmmakers of all sorts.  But in recent years it’s distorted beyond recognition.  Sundance is now a gargantuan disease infecting the world and it’s time to confront it.  We can no longer be in denial.

The first cases were diagnosed in Los Angeles, leading the CDC to theorize that neither Robert (Redford) nor Park City, Utah, was the source of The Disease.  I interviewed a Studio Executive suffering from The Disease.  Said individual stated, “You are nothing unless your film is shown at Sundance.  If you aren’t at Sundance, you must not be a real filmmaker.”  All other research indicates that most films “accepted” into Sundance have, in one way or another, been financed, produced, or planned by a company in The Industry.

What happens to the real independent film?  What happens if one doesn’t surrender?  The same thing that happens to people in our culture that don’t fit the mold!  They are exiled!  They are called freaks!  Which reminds me of the scene in FREAKS: “One of US! One of US!”

Have you been in contact with The Sundance Disease?  How would you know?  Here are signs to look for.  Common symptoms include: Confusion and general disorientation characterized by a preference for freezing temperatures, deep snow and high altitude instead of warm waters, white beaches and the mild climate of Cannes in May; Preoccupation with Sundance participation on the part of the inexperienced public who have no knowledge of important festivals such as Berlin, Toronto or SXSW; Industry Wannabes who insist that missing Sundance dooms a film to second class status.

A secondary infection of The Disease is the marginalization of all the other festivals.  It makes all the other organizations less important: “Oh, you got into Cannes – too bad you weren’t ‘accepted’ into Sundance!”

Slamdance started with good intentions and challenged the bureaucracy of Sundance.  Now, Slamdance has developed symptoms of The Disease.  And, if we aren’t careful, it will spread to Slamdunk and all the other Dances.  Remember what happened to LapDance!?  At this rate of infection, we’ll be looking at TromaDance to predict the 2006 Oscar nominees.  We’ll have forgotten all about the Independent Spirit Awards.

The Disease is as contagious as SARS.  And, like SARS, there is currently no known cure.  But if all independent filmmakers fight together, we can stop it from killing us.

Originally published in Aftertaste Magazine, 2004