Sunday, 18 January 2009

Hollywood Babble On & On #215: Sundancing Out The Door

The Sundance Independent Film Festival opened this week.

Yeah, it surprised me too that it's still running, but it is, despite threats of Prop 8 inspired boycotts, and confusion over whether or not a SAG strike will affect the buying and selling of films. Robert Redford gave his usual opening address, praising films that will mostly disappear the day after the festival closes, to the usual suspects of movie media people who are only there in the vain hope someone worthy of an
Access Hollywood spot might show up.

It wasn't always like this, there was a time in the 1990s when Sundance was the place to get your movies seen and sold. Filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino "graduated" from Sundance to commercial success, critical appeal, and even Oscar nominations.

Now, in its 25 year, it struggles to be relevant, and the films it promotes seem to be forgotten about five minutes after their first festival screening.

What happened? What made the dream die?

Well 3 things....

1. THE INDUSTRY HAS CHANGED: The indie distributors that filled multiplexes in the 1990s are pretty much all gone now. Either they folded, or were absorbed into one of the big media conglomerates, never to be seen again. Currently major players like ThinkFilm is now SinkFilm awash in lawsuits, union troubles, and money woes, and a couple of years ago the Weinstein Company decided to get out of the business of releasing indie films, and went into the business of buying indie films and not releasing them. And that's another problem indie films face. Films that get a lot of praise at Sundance do get bought, but usually by companies more interested in bragging rights of having the big Sundance film, than any interest in actually releasing the film in any decent way. Which usually sends these poor indies into the discount bin of irrelevance.

2. CELEBRITIES HAVE CHANGED: Now it used to be that an indie film landing a star of any weight was a boon to that film. But that was back when stars could actually help a film get sold. Things have changed, the gloss is off the apple, and there's a big fat worm in it, and that worm's name is ego. Nowadays we see a lot of independent films being made not because they have a story that must be told, but because someone with a scintilla of celebrity wants the street-cred of being in an "indie film." So you get a lot of films that aren't really meant to be enjoyed, or even seen by the general public, but are meant to be seen by Hollywood insiders so they can be properly impressed by the "integrity" of that actor.

3. INDIE FILM HAS CHANGED: Sundance became a genre onto itself. Sort of like the Oscars, where a certain, and by that I mean heavy, amount of faux-sincerity, as if looking to entertain a mass audience somehow deems them unworthy of Sundance attention. There was a time when independent film sought to give the audience what the studios weren't delivering, but not anymore. Mr. & Mrs. Average American looking for mature and intelligent entertainment are not the target audience, because they don't dish out awards, or big Hollywood contracts.

And let's not forget the year Paris Hilton started going to Sundance. That gal's like a black hole, where any class or taste just vanishes into the unknown, never to be seen again.

1 comment:

  1. As a resident of Utah, I have always been star-struck by the yearly Sundance film festival and have always had a dream of being part of an independent film- I have even read a lot of related books, including one of the most informative book I have ever read, concerning copyright and clearance laws, "Clearance and Copyright, " written by Michael C. Donaldson. It makes me incredibly sad to think that these awesome films are not as successful as they used to be.