Welcome to the new biweekly edition of Indie Insights, a Movies.com column in which we take a wide-angled view of what’s happening in the independent film community.
Issue #1: Getting People to See Movies
The last two weeks have been hopping! The announcement of the program for the 2012 Sundance Film Festival has been uppermost in mind, for all the reasons we mentioned in Fest Focus
, our most recent monthly column on the world of film festivals. Sundance is considered the key discovery fest in the United States, and we’ll continue to break the program down right up until opening night on January 19, 2012.
The anticipation for what’s to come in the new year is nearly matched by the ongoing celebration of what’s come before, in the form of multiple awards shows for the best films of 2011. Of course, the biggest impact upon mainstream consciousness will still be the Academy Awards; nominations will be announced on January 24, 2012, right in the middle of Sundance, and you can be sure that the independent film community will be paying just as much attention as the major Hollywood studios.
Until then, critics groups and awards shows are jockeying for position, vying for the attention of the relatively small number of people who pay attention to such things. Is there any greater purpose involved? Glenn Kenny writes at length
about the idea of film criticism “as activism and/or service journalism.” Kenny, himself a longtime film critic, discusses the idea in the context of Edward Yang’s A Brighter Summer Day
and Kenneth Lonergan’s Margaret
A Brighter Summer Day
, a Taiwanese film (pictured above) made in 1991, is receiving a one-week run in New York City, while Margaret came to theaters briefly earlier this fall. In the case of the latter, impassioned critics and fans of the film have mounted a campaign (Twitter hashtag: #teammargaret) to encourage distributor Fox Searchlight to make it available for critics to consider for year-end awards. The ultimate goal, however, is not simply for the film to receive awards, but for it to become more widely available so that more people can see it.
It’s a laudable goal. Speaking as someone who lives in Dallas, a major city without a reputation for supporting art house films, it can be very frustrating to hear (or write) about independent and/or foreign-language films that don’t gain theatrical or home video distribution deals and thus end up languishing in a “no man’s land,” where it remains out of view.
The bigger problem, I suspect, is that our appetites have grown larger over the past 20 years or so. Mainstream releases from Hollywood are rarely targeted at audiences seeking meaningful material anymore, leaving more demanding viewers hungry for a satisfying cinematic experience. Largely because of the Internet, we’re more aware than ever about strange little movies from around the world. Dedicated movie sites report from distant festivals, and we want to see what they’re talking about.
There will always be movies that slip through the cracks; it will always be challenging to see all of the movies that we want to see. Still, film critics who rise up and endeavor to rally the troops, as it were, with the goal of raising awareness of worthy films that may have been overlooked, are fighting the good fight, even if it’s not necessarily reflected in the bottom line.
And where, exactly, can such movies be seen?
Issue #2: Expanding Where People Can See Indies
If you live in a major city, there's at least a possibility
for you to see a variety of independent films. Otherwise, home video has traditionally been the best way to catch up. In recent years, however, more and more online sites have been making movies available to rent, buy, or even occasionally watch for free. One of the leading companies in this field is FilmBuff, which works with filmmakers to make their labors of love available as widely as possible through platforms such as Netflix, Hulu, Amazon VOD, and Vudu.
Over the past three years, FilmBuff has released more than 300 films onto such digital platforms, and now they're expanding beyond the U.S., Canada, and the UK, where they already have deals in place. The company announced today that they are partnering with companies in China (You On Demand), India (Nyoo TV), Australia (BigPond and FetchTV), and Sweden (Voddler), as well as adding another platform in Canada (Rogers On Demand Online), where they're already working with iTunes Canada and YouTube Canada.
The new deals mean that FilmBuff titles can now be rented or streamed on four different continents. Beyond the "coolness" factor, it expands the possibilities for filmmakers to get their work shown globally. And it opens more possibilities for viewers around the world to see movies they want to see.
What's been happening at the indie box office?
(pictured above) has broken out very nicely over the past two weeks, earning $35,201 per screen in very limited release, per Box Office Mojo
. The nostalgic, silent, black-and-white film is considered a frontrunner for the Academy Awards, thanks in part to the efforts of distributor The Weinstein Co., as well as recent awards from critics groups.
Also in its second week of release, but doing slightly less well, is David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method
, which took in $29,894 per screen at four locations. Despite awards-caliber performances from Michael Fassbender and Viggo Mortensen, the film skews to a very adult crowd, not so much because of content (an abundance of frank and sexual talk) as its approach (analytical to the extreme). Ultimately, it’s a fascinating film for the right audience.
My Week with Marilyn
, another film in its second week of release, is playing in 244 theaters; last weekend it averaged $4,834 per screen for a cumulative total of $3.86 million so far, a healthy return. It’s also being distributed by The Weinstein Co., which has mounted a campaign for Michelle Williams to be considered for Best Actress.
In its first weekend, Steve McQueen’s Shame
averaged $34,592 per engagement on 10 screens. Its NC-17 rating should not affect it too much in big cities, which is where it would play best even if it had been cut down to snare an R rating. The sexual content should gain a younger crowd overall, but as dark drama without overt thrills, it’s still a tough sell.
Perhaps it’s no surprise that Alexander Payne’s The Descendants
, which stars George Clooney, is motoring along nicely. Now in its third week of release, the film averaged $8,344 on 574 screens; its cumulative total is $17.67 million. Its domestic themes should hold it in good stead over the holiday season.
December is a great month for indie films in theaters; here are four key titles opening in the next two weeks.
. (Opens New York and Los Angeles Dec. 9; nationwide Dec. 14.)
A writer with “issues” (Charlize Theron) returns to her small home town in Minnesota to steal back her high school flame (Patrick Wilson), who is now happily married with a pregnant wife. Director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody reteam for the first time since Juno
, and it’s a winner. Patton Oswalt gives a great supporting performance as a former high school classmate. Of the four films listed here, this is the one that could break out big -- or land with a resounding thud.
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
. (Opens New York and Los Angeles Dec. 9.)
Don’t expect a spy thriller. Gary Oldman stars in a cold war character study that is highly-textured and slow to unravel. Atmosphere and mood are major components in the new film from director Tomas Alfredson (Let the Right One In
). The excellent cast includes Tom Hardy, Colin Firth, and Mark Strong.
We Need to Talk About Kevin
. (Opens New York and Los Angeles Dec. 9.)
A brutal picture for parents to watch, Lynne Ramsay’s drama explores the relationship between an increasingly distraught mother (Tilda Swinton) and her increasingly evil son (played by three young actors, including Ezra Miller). With John C. Reilly as a befuddled husband and father.
. (Opens New York and Los Angeles Dec. 16.)
Roman Polanski directs (magnificently) the big-screen version of a Broadway smash about two couples who try to resolve a dispute between their children and end up in a verbal battle for the ages. Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly play one couple, and Kate Winslet and Christolph Waltz are the other. This is a very witty, occasionally profane, and extremely thought-provoking excursion into rarely-seen territory.
Indie Insights will return on Wednesday, December 21, with our year-end issue!