Indie Insights: Older People and Indie Films; Meryl Streep’s ‘Iron Lady’ Popularity; a Turkish Western and a Musical/Horror Hybrid

Indie Insights: Older People and Indie Films; Meryl Streep’s ‘Iron Lady’ Popularity; a Turkish Western and a Musical/Horror Hybrid

Jan 04, 2012

Welcome to 2012’s first edition of Indie Insights, a column in which we take a wide-angled view of what’s happening in the independent film community.

Issue #1: Do Older People Watch Independent Films?

Salmon Fishing in Yemen
To paraphrase Field of Dreams: 'If you build it, they will come.' With a population in its host city of less than 50,000, the Palm Springs International Film Festival enjoyed admissions of more than 135,000 last year. No doubt, many of those were repeat visits from passholders, but the festival attracts many, many local residents along with visitors from all across the United States, especially from the West Coast, all drawn by the temperate weather and the diverse selection of international fare. 
In my single visit to the festival several years ago, I was impressed by the willingness of folks to line up for movies they'd scarcely heard of, based on comments such as "I think this is the French one that's supposed to be so good," "I liked the last movie the director made," and "I don't know if it's any good, but it's about the Korean War from the Korean point of view, so I want to see it." More than 30% of the local population is aged 62 or older, but their minds were still open to new experiences. 
And that's been my experience at the Angelika Film Center in Dallas, Texas, as well. The complex, which is almost entirely devoted to independent films from the US and abroad, is located near a large university (SMU) and draws big crowds on weekends, with many college-aged people in attendance. But the daytime screenings are largely the province of older folks, many of whom are regular attendees. It's an audience that is not satisfied by mainstream studio films, which are targeted at a much younger demographic. Oh, occasionally the studios will throw a cross-generational bone to the older audience -- The Help is one that jumps out of memory -- but, for the most part, older moviegoers seldom bother with the big, noisy blockbusters that consume so many theater screens. 
All this to say that older audiences are more likely to watch well-made indies, if they're made aware of their existence. For all the commendable efforts to reach younger audiences through social media, the older audience is often left to fend for themselves. But if they know where to go -- be it Netflix, the local arthouse, or a major international festival -- they will watch indies. 
The 2012 Palm Springs International Film Festival opens tomorrow with Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, starring Ewan McGregory and Emily Blunt (pictured above), and runs through January 16. 

Recently Opened

What's been happening at the indie box office?

Three notable films opened in limited release last weekend. The Iron Lady, starring Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher, got off to an outstanding start, averaging $71,452 per screen at the four locations where it opened. Streep’s star power will undoubtedly help the film as it expands, as will her expected Academy Award nomination as Best Actress -- she’s already snared a Golden Globe nomination -- but the film itself is a dispiriting jumble, a race through Thatcher’s life that picks out moments that do little to illuminate the life of the controversial politician. Telling it from the point of view of the elderly Thatcher in decline, beset with Alzheimer’s Disease, may sway some hearts, though.

Iranian drama A Separation enjoyed more modest, yet still encouraging, returns, with an average of $26,839 at three locations. It’s an extraordinary film, exploring the after-effects of a married couple’s decision to separate; the wife wants to emigrate from Iran to the U.S., while her husband insists on remaining to supervise in-home care for his elderly, who has Alzheimer’s Disease. The consequences for their decision are far-reaching and devastating. Critical notices have been extremely positive, and word of mouth should be strong. A Separation is expected to land an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film, and already has one from a Golden Globe nomination. The Globes will be presented on January 15, and if the film wins, that will help it as well.

American indie Pariah, written and directed by Dee Rees, debuted at Sundance one year ago and drew attention for the fine lead performance by newcomer Adepero Oduye. The story revolves around the coming-of-age of a high school girl who just happens to be black and lesbian. The film did pretty good business, averaging $16,337 at four locations, but will need to rely on good word-of-mouth to continue; it should, because it’s a very good movie.

Coming Soon

The first two weeks of January are, frankly, rather slow, but these titles pop out.

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia. (Pictured above; opens in New York today.)
Critically-acclaimed since it debuted at Cannes last year, the new film by Nuri Bilge Ceylan (Three Monkeys), set in Turkey, “takes the unassuming form of a police investigation,” says Manoahla Dargis in The New York Times. “As miles and words mount, [it] evolves into a plangent, visually stunning meditation on what it is to be human.”

Norwegian Wood. (Opens in New York Jan. 6.)
Based on Haruki Murakami’s 1987 novel, the film version by Tran Anh Hung follows the relationship of three young people living in Tokyo during the late 60s, and how the dynamic between two of them changes when the third commits suicide. Rinko Kikuchi, Academy Award-nominee for Babel, leads the cast.

Beneath the Darkness. (Opens in New York, Los Angeles, Dallas, Ft. Worth, Austin, San Diego, Palm Desert Jan. 6.)
A thriller, in which Dennis Quaid plays a highly-respected mortician in a small town in Texas. When four teens break into his home to investigate a strange sighting, one of them doesn’t make it out alive, and it’s up to the others to convince the authorities that it wasn’t an accident. With Aimee Teegarden (Friday Night Lights). Directed by Martin Guigui (Swing).

Don’t Go in the Woods. (Opens in New York Jan. 13, Los Angeles Feb. 10.)
While the premise is old -- teens go into the woods, where a slasher awaits -- actor turned first-time director Vincent D’Onofrio has tried to make something different, described as a “twisted musical/horror hybrid.” The film has been available from distributor Tribeca Film via various Video On Demand platforms, and now gets a limited theatrical release.

Indie Insights will return on Wednesday, January 18 -- the day before Sundance starts!

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