What Will the Future Look Like for Indie Filmmakers? Hopefully It Will Have More Guts Than These Answers

Indiewire asked Sundance Next filmmakers what the future of independent film will look like? The result is indie film's post-game answer. Short, punchy enough to make it to air--in this case, be published--with just enough meat to have the taste of an intellectual meal without actually being filling.

It's not the filmmakers' fault. Asking what the future will look like is a broad question, which was going to illicit broad answers. Answers which don't address in intimate detail the nuts and bolts challenges of indie filmmaking.

Elevating my frustration is that it's a conversation that gives a reader no context. Who are these Sundance Next filmmakers? Why are you asking them what the future looks like?When Nathan Zellner brings up the "traditional challenges" of "funding and distribution" it would be nice if someone would help readers know what those traditional challenges are. Going further, challenging the concept of what traditional even means, would be even better.  

In the 40 years since the modern independent film scene formed, arthouses have disappeared, digital projection has arrived, companies like Legendary and Marvel Studios have replaced the old guard, an agency such as William Morris Endeavor is packaging projects, and the digital landscape has widened and contracted what it means to create and consume content. Traditional can be what started last decade, it can be what's emerged in the last two years. There are HUGE questions to be asked and explored.

Malik Vitthal's answer does raise some great points. A rich conversation could be built around just this:

I felt like I got very blessed by going through the Sundance Institute and getting their support, having them challenge me and help me develop. I wish that was available to more independent filmmakers, because it is such valuable opportunity where you get a chance to explore yourself and push yourself. They are there to help you in a very unique way and in any way you need to grow. It would be great if we could provide that to more independent artists. 

Whatever the future of looks like, artists will always need support, guidance and safe places to fail. This is incredibly important if we want to see artists telling risky stories, stories with political and moral heft, stories that may challenge even the most liberal minded of storytellers. 

While it's interesting to talk about the toys and the evolving online world, storytelling is rooted in the sinew of the everyday. That doesn't apply to just the dramatic. The best absurd off the wall WTF comedy comes from pure observation, an understanding of what makes us crazy humans tick, and ballsy execution. Not every filmmaker is given the opportunity to explore that.

For every filmmaker told to chase their heart's desires, another is being told that their path will be compromise without conviction, quantifable data over qaulity content. In that, there's the old, slow to die independent film vs. Hollywood. The storytelling and questions being explored in television should tell us this is a notion we should jettison. Audiences want complexity, they want unbridled absurdity, we can give it to them.

If Indiewire extended this conversation to make it a multi-part series, and deepened it by actually going to each of the filmmakers and speaking to them individually, it would be invaluable. 

This is how Sundance's Next category is described:

NEXT films stretch limited resources to create impactful art. < = > (less than equals greater than) is our speak for creativity that transcends limitations. Although these films share a Festival category, there is nothing categorical about them. By nature they embody the spirit of independent filmmaking.

Now that you've read this, consider the perspective Life After Beth writer, director Jeff Baena could have brought to the question since his film opens the same weekend this article was posted. In fact, as I was reading the piece, there was a banner advertising Life After Beth's opening right there.

How could you not get an amazing piece from the co-writer of I Heart Huckabees, who wrote and directed a genre comedy, featuring rising star Aubrey Plaza? Go back to Next's description. Is a zombie comedy what you imagined when you think of a film that "stretch[es] limited resources to create impactful art?" In my mind, that's exciting. Independent film continues to expand, we're not beholden to tired definitions of what is and isn't an indie film, let's pull that apart.

We're at a fascinating point in filmmaking and storytelling. We should be dissecting where we are at with specificity and passion. We shouldn't be content with soundbite pieces and answers that don't push us to ask more questions.