My friend Brady Hall is a filmmaker in the Pacific
Northwest. He has three low budget features under his belt so far – I’m
not wild about his first two Troma-esque films Polterchrist and Jerkbeast, but his latest, June & July,
is a really great little film. It’s about a brother and sister living
in a nowhere small town. Oh, and the sister happens to have super
Brady sent me a rough cut of his film and I loved it.
It’s quirky, it’s unique, and it’s appealingly raw. Some of the acting
is rough, and there’s a scene or two where I thought Brady reverted to
his Polterchrist instincts, but in general I thought June & July was a great little indie film.
He sent the movie to Sundance and was rejected. When I saw the films that were playing at Sundance this year, I knew why – June & July doesn’t have any stars in it.
upon a time, Sundance was the center of the indie film world. It was
the festival where ambitious filmmakers from all over the country came
to get noticed and start their careers. Now it’s a major jerk off in
the snow, with every other movie filled with actors taking a pay cut
for the cred. Just today Little Miss Sunshine,
an “indie” film starring Greg Kinnear and Steve Carrell, sold for 10
million dollars at the festival. If you’re in Park City this week you
can catch films starring Jennifer Aniston, Sharon Stone, Ed Norton,
Jessica Biel, and Robin fucking Williams.
On one level, who
cares? The indie filmmaker now has more opportunities to get his
product out there in unique ways. Brady released Jerkbeast
on DVD through Film Threat (a truly great resource for indie
filmmakers). There are all sorts of indie film websites and DVD
pressing companies starting up. The small filmmaker doesn’t just have
the means to create films now – he has the means to distribute them.
a problem with that. As someone who sees a tremendous number of movies
a year, and who is contacted by a tremendous number of indie
filmmakers, it’s impossible to wade through all the product. There are
simply too many films out there, and festivals have been a great way of
finding the gold amidst all that mud. Sure, if Kevin Smith was starting
today he could release Clerks
on iFilm or burn his own DVDs and sell them online, but who would
really see it? People are too busy with lame Chuck Norris memes and
moderately funny SNL song sketches to pay attention to a full length film. It was Sundance that got the tiny, starless film from New Jersey noticed.
festival programmers should be heroes to film lovers. They sit in a
room and watch every single submission, going to bat for the ones that
really resonate. These scouts are the ones who find the next geniuses
out there, who blaze the path for the rest of us who can’t watch
hundreds of no-budget films. And hey, in fairness, Sundance still
sometimes gets it right – a couple of years ago they found Shane
one of the best science fiction films of my lifetime, and brought a
deep, complicated 7000 dollar film to the attention of filmgoers. And
this year has some admirable-seeming documentaries (which are the new
fad anyway, but I can’t complain about that). But how often can they do
that when the festival schedule is clogged with the likes of the new
film from Ivan Reitman’s son?
I understand why a festival
needs big films. I understand what stars bring to a festival. What I
find hilariously awful is that the Sundance of today is a 180 degree
turn from where it started out – and both versions of the festival are
terrible extremes that don’t really serve film fans. Back when Robert
Redford hatched this festival, it was overly earnest, and by all
accounts (I certainly wasn’t paying attention back then, so I have to
figure this out through the magic of research) filled with down home
type films and grassy Americana. Over time the festival grew, and for a
short while seemed balanced perfectly on the edge of indie and big
time, but that balance has long since been lost.
The good news is that there are still hundreds of other film festivals out there. Brady’s submitting June & July
to a couple of them, and I think he’ll do well. But there is no other
American film festival with the visibility level of Sundance. Just last
year I would have told you that Sundance was just a symptom of the
death of American independent film, personified in the way all the
major studios have fake indie, or “classics” divisions. But I’ve come
to realize that American independent cinema is out there. People still
have idiosyncratic visions and the need to express them on film. It’s
just that they don’t have the mass media outlets to get them in your
face that existed ten years ago. Who knows – maybe Sundance is getting
too bloated and co-opted by Hollywood and there’s a new little film
festival just waiting to bring us the next Soderbergh.
And hey, check out the June & July website right here.