Independent Cinema: Important or Not?

By Rebecca Calf

Debates on what defines independent film have been raging for years as the latter’s popularity has risen. Two key features have still remained steadfast characteristics of independent cinema: aesthetic form and the mode of production.  Independent films are produced on a low budget and usually have a distinct style through which the director reveals his or her artistic vision.

The birth of independent film can be traced back to France with the development of New Wave film, a reaction to the encroaching dominance of American cinema in Europe. Its members focused upon the nature of cinema as an artistic practice. This movement had a profound impact on the Western world and affected cinema from the 1960s onwards. The mode of production now used in contemporary independent film-making vastly differs from previous methods due to the growth of modern technology: in particular the development of affordable digital cinematography cameras and computer editing software. Francis Ford Coppola said that cinema is “escaping being controlled by the financier, and that’s a wonderful thing. You don’t have to go hat-in-hand to some film distributor and say, ‘Please will you let me make a movie?”. Power is now slipping from the fingers of the major film studios and falling into the hands of the independent directors.

The growing interest in film festivals such as the internationally acclaimed Sundance Film Festival has resulted in a wider audience for the previously niche market that independent film was aimed for. A fantastic example of the success of independent film is ‘Waltz with Bashir’, written and directed by Ari Folman. It is a poignant and personal war documentary which depicts Folman, an Israeli veteran of the 1982 Lebanon war, trying to uncover his lost memories.  The subject matter of the film combined with the medium of animation, styled upon graphic novels, lays bare the harrowing futility of war, creating an innovative documentary. After its premiere at the 2008 Cannes film festival, the film shot to fame winning multiple awards including a Golden Globe. Films such as ‘Waltz with Bashir’ which handle significant subject matter pull independent cinema into the limelight as a method of artistic expression. The transformative power of independent cinema results in a creative energy between cinema and its cultural environment as it interacts with social change. It plays a key role in the growing view on cinema as integral in culture.

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