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Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar Voynar@moviecitynews.com

Indie Film from Coast to Coast

I’ve been experimenting more lately with using Facebook as a place to engage in conversations about film … sometimes as the sole site for discussion, but often as a starting point that leads me somewhere else, such as now …

In a conversation about my Top Ten list, one of my friends commented that it can be hard to find indie films in theaters. And I certainly can’t argue with this. It’s easier to see an indie in an actual theater if you live in NYC, LA, Seattle, San Fran, Chicago, certainly. Or if you’re independently wealthy and can travel around to film festivals just because you love watching movies.

Oklahoma City, for example, is probably not the first place that comes to mind when you think “hotbed of indie film.” But the OKC Museum of Art has been showcasing indie films for years now in a great space, under the direction of curator Brian Hearn. He’s been a force of nature for bringing indie films to my hometown for a long time now. While people like me abandoned Oklahoma City in search of greener, hipper, or more liberal pastures, Brian and a good many other smart, artsy people have held down the fort there, bringing culture to the people.

In part because of Brian, Oklahoma City has a thriving film festival, deadCENTER, which I hope to see keep growing and growing and growing. I missed it last year because it overlaps with SIFF, and since Seattle’s my hometown now and SIFF is the bigger fest, it demands my attention and my coverage. But it’s also important to draw attention to smaller fests doing the hard work of making indie film accessible to the masses who don’t live on either coasts, so I do hope to get out to OKC to cover deadCENTER again sometime.

The folks at the Dallas International Film Festival bring quality film to the Big D year after year, and they’ve done their job there so effectively that when their partnership with AFI ended, they took up the banner without AFI’s name and have worked their tails off to make their fest bigger and better than ever on their own steam. James Faust and Sarah Harris at DIFF are two of the smartest, most passionate people I know when it comes to film, and they work hard to bring Dallas awesome films every year for their fest.

One of the things I most love about DIFF is how people in Dallas see their fest as a real event. They get dressed up to go to screenings (here in Seattle, we tend to view “dressing up” as meaning “putting on my jeans/leggings/tights without holes, and breaking out that prized vintage shirt from Value Village,” so I’m easily impressed by people actually wearing high heels and ties and jewelry anywhere, much less a movie screening, but still. It’s pretty cool. Plus, you can drink alcohol in the theaters in Dallas, which is the best idea ever. I bet a lot of experimental films at Sundance would benefit from the audience being about to bring their Stella or Cosmo into the theater.

In Oxford, Mississippi, my friends at the Oxford Film Fest have been very smart in turning a “little fest that could” into a cinematic event and growing steadily every year while still retaining that Southern charm and hometown feel. Michelle Emmanuel, Molly Fergusson, Micah Ginn and Melanie Addington do a phenomenal job running that fest… now if only they could find the funding and the venue to do bring cinema to Oxford year-round, like SIFF does here in Seattle …

In Champaign-Urbana, Roger Ebert has been bringing the best of the best “overlooked” films to his hometown for years with the annual Ebertfest … a prestigious event for a filmmaker to be invited to, and always a great opportunity for everyone there to relax and enjoy being at the movies with Roger, Chaz and the legion of passionate film fans who’ve been turned onto many great films at Ebertfest and come back year after year. And that fest happens in large part thanks to Nate Kohn and Mary Susan Britt, who pull it all together year after year.

From coast to coast, smaller film fests bring indie films to places that aren’t NYC or LA. Hamptons. Sidewalk in Birmingham. Memphis. Sarasota. Santa Barbara. Palm Springs. Denver. Outfest in LA. True/False. And, of course, Seattle. And many other fests I know I’m overlooking.

Change like indie films coming to places that aren’t big cities happens because one or two or several people who live there and are passionate about film MAKE it happen. They start a festival. They open an arthouse cinema/coffehouse. They get a job at a museum and create a film venue where none existed, and infect the people around them with their enthusiasm.

If you live in a place where there’s not enough access to indie film in theaters, you have a few options. You can move to a city that has better access to indie film. You can become independently wealthy and travel the world going to film fests large and small. You can start a film festival in your town, or figure out how to raise the funds to restore that old, awesome theater that’s been shut down for years and turn it into a showplace for arthouse films.

You can invest in equipment to make a state-of-the-art home theater in your house, program regular mini film fests at your house, and invite people to them (I know a guy who beefed up his resume doing this who is now a programmer for a major fest, so don’t laugh!).

Point being: YOU can change things. Top ten lists from critics and awards from critics groups exist, in part, to spread the word about great films and thereby create more people who love cinema and will support it. So if you love independent film and there’s not enough of it where you live, find your own way of supporting it and be the change.

2 Responses to “Indie Film from Coast to Coast”

  1. Nate says:

    Hey Kim,

    Great piece. I wasn’t sure the world needed any more film festivals, but you are right: they are a great idea for the movie-starved American heartland.

    Have a great holiday.

  2. Sue Tomlinson says:

    Kim, thanks for sharing the “best kept secret” about the jewels which are indie film fests. Here, in OKC, “Dead Center” is a special time for filmmakers and audience to come together in an intimate, yet fun environment, to share the joy of making as well as viewing choice indie films.

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“The worst thing that we have in today’s movie culture is Rotten Tomatoes. It’s the destruction of our business. I have such respect and admiration for film criticism. When I was growing up film criticism was a real art. And there was intellect that went into that. And you would read Pauline’s Kael’s reviews, or some others, and that doesn’t exist anymore. Now it’s about a number. A compounded number of how many positives vs. negatives. Now it’s about, ‘What’s your Rotten Tomatoes score?’ And that’s sad, because the Rotten Tomatoes score was so low on Batman v Superman I think it put a cloud over a movie that was incredibly successful. People don’t realize what goes into making a movie like that. It’s mind-blowing. It’s just insane, it’s hurting the business, it’s getting people to not see a movie. In Middle America it’s, ‘Oh, it’s a low Rotten Tomatoes score so I’m not going to go see it because it must suck.’ But that number is an aggregate and one that nobody can figure out exactly what it means, and it’s not always correct. I’ve seen some great movies with really abysmal Rotten Tomatoes scores. What’s sad is film criticism has disappeared. It’s really sad.”
~ Brett Ratner Has A Sad

“The loss of a local newspaper critic is a real loss. People who know the local audience and know the local cultural scene are very important resources. You can’t just substitute the stuff that comes in from nowhere through syndication or the wire. I think at the same time, some of the newer outlets have really beefed up and improved their coverage and made room for criticism. The real problem is in the more specialized art forms — fine arts, classical music, dance and jazz, say. There is a real slowing of critical voices, partly because those art forms have smaller audiences. Newspapers and magazines can say that doesn’t get enough traffic, so we don’t have room for that. To me, that’s especially worrisome. This is the opposite of what newspapers are supposed to do, which is not to try to figure out what people are already interested in and recite that back to them, but to hopefully guide them to something that they should be interested in, connecting potential audiences with more interesting work.

“Then again, not everyone needs a critic. People have been going to movies for more than 100 years now, and probably the vast majority of those people have not read movie reviews or cared what critics thought. But there has always been an important subset that wants to know more, that wants to think about what they’ve seen and what they’re going to see, and wants someone to think along with. I think critics are important, not just as dispensers of consumer advice — though that’s certainly part of it, too — but as trusted voices and companions for people to argue with in your head when you’re going to movies or afterwards.”
~ A. O. Scott