Sundance Film Festival, one of the largest independent film festivals in the United States, was held this past 17th to 27th of January.
Celebrating the best American indie films from Sundance ÉCU has collected 5 facts you definitely need to know about American independent cinema.

1. What is independent?
Despite the definition of independent cinema by American film critic Emmanuel Levy ‘ideally, an indie is a fresh, low-budget movie with a gritty style and offbeat subject matter that express the filmmaker’s personal vision’in fact independent film is any film that has not been financed, produced and/or distributed by a major entertainment conglomerate (Sony Columbia, Viacom Paramount, AOL Time Warner, MGM/UA, ABC Disney, NBC Universal, News Corp. Fox and Dreamworks SKG). According to that, films such as The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (Jackson, 2002), Scary Movie (K. I. Wayans, 2000) or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Barron, 1990) are claimed to be also independent. But they are more commercially alternative to the Hollywood mainstream cinema.

2. It’s all about economy
In the early years of American cinema independent filmmaking was mainly a reaction to any attempt towards the monopolisation of the film industry. Many companies tried to prevent the formation of trusts and syndicates that would threaten competition in the newly established film industry. Therefore, ‘independence’ here means that production companies refused to be subject to regulations applied by organisations that tried to get total control over the film market.

3. The first culmination and the second one
The first culmination in the history of independent production came with Gone with the Wind (Selznik, 1939). Even if this film adaptation of Margaret Mitchell’s epic claims to be one of the most successful Hollywood films in that time, its success brought the position of independent producers on a new level and strengthened their influence in the American cinema. After the near ‘death’ of indie cinema in the 70s the film Sex, Lies, and Videotape (Soderberg, 1989), a story about a woman who starts interacting with a stranger with a videotape fetish, was another inspiring film which made a turning point in the American independent cinema, raised the profile of the independent cinema again and caused the rapid growth of the popularity of indies.

4. New Hollywood Era
The late 1960s was the time of indie films: many independently produced films had sometimes unexpected great success at the US box office. They were popular because they were dealing with such themes as violence, sex and drugs. Themes which were cinematic taboos and were avoided by the conservative and classical Hollywood films and therefore attracted young audiences. Bonnie and Clyde (Penn, 1967) was one of the first films from New Hollywood era, it tells the story of a couple robbing banks and it is claimed to have one of the bloodiest death scenes in the history of cinema. Another important film of this era is Easy Rider (Hopper, 1969). This road movie about two bikers travelling through south of America was the first completely independent film of New Hollywood and celebrated his debut at Cannes Film Festival.

5. The oldest and the most influental indie film festivals
The only international film festival in North America to be dedicated completely to independent films is the WorldFest-Houston International Film Festival. It is also one of three original film festivals in North America as well as the oldest independent film festival in the South of the USA (founded in 1961). Sundance Film Festival was established by Sundance Film Institute, both of them are platforms supporting young filmmakers to learn as well as to start a carrier. After Sex, Lies, and Videotape had received Audience Award at Sundance Film Festival, the last one became a ‘deal place’ for distributors deciding which films will receive theatrical access.

ÉCU is looking forward to seeing the new American indies and is wondering which of the recently awarded at the Sundance will be nominated for Oscar like The Beasts of the Southern Wild (Zeitlin, 2012) this year!

Xenia Piskunova