Important “Indie” Institutions

There are institutions within independent cinema that help form “indie” into a cultural category. Newman’s “institutions” includes the “venues of the cinematic experience and the discourses through which they are experienced” (51). More specifically, this means the film festivals and the road indie films take to get to there and beyond (through the selection committees and further distribution).

Film festivals are a huge contribution to “indie” as a cultural category. Within the festivals are selection committees, which are the central group determining if a film is exceptionally “indie” to be shown. This in itself reinforces the indie’s cultural category by choosing films that coincide with the collective agreement on qualities of independent film (their culture) and what they believe to be “hits” within their own group of festival attendees. These festivals also run as a type of “art house”, where auteurs are king, and creating provocative films for a higher-brow audience is their specialty.

By keeping the film festivals separate (as much as possible) from Hollywood culture; “indie” institutions deviated into their own sphere of culture. Though after the independent mini-major movie sex, lies, and videotape emerged from a more risk-taking era of production; Hollywood began to notice the unique festivals- and the ‘”synthesis of…clashing cultures”’ happened (70). While this did not harm the separate identity of film festivals from Hollywood, it did create the cultures in a parallel to each other as well. Now indie institutions work in relation to Hollywood: by exhibiting alternative and artsy films unalike to majors, while using Hollywood to their advantage to reach more audiences and become popular (though simultaneously not mainstream!).

Aside from the major film festivals Newman mentioned (Sundance and Telluride), I feel that the film festivals that are in a sense extremely indie- by being unheard of, small, low budget, etc. – should be added to contributing to “indie” as a cultural category. During another well-known conference, South by Southwest, I found myself not at its film screenings but at a tiny “indie” film festival (RxSM) of 25ish people. Boasting that it’s “underground”, this festival had movies that didn’t make it to Sundance, SxSW, or other large events because of various reasons. Nevertheless, the movies I watched that day were wonderful indie art! Some commented on politics, others on culture, all were character driven and narratively different. Although far from Hollywood it could still be a starting institution for independent films. It upheld indie culture with its selection of movies and created much discussion (at least between the 25-man audience) after the festival.

Though different indie festivals, both had selection committees and nominations

Though different indie festivals, both had selection committees and nominations–perpetuating indie culture to their own audiences

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3 thoughts on “Important “Indie” Institutions

  1. I agree with your idea on what he should have added to his list of institutions. I felt he focused on these large festivals and they don’t seem as indie or real as what the smaller ones. It is almost like Sundance and other high profile festivals are their own brand of Hollywood whose only deviation from mainstream is that they are obscure. What do you think about indie films shown at movie theatres? Would they qualify as indie and do they deserve attention? While you may not find a true indie film at the Cinemark in Sherman, you can’t rule out places in Dallas and other Urban areas.

    • Thanks for your comment! And I agree with you about Sundance’s status as indie in comparison to Hollywood. As for your questions, I would say that major movie theaters (like a Cinemark) wouldn’t be as indie unless the institution picked movies themselves that were never seen before/selected by another institution. So a theater in Dallas may be snazzy enough to play an indie movie– but if it already ran through a festival(s) before it, I don’t believe it would have as much influence on indie culture. …But at the same time, its continuing to show an indie movie to niche audiences…so it could count in the long run!

  2. I agree with you in the sense that Newman does talk about these large indie film festivals that have come to be a big part of the indie film culture, but excludes some of the less known film festivals that have also contributed in providing the audience some great indie films. I wanted to ask you if you know of any other indie film festivals apart from RxSM, that aren’t so mainstream?

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