When I think of the committees responsible for selecting films to be shown in their festival, I imagine a round table of elitist men with white beards, trying to decide what could be profitable. But that’s probably not at all accurate. The masterminds behind film festivals have to work very hard to select a handful out of thousands of entries. Similar to curating an art exhibit, these committee members have to decide which movies fit into the “indie” criteria, which we all know is hard to define. So, how do they do this?
Essentially, since the term “indie” is so loose and mysterious, these film festival officials make their own assessments as to what the word entails. Usually they try to select artistic, groundbreaking films that differ from the mainstream. Newman states that these members who choose what will be screened at these festivals, act like God in deciding what will be the ultimate in indie films that year. By choosing these films, they are equating these indie films with “the highest artistic echelon of international filmmaking.” These festival officials try to maintain their indie cred by staying away from anything that may resemble “mainstream”. However, based on some comments on the Sundance webpage, they have been criticized for giving too much attention to big budget films, which, to some, negates the “indie” label. Alternatively, Newman cites Kenneth Turan, who states that some movies get into these film festivals simply because they have no chance of making it elsewhere: they make the cut “because they will never reach a wider audience.”
In January 2011, Sundance premiered one of my favorite indie films Like Crazy. Starring Anton Yelchin (Star Trek, Charlie Bartlett) and Felicity Jones (British films I’ve never heard of), this is a modern, realistic take on a typical romance that is basically everything (500) Days of Summer failed to be. Sundance’s role in this film’s life was essential. Because of the festival, it came onto my radar through the social media site, Tumblr. Because of all the reblogged quotes and heart wrenching screen caps, I was able to garner interest in the movie. Once it was available on Netflix, I immediately watched it and became just as infatuated as the others on the site. As it turns out, at the festival, the film was purchased for $4 million by Paramount and Indian Paintbrush, which allowed it to flourish outside of Sundance. It went on to play at more festivals throughout the US, Canada and Europe.
Because of its reputation, those who choose films for Sundance have to choose films that are quintessentially indie but can also make money. The festival is a springboard to get these names out into a wider audience and show films that might otherwise never be seen. These festivals establish which indie films are considered exemplary by a process of determining a fine balance between indie and profitable. I think Like Crazy is a good example of this because it is indie in that the plot is character driven, the script is partially improvised and a low budget ($250,000) but it also had the potential to be a crossover hit because of its heart wrenching story line and beautiful cinematography.