Orphan films and their role in the indie industry

The term “orphan film” describes a broad variety of film including lost works or works abandoned by their owner or copyright holder. Examples of these may include: newsreels, silent films, experimental works, home movies, documentary films, political commercials, amateur footage, advertisements, educational films, and ethnic films. The growing interest in these films is due to their rich value as cultural and historical artifacts. According to Wikipedia, “Documentarians, filmmakers, historians, curators, collectors, and scholars have joined forces with archivists because they deem orphans not only history documents, but also evidence of alternative, suppressed, minority, or forgotten histories.”

What makes any film independent? Just as we have been studying in class, independent films are considered independent on levels of production, distribution, and exhibition as well as qualities such as aesthetics, theme, and function. Because orphan films are forgotten/neglected pieces of history and culture, we can assume they are independent based on their production and distribution and through their aesthetic qualities. Such qualities could include structure and form, which I am assuming would be fairly different from such movies we are used to in our theaters.

When studying orphan films, it is important to consider whether they function more significantly in the independent film industry or are they more valuable in a historical sense. I would argue that the importance of orphan films, such as ethnic films of previous times, would serve more purpose in a museum or art house as opposed to introducing them back into the film industry. Another important element to consider is the history of these films before they were orphaned. Such as how they were “produced, distributed, and exhibited as part of a larger nontheatrical network and as active participants in alternative cinema cultures.”



2 thoughts on “Orphan films and their role in the indie industry

  1. I agree that orphan films are indie films but I don’t particularly agree with your idea of not bringing them back into the film industry. I would argue that it is better to bring them back into the viewing world in order to demonstrate different ways of not only film-making but also different ways of creating indie films. Left in a museum, where they might not ever be viewed again just seems wrong to me. Bring orphan films back into the film industry is a great way to be able to learn why the films were orphaned, be it by lack of plot or a very controversial them. I understand that we can possibly get the same experience if these films were shown in a museum but there is something about the theater setting that can’t be replaced. Also in the festival at the Linwood Dunn Theater they were also going to holding open discussions, which is something a typical display at a festival cannot do.

  2. While this obviously has to do with film, I was wondering what anybody thought about how this relates to B-sides of albums or unreleased content by musicians. The comedian Mitch Hedberg had previously unreleased content that didn’t come out until after his death; the same goes for artists like Hank Williams. Also, more mainstream artists such as Halestorm and Avenged Sevenfold have released albums, inbetween studio albums, that contain nothing but their B-side materials. Do all of these records count as “indie” since they were more or less abandoned originally, or are they less likely to earn the indie title since the content that was created by the artist simultaneously was actually released?

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