This past Friday, 60-odd representatives of indie film gathered at MoMA for a state of the nation meeting about what’s going on in the world of indie film, whether there is a true crisis and how it can be fixed. Unlike earlier provocations like Mark Gill’s “The Sky Is Falling” speech from last summer, the Indie Film Summit was a private gathering, unpublicized, with attendees encouraged to speak off the record. As Gill said in his speech, “it’s fashionable to bitch in the independent film world. It’s what we do.” Coming up with actionable fixes has proven more elusive.
A major issue is the idea of “quality,” which seems to befuddle everyone. Macaulay notes that there’s “a new audience,” one that may have different taste in what is “good” than the crowd in the room — and, as he points out, only two people in the room were under 30, so generation gap questions arise. Might the solution be in some kind of process in which the audience curates? Deutchman is s skeptical (“Have you seen the ‘People’s Choice Awards’?”), but the question (and that reaction) seems irrelevant. The very idea of a one-size-fits-all indie audience is outdated.
From the moment the Cahiers du Cinema gang declared war on the “cinema of quality,” it’s been impossible for people to agree on what, exactly, good storytelling might be. The reports note despair over the competition delivered by cable TV’s lock on narrative: “The Wire” is about as close to a consensus as people can get on what good storytelling is. When it comes to film, agreement is far harder to pin down. Personally, most of the indie films championed as privileging “good stories” tend to strike me as just as obvious, in their own way, as Hollywood blockbusters. (Cf. Jason Reitman’s career thus far — I’ll never understand the argument for “Juno” as “quality.”)
The reasons people gravitate toward the movies they do are mysterious, but one thing’s certain: the assumption that reasonable people can agree what “good” is (or that audiences can be nudged into acceding by critics and studios) is faulty. Any discussion that centers around winning back the “audience” through “quality” isn’t going to be helpful.