Friday, November 14, 2008

The American New Wave, 1989-2009

For all intents and purposes, the modern American New Wave in filmmaking - perhaps better known as the Indie Movement - took root at the 1989 Sundance Film Festival where Steven Soderbergh's "Sex, Lies, and Videotape" efficiently disarmed everyone and set a new, more lucrative standard for independent filmmaking.

Soderbergh's effort was that rare film that actually lived up to its clever, oh-so-provocative, attention-grabbing title.

True, America already had a history of independent filmmaking, especially visible in the the 1950s and '60s, but it was a conspicuously spotty one. Frank Perry and John Sayles made small, pleasing strides, while the Mirisch Brothers did autonomous alt flicks with major filmmakers for a major studio, United Artists. And, of course, there was John Cassavetes, who managed to straddle both worlds, two cinematic climates.

For the past 20 years, independent film - and by extension the assorted film festivals that showcase it - soared, both predictably co-opted and compromised by mainstream Hollywood. The films themselves were a novelty; the festivals, well, just another studio marketing tool.

But all good things come to an end. Miramax, the trendiest mini-major of the era, isn't what it used to be and its founders, the Weinstein Brothers, seem much less high-profile and less influential these days. One by one, the majors have dismantled their boutiques which specialized in, well, specialized movies, and films festivals have grown so ubiquitous and so hulking that most of what they now invariably screen is, frankly, crap.

Which brings us back to The Sundance Film Festival, which takes up residence in Park City, Utah.

Much has been written in the past year or so about how its cinematic glow has dimmed and how studios repeatedly get burned trying to outbid one another for films that play well in a festival setting but are usually dead on arrival in art houses. Two outright Sundance successes, and only two, come to mind - Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris' "Little Miss Sunshine" (2006) and Jason Reitman's "Juno" (2007), both picked up and distributed by Fox Searchlight, the one studio subsidiary that hasn't lost its way.

Or its glow.

Sundance 2009 is busy preparing for its annual festivities (15-25 January, 2009) and the studios and some of the press, still in denial, are scurrying to participate. All of this despite California's Proposition 8.

As you are probably aware, Proposition 8, known variously also as the Limit on Marriage Amendment or the California Marriage Protection Act, won in California, overturning a state Supreme Court ruling that permitted gay marriage. And the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah, reportedly invested heavily in support of the proposition, urging California Mormons to get involved.

Some of the opponents of Proposition 8 - count me in - have suggested boycotting Utah in general and, because it is supported by the California-based studios, The Sundance Film Festival in particular. Sound idea?

Or fuzzy thinking?

You decide.

Maybe this would be a good time for The Sundance Film Festival to take a break, regroup and retool. It runs the risk of being left behind - I mean, given that the American New Wave appears to be dead, stone cold dead.


(Artwork: Park City, Utah, the location of The Sundance Film Festival)


Moviezzz said...

"Maybe this would be a good time for The Sundance Film Festival to take a break, regroup and retool. It runs the risk of being left behind - I mean, given that the American New Wave appears to be dead, stone cold dead."

I agree.

Sundance used to be where independent filmmakers went with their films, looking to show them off and maybe get a distributor.

Today, the word independent has gotten to become so broad that it is now any film that doesn't have a distributor. It doesn't matter if it was financed by multimillionaires and has name stars in it, it is now just another Festival between Toronto and Cannes.

What were the big films that came out of Sundance last year? HAMLET 2 with Steve Coogan (which wasn't bad, but not an indie) and CHOKE. It was a very weak year.

They probably should have just canceled it and retooled when Paris Hilton showed up. If she knows about it, it isn't a film festival anymore. It is an event.

joe baltake said...

You said it all. And between you and me, nothing is more deadly than "a festival film," that kind that gets by only because you are at a festival and high on movies.

Two months later, when it opens theatrically and you come to your senses, you say to yourself, "What was I thinking?"

Alex said...

Thаnks for finally wгiting about
> "The American New Wave, 1989-2009" < Loved it