‘How to fake being an indie auteur’: indie and the notion of the contrived

I like this tongue-in cheek article from Suzanne Ballantyne, head of programming of the Raindance Film Festival: How to Fake Being An Indie Auteur part one and part two. It’s a witty satire of a number of indie cliches, but painfully close enough to the reality also to provide quite a useful portrait of a number of established indie qualities.

As Ballantyne suggests: ‘This is not about how to make Hollywood films, made-for-tv films or even low budget films. This is not about making films whose purpose is to entertain. This is about a different species altogether – the indie auteur film, short or long – the darling of the latest “it” festival – with city names likes Gotenburg, Hamburg, Kerala and Rotterdam in their title. The kind of film that press people, pretentious programmers, art house proprietors and film academians piss themselves for. The kind of film that might just launch your career.’

How could anyone resist (even an ‘academian’, if that’s what I am; not a term I’ve come across before)? Advice ranges from the style and content of the film (e.g. minimal dialogue, ‘wafer-thin’ plot but retold from several perspectives to add an impression of weight) to PR strategies including advice to flirt with junior festival programmers, journalists and bouncers at parties – but at all costs to avoid business cards because: ‘There’s no way any self-respecting indie auteur should appear to have put such forethought into his career).’

This is more evidence, some might argue, to support the suggestion that ‘indie’ has become little more than a cliche by now, something that’s become contrived or deliberately manufactured, rather than just an umbrella term for a variety of non-mainstream feature production. I’d still argue against that view in general, as I do in my forthcoming book (yes, another plug!), Indie 2.0.

Indie can become a contrivance in some cases, for sure. But I think it would be wrong ever to reduce it only to that, as there’s still plenty of striking work being produced – and even, sometimes, making it to audiences – that’s much more than the sum of some of the more consistently identifiable traits. I finally got around to seeing Todd Solondz’s Dark Horse a couple of nights ago, for instance, an example that demonstrates that he’s still got interesting new places to go, even while still dealing with characters that seem familiar inhabitants of his fictional universe. I haven’t unpacked all my thoughts on that one yet, but the way the film embraces aspects of dream and fantasy – alongside the predictably uncomfortable nature of his protagonists – seems very fresh.

The act of identifying elements of contrivance – generally or in particular cases – often occurs within a discursive context that’s really about the implicit articulation of some more ‘pure’ realm of indie (or ‘independence’, often the preferred term here) that’s untainted by such fabrications. This division might stand up to some extent and in some cases. But the reality tends to be a good deal more complex and multi-faceted than such oppositions suggest.

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