A Lifeline for the Independents
Some showcased films veered from the Hollywood norm but didn't cross into experimentalism. SUNDANCE FILM INSTITUTE
PARK CITY, UTAH
CAN independent filmmakers assert their voices and establish their careers outside the influence of wealthy Hollywood studios? Or will they always be overshadowed by the mainstream movie scene, with its tendencies toward formulaic storytelling and bottom-line thinking? I asked Robert Redford this question on a sunny Saturday morning at the Sundance Institute, which is tucked into the Utah mountains a few miles from here. He took a optimistic view of the relationship between Hollywood and the ``indie'' filmmakers that he built his 10-year-old institute to encourage and support.Skip to next paragraph
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Hollywood doesn't censor independent voices, Mr. Redford told me and other journalists at the rustic Sundance rehearsal hall. In fact, Hollywood is receptive to new talent wherever it comes from, as long as it's genuine, he says.
Established Hollywood types - director Sydney Pollack, for example, not to mention Redford himself - have been associated with Sundance from the beginning. Gifted newcomers are essential to the film industry's future, and from all accounts the industry doesn't mind a bit if they set up operations outside the gates of the major studios.
This view is supported by the success of the annual Sundance Film Festival, which a recent Premi`ere magazine article called ``the hot festival, where wan and twitchy independents rub shoulders with ... swarms of sleek Hollywod executives'' hunting for the next ``Metropolitan'' or ``sex, lies, and videotape'' - two recent hits that were discovered by distributors here.
Still, it's possible to be more skeptical than Redford about relations between independents and the studio establishment. Friendship is fine as long as the independents keep functioning as an alternative, avoiding standardized ideas and mass-market preoccupations that are Hollywood's dubious trademarks.
But as independents get cozy with major studios, seeking production help and distribution deals, they run the danger of losing their distinctive qualities.
Fortunately, some filmmakers manage to steer a middle course, keeping a distinctive approach while still getting most of their movies into commercial theaters attended by mainstream audiences. Geoffrey Gilmore, director of programming for the festival, cited three of this year's contributors - John Sayles, Ken Russell, and Leonard Schrader - as proof that clever independents can function both outside and inside the industry, expressing a personal vision without cutting all ties to the establishment.
Mr. Gilmore is absolutely right about the almost miraculous ability of mavericks like Mr. Russell and Mr. Sayles to make feisty, even downright eccentric works year after year without compromising their views or falling into obscurity. The same feat has also been accomplished by such masters as Robert Altman and Michael Powell, both of whom were honored with special screenings at Sundance this year.
The most exciting new films I saw during the festival shared their spirit - steering far from Hollywood norms and ``correct'' filmmaking postures, yet not crossing the line into avant-garde experimentalism.