Far From Hollywood American Independent Films at Festroia By Dragan Jovicevic
The special program of the Film Festival Festroia in Setubal was dedicated to American independent film production. Even though the films selected for the official competition program were welcomed by varied opinions of the audience and the critics alike, all were unanimous as to the second competition program The American Independent Film. These films were exceptional accomplishments, showing completely different production values compared with the standard Hollywood films more often seen in cinemas. The three member jury assessing the films in this category had a hard time choosing the best, among which were the humorous gay soap opera Boy Culture by Allen Brocka, dynamic social quasi-documentary Chalk by Mike Akel, psychological analysis of claustrophobia in Choking Man by Steve Barron, an authentic comical drama about film industry Man in the Chair by Michael Schroeder, brilliantly performed romantic melodrama The Treatment by Oren Rudavsky, and also the politically engaged documentary Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers by Robert Greenwald, which didn’t compete for the award. A special curiosity of the festival was the arrival of a single guest for each of the listed films shown in Portugal.
Sandy Mandelberger, the program editor of the competition selection, points out that there are two film industries in America today – one is, of course, presented by Hollywood and a system that is ruled by big studios, while the other consists of numerous independent productions which are giving their utmost to present their work to a wider audience. The directors had difficulty getting the financial support required to shoot the films they wanted. He claims that there is difficulty in getting government support for independent film production in America .
Fighting the Giants
Michael Schroeder, for example, sold almost everything he had except a little flat in which he lives, in order to shoot the film Man in the Chair, which presents a completely different America from what we are used to seeing. He did that because he no longer wanted to shoot the action films from the series Cyborg which the studios were offering to him. The script writer of the film The Treatment, Danielle Hausmann, claims that it is hard to find the budget for an independent film, even when the screenplay attracts good actors, like Famke Janssen and Ian Holm, in this case. “Casting directors always want to help the independent film authors and offer good actors for good films, but if you don’t manage to find the money by the day planned for the beginning of the production, the actors leave and go on to shoot other films for high fees”, says Hausmann. As Sandy Mendelberger says, less than ten percent of the audience in America watches artistic films, yet it is sufficient for their survival. The nightmare called Hollywood has only one thing on its mind – selling a film regardless of it being good or bad. This is the reason why independent film makers don’t expect to fight against the giants, as is Spiderman 3 for example, but want to shoot films for the audience which expects quality movies.
Some of the festivals in America help in the distribution of these films, and sometimes the studios also get involved when they feel that they might profit. That is how films like Lost in Translation, Sling Blade and Little Miss Sunshine found their way to the audience. Some of the mentioned film makers, whose films we had a chance to see in Setubal, say that they would think it over if a Hollywood studio was interested in buying their screenplay, while others say that there is no amount of money for which they would sell their film makers’ freedom.
Emotions and Humor
The two films presented at the beginning of the festival were accepted very well by the audience and filled the hall of the Charlot cinema each night. The first film that opened the program, Boy Culture by Q. Allen Brocka, is a humorous and dynamic story of interpersonal emotional relationships between men. Even though this topic has been presented many times in a similar way so far, it is full of freshness that easily finds its way to the liking of a variety of audiences. The film is based on a novel of the same title by Matthew Rettenmund, and has been shown at something like fifty film festivals where it has won numerous awards, as well as favorable reviews. The second film Chalk by Mike Akel presents inside out the contemporary educational system in American high school institutions in an especially humorous way, at the same time making fun of the American society and the abundance of loopholes in its educational system. This film was also presented with much success at film festivals all over the world where it has gained high reviews. The thing that is mutual about all films is the highly independent spirit, something rarely seen in films which are made on this continent.