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The New Auteur

Independent Film in Times of the Internet

Tag Archives: Statistics

Do we need independent film? Or is it just a hobby for a few rich kids and/or an interest of even fewer upper middle class intellectuals? Maybe. But maybe we should consider a few other things:
 

Independent film is of economic importance because it supports the commercial film sector.

First, in the UK (and probably in most western countries) the film sector is an important industry. Statistics of the UK Film Council reveal that in 2006 the UK film sector accounted for 0.5 % of the overall UK GDP, turned over £5.3 bn and, in 2007, employed 38,634 people. The independent sector now supports the commercial sector by:

  • Providing training for talent and crew. Steven Spielberg, Christopher Nolan, Doug Liman, Quentin Tarantino, Todd Haynes, Larry Clark, David O. Russell, Robert Rodriguez, Guy Ritchie, Mike Marsh, Terence Davies and probably countless others all started their directing career with independent films.
  • Innovating the form. Slow motion (first used in Kurasawa’s The Seven Samurai), jump cuts (first used as stylistic device in Battleship Potemkin) and freeze frames (Truffaut’s Les Quatre Cents Coups) were all first used as stylistic devices outside of Hollywood. So was non-continuity editing. CGI was first used in Richard Heffron’s Future World and, a year later, Star Wars. More recently, Diary of a Camper was the first Machinima film. All independent films.
  • Acting as R&D. The Last Broadcast was the first digitally shot and distributed feature film, Slumdog Millionaire the first digitally shot movie winning an academy award for best cinematography. On the distribution front, Tom Laughlin’s Billy Jack first successfully made use of saturated advertising campaigns and a nationwide simultaneous opening at theatres. Today, innovation in digital distribution is mainly driven by independent films.
  • Turning over money. Of course, independent filmmakers also pay for equipment rental, DVD production, art work, colour grading and all the other things needed to make a film. This helps to financially sustain a supporting industry, which is vital for the commercial sector.



Independent films help to ensure diversity in our media, which is critical for true freedom of information.

As the ever-brilliant Noam Chomsky pointed out in his 1988 book Manufacturing Consent, governments and big media control what we get to know. They control the stories that are told and hence the knowledge available. Alternative voices are needed. Independent media is an alternative voice.

I just did a very basic analyzes of the programming of four of the leading free TV channels in the UK (BBC 1, ITV 1, Channel 4, Five) during one week in July 2009 as well as openings in three of Manchester’s major cinemas (Odeon, AMC Great Northern, Cornerhouse) in August 2009. I compared those with the 2008 programming of two of the UK’s best known film festivals: Sheffield Documentary Festival and Raindance.

In a world that becomes an ever-smaller global village, can we speak of diversity if 93 % of the stories we are presented with in mainstream media (TV, cinema) were made in only two countries? Why are the storytellers from whole continents completely ignored? Sure, we hear about some countries in Africa, central Asia or South America – but from UK/US filmmakers! There are only 10 different countries that deliver programmes to British TV; 17 to cinema. On the other hand we find storytellers from 43 different countries in only 190 festival films.

In a second step, I looked at factual programming (Documentaries, Reality TV, Docu Soaps, etc.) and the countries that were covered by those programmes. Again, we find two dominating content deliverers in TV and cinema (91% of factual programming covers the UK or USA). Is that diversity? Overall, in 172 productions, only 17 different countries/regions were covered in mainstream media (plus 1 show covering the Internet, 2 covering the world at large and 3 covering general wildlife). Compare this to the 38 covered countries/regions in festival documentaries (in only 135 films). There are 4 TV/cinema-programmes on Afghanistan but not a single one on China, India, Indonesia, Brazil, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nigeria or Japan – 8 of the world’s 10 most populated countries). Why is Afghanistan so important? News value of course – 5 of our soldiers dead surely attracts more viewers than 50 people starved to death in Taka-Tuka Land. But will a selection of stories based on their news value lead to diversity? Probably not.

In order to wrap up, this last graph is just meant to demonstrate the problem of missing diversity in mainstream media. The pie-charts before failed a little bit (because of co-productions – especially in cinema – or multiple countries being covered in one programme) to demonstrated the dominance of single countries in programme production as well as programme content.

 

So we can conclude that, of course, independent film is important. It is surely not the most important thing in the world – but it is also not just a hobby that should limited to a minority. Independent film is relevant; not only in its supporting role for the commercial sector but also, and possibly much more significantly, as diversity-ensuring medium that has the capability to serve the right to freedom of information much more sufficiently than profit-driven commercial media will ever be able to.

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