Independent

 

I am a big fan of blockbuster films, Hollywood style et al. A lot has been said about how small, independent films are being crushed by much larger, puffed out Hollywood ones and how hard it is to get them made. But once again we appear to be in the season of superheroes, remakes and sequels – so it’s nice to come across small budget films that still steadily draw audiences and without too much fanfare.

I recently watched Paterson (opens in new window) an extraordinary film from Jim Jarmusch. It loosely follows a week in the routine and punch-clocked life of Paterson (played by Adam Driver), who is a poet and NJ Transit bus driver in Paterson, an industrial city in decline. He spends his free time writing minimalistic poetry that draws on inspiration from the everyday, observations, an entire world of imagination and William Carlos Williams, who wrote Paterson (opens in new window) – published between 1946 and 1958, a multipart epic poem that gives an account of the history, people, and essence of Paterson, New Jersey. The sort of poems that Paterson writes in the film might be something akin to the I do this I do that poetry of Frank O’Hara’s ‘Lunch Poems’ (opens in new window). The poems that Paterson thinks and writes are actually by American poet Ron Padgett (opens in new window). Every morning Paterson wakes up beside his beloved wife Laura (played by Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani) and has a short moment with her and routinely checks his watch that makes you think it’s some sort of Groundhog Day moment, goes to work, comes home, adjusts his tilted mailbox as he walks up his driveway. Laura stays at home nursing passions for adorning walls, curtains and kitchen cabinets with patterns – like she is trying to drown Paterson and Marvin in a sea of polka dots, stripes and decadent swirls. She also bakes secret pies (much to the dislike of Paterson and Marvin) and cupcakes, and harbors an unlikely dream of becoming a country singer when she buys a black and white harlequin guitar off YouTube.

There is also an english bulldog called Marvin, who manages to steal some good scenes throughout the film as well as being Paterson’s nemesis. Paterson routinely walks Marvin after dinner and stops off for a beer and some chat at his local neighborhood bar, leaving the dog tied outside. On one occasion Paterson is stopped by a drive-by-gang who alert him to the dangers of dog jacking to which Paterson replies that gives me something to look forward to then. Overall I really liked the film and it effortlessly works its magic and ends up being a very enjoyable film.

The film was distributed by Amazon Studios and not by a Hollywood studio and it’s nice to see that the later is no longer the prime source of feature films. It’s almost like a division of labor when comparing independent films and Hollywood films – where Hollywood seems to be like some sort of money-laundering machine or one that specializes in money making. Indie films on the other hand are just about making films. I know each has their place and making films for money or just for the sake of making films doesn’t necessarily guarantee artistic quality. Of course Hollywood has produced some bad films but is somehow counterbalanced by how good some low budget independent films actually are. But before you think about the next ‘big film’ you are planning to see – it’s getting a little harder to define what the notion of a ‘big film’ is. Choices of films appear to be getting wider and audiences appear to be getting narrower. Recent releases like Spider-Man:Homecoming can can count as ‘big films’, if only in deference to their budgets and hoopla. Also it seems like Hollywood is depending more heavily on remakes and sequels these days.

There now appears to be another direction for films, from streaming services like Netflix and Amazon and both are starting to become major players in the art-house space. Both of these companies are buying or picking up films and are giving hope to small independent filmmakers. It it possible that both and Amazon and Netflix could be the future for Indie films and take a chunk out of some of the Hollywood studios in the process. Film directors attitudes to the two distribution companies are changing as more viewers are turning to streaming services and that box-office numbers are not quite as big as they once were or especially for art-house or independent films made by smaller companies. Going to movie theaters and watching the latest big box-office film is still going to be around for awhile and the competition between Netflix and Amazon and other streaming services like Hulu will only intensify as they compete for subscribers. Noticeably, both Amazon and Netflix have been attending the Sundance Film Festival (opens in new window) and have being doing some big spending there – such films as Manchester by the Sea (opens in new window), Tramps, which streamed on Netflix, Paterson (opens in new window) and Tallulah are just a few examples. So perhaps the idea of having a ‘big film’ and that doesn’t have to be released in a movie theater is not so far off. However, there are filmmakers, directors that will prefer to go the route of the movie theater for reasons such as mounting successful Oscar campaigns, big box office numbers and other awards consideration that goes along with them.

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