Official Rejection

Official Rejection

I have made no secret of my opinions regarding “independent” cinema these days. In short, it’s farcical.

Now, I am not saying that there isn’t a vibrant and necessary independent film scene, far from it. In many ways we are living in the salad days of independent film. You can go to best buy and purchase all of the equipment you need to shoot, edit, and internationally release your film (say what you will, but YouTube is instant international distribution). You won’t exactly make money that way, but it is possible.

This is a drastic sea change even when compared to 15 years ago. When I was in film school it was insanely expensive. You had camera rental, film stock, processing, then editing on flatbed or one of the handful of Avid systems on campus. It was a brutal, expensive, and cumbersome process.

But now? Now I have a 1080p HD camera on my phone. You can purchase the equipment necessary to make countless feature films for what it once cost to rent what you need for a short. If all you want is to make a movie the tools are available.

So, yeah, there is an amazing culture of independent moviemakers that I am a huge fan of.

However, that is not the farce to which I refer. No, the farce I refer to is the studio take on “indie.” Back in the days before Sundance and Kevin Smith, Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, Michael Moore, Steven Soderberg independent movies were just that, independent. These were young and hungry filmmakers who went out and busted their ass to scrape together enough money, find locations, secure whatever actors they could, and just get a movie finished. They had no support outside of their immediate friends, family, and whatever investors they could find. It was a harsh frontier filled with outsiders and outlaws. In the end, even if what they put out wasn’t great it was still theirs from the ground up.

But now? Now that every major studio has an “indie” division, when people talk “indie” films you hear names like “Juno,” “Little Miss Sunshine,” “Away We Go,” “127 Hours,” “Revolutionary Road,” “Milk,” and other such films mentioned.

So we went from,

Reservoir Dogs- First time director, some stars, $1.5 million dollar budget

Sex, Lies, and Videotape- First time director, some stars $1.2 million dollar budget

Roger and Me- First time director, no stars, $160,000

Clerks- First time director, no stars, $27,575 budget

El Mariachi- First time director, no stars, $7,000 budget

being the standard of “indie” to…

Juno- Established director, multiple stars, $6.5 million budget, produced by Fox

Little Miss Sunshine- first time directors, multiple stars, $8 million budget, produced by Fox

Away We Go- Oscar winning director, multiple stars, $17 million budget, produced by Focus Features (art house division of NBC Universal)

127 Hours- Oscar winning director, multiple stars, $18 million budget, produced by Fox

Revolutionary Road- Oscar winning director, Oscar winning and nominated cast (2 nominees, 1 winner), $35 million budget, produced by Paramount and Dreamworks

Milk- Oscar nominated director, multiple stars, Oscar winning actor in lead, $20 million budget, produced by Focus Features (art house division of NBC Universal)

being considered “indie.”

I am not commenting on the quality of any of these films, but rather questioning the application of the title “indie.” Can you consider a film with that studio backed financing for production, distribution, and marketing to be “independent?” Independent of what, exactly?

What does all this have to do with “Official Rejection?” Well, “Official Rejection” takes a look at the only real outlet true independent filmmakers have to get their movies known, the film festival.

There is a strict hierarchy in the world of the film fest. Your top tier fests, places like Cannes, are insanely exclusive and very difficult to be selected for. But they are industry showcase fests. If you make a feature that doesn’t have studio backing, or a huge name connected you know not to even waste your time with them.

From there you get into the independent world. These are supposed to be places for unknown filmmakers to show their films in the hope of getting a distribution deal. There are some very highly regarded fests. Getting into South By Southwest (SXSW), Austin Film Fest (AFF), Telluride, or Tribeca goes a long way in helping your career. But at the top of this mountain is Sundance.

Beginning in 1978 as the Utah/US Film Festival it was originally intended to get more filmmakers to come to Utah. It was a combination of new and classic films and highlighted regional filmmakers (regional is a term meaning “not in Hollywood”).

Then Robert Redford got involved and, with the best intentions, brought a lot of publicity to the fest. Well, you know what they say about the road to hell? Yeah…

Now, Sundance has become very much an arm of the studio system. Once upon a time, not that long ago, a young kid could rack up a huge amount of credit card debt making a film and have a real shot at getting into Sundance and having their film noticed. Today though, if you don’t have a studio, or stars, or a huge budget, or have a combination of those things and plan on premiering somewhere other than Sundance, you’re out of luck.

So, now to the point of this review.

“Official Rejection” follows some indie filmmakers as they take their film through the festival circuit. You see the incredible hassle involved in submitting it. The various political forces at work in selection, the frenzy of marketing, and the insane machine that the festival world has become.

Essentially, what on the surface appears to be about art and storytelling is really just a business. I know this isn’t much of a shock (You mean the film industry is a BUSINESS?!?! You forget yourself, sir!), but it is when you look at what these festivals purport to be about.

Now, as someone who reads scripts for a screenplay competition I can sympathize with the festival programmers. I mean, you get THOUSANDS of submissions, many of them are not so good, and you have to sift through them in hopes of finding something worth screening. I will read 100 scripts and be shocked if 10 of them are good enough to move on. That doesn’t mean they will win or even be semi finalists, it just means they are good enough to be considered for that.

Imagine doing that with films. Then take into consideration that you aren’t necessarily looking for the best films, but often for films that fit the program. Add to it the number of really big deal, studio star vehicles that you get offered which will give your festival a lot of positive publicity. That’s leaving out that you are among thousands of films fighting for less than 100 spots.

We follow our filmmakers through the insanity of this process. From Sundance to San Francisco, to Arizona, to Chicago you get to see behind the curtain of festivals and learn a little bit about how the industry works.

Along the way you meet other indie filmmakers and get their experiences, from frustration with possibly the worst festival I’ve ever seen (sorry Chicago Independent Film Fest), to more reputable and better run affairs. It’s fascinating and casts a very interesting light on the industry.

The only criticism I have about this film is the amount of frustration that seeps into the film. You can tell how pissed the filmmakers are getting by the end. Yeah, it’s justified. I mean these festivals were meant as an alternative to the very system they have become a huge part of. But after a point it feels a bit like raging against the machine they are trying to become a part of. That is a bit of a nit picky criticism, but I’m trying to be balanced here.

If you are a film fan and have ever been to a film festival or a filmmaker thinking about submitting this is a film you should check out.


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