By: Mansoora Al-Jamri
It feels good to be here with you today and to have the opportunity to speak at the opening of the Independent Malayalam Film Festival which is coming this year under the title “Reflections 2017”.
The festival is reflecting on five Malayalam movies. Movies that are independent and here I will borrow words of the American producer Christine Vachon to describe independent movies as “movies that matter”.
But what is an independent movie or an indie movie?
Seems we have two definitions of the term, one that is to do with movies in the United States or I would call it the Hollywood definition and another that will apply to movies produced and made outside the US, all over the world.
In the US, it first meant, movies which were made on a low budget. That was in the first decades of the movie industry history. The term was first used in 1908 to refer to movies produced by small firms who were not financially capable and who therefore rejected the financial hegemony of the major movie companies, in today’s terms, the conglomerates that centralized and standardized film production, distribution and exhibition.
The Indies at that time moved to Hollywood, established themselves and a new monopolistic system that is called the Studio System. Companies who didn’t follow the rules of this system rejected the control or were not financially capable of joining it were kicked away and were classified as Poverty Row firms.
The same story happened again in Hollywood, and it happened later, again, in another decade with new renegades or revolutionists “revis” as small companies reject the hegemony of the majors, formed their own gatherings, get stronger, put their own rules and kicked the weak ones.
This had continued until a time when Hollywood realized that cinema is losing its audience to TV so major companies of the cinema industry decided to fight back by backing and financing a different kind of movies, that is the indie movies
What is important here is that every time, the “outcasts” would produce their own version of cinema, at first it wouldn’t be different than the mainstream cinema, and the only difference would be in its low budget. The resulting movies would often contain more creativity, as directors try their best and are as creative as possible to compensate for the shortage in finance that will give better picture due to the better equipment, better cast, and technicians.
But then when TV came, makers of Indie US movies realized that cinema fights stupidity and shallowness of whatever version of cinema was there and also to get back its audience from TV.
The best description for that period was explained by the founders of The Filmmakers’ Collective, a non-profit organization committed to the preservation and distribution of experimental films. Those members explained the situation at that time; as such “official cinema is running out of breath (…) the industry had become morally corrupt, aesthetically obsolete, thematically superficial, and temperamentally boring.”
This pushed the big cinema houses to care about issues like the freedom to say something else and to experiment in movies. They decided to finance Indie movies that challenge the dominant culture in movies making; movies that challenge the audience or as Christine Vachon (mentioned above) called them “movies that matter”.
With majors (conglomerate) backing “independent content”, one can’t help but ask:
What are “independent” movies called so, what makes them independent?
Is an independent film a film that has a low budget?
A film that is not backed or funded by majors in the industry
Is it called so by its spirit?
Having these questions in mind, we would realize that in the indie movies in the US are not necessarily the low budget movies, for a movie like ” A 12 years a slave”, is independent but has a budget of millions of US dollars.
In Europe, the term would refer to movies which are more into experimentation but again does that apply to the rest of the world, putting in mind that freedom of expression is not an issue that is as serious in Europe as it is in the rest of world, outside Europe and the US.
As for the rest of the world, the important issue in this regard is not just about freedom of expression that makes indie movies, as lots of other nations around the world are not enjoying the same level of freedom as it is in the US and Europe, so in such countries where there are no high levels of freedom, cinema is a tool of change and an art that should be respected for its power. In these countries movies have a different story, the story of an empire and a rebellion, and unlike the US, it doesn’t have to be a financial empire, it might be an empire of a hegemonic culture; whether it is the culture of Hollywood, with its rules, laws, discourse and traditions, that can’t and must not be applied everywhere, or it can be a social and political hegemony within a given country.
So movies that oppose to the idea of “Globalization” are Indies, movies that stand against the status quo and want to change it are Indies.
Indies are movies that challenge the dominant culture as well as its audience, movies that represent different communities of people sharing their values instead of Hollywood values.
To conclude, Independence in cinema is about following your vision without interference from Hollywood hegemony, freeing art and the audience from all restrictions whether market rules, religious prohibitions, political pressure or social norms. Indies are about lowering budget, not relying on technology, telling your own story, choosing the way to tell it, respecting your audience, protecting your identity, and showing the reality of your society.
Today’s event that is celebrating Malayalam independent movies is organized so that you, lovers of cinema, appreciate these films, know how movies can express your truth; show your dreams and reality.
Independent films are made for independent audience who are free from any previous hegemonic cinema perceptions whether came from Hollywood, Bollywood or what some people would call “Arabwood”.
This event is held so that you get a first-hand experience of how passion projects which are made with love, can affect its audience and strengthen them.
Independent films seek to tell the truth with its realistic stories about the world as it really exists, in all its ugliness and cruelty, whereas purely commercial movies or in some cases Hollywood films provide escape and fantasy.
Indie moves are made for people by people, and the least we can do is to free independent artists by backing them, emotionally by watching their movies and financially to guarantee to have their voice alive, freeing them and as a result freeing the audience, from any commercial junk cinema.
Back free art and artists. Free them and free yourself