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- Written by Nisha Joseph
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Cinema is an invention without future”, commented Louis Lumiere in 1895! For the Lumiere brothers Cinema was only an extension of photography. They couldn't foresee the story telling capabilities of cinema. According to them it was just a passing fad that was supposed to fade away once the initial curiosity withered away. But history proved that Lumiere's prediction was utterly wrong. Cinema just took over the world by a storm. Once its story telling capabilities were discovered and the entertainment value ascertained, various business models took shape in different parts of the world. The production and distribution systems were invented and perfected by people around the globe mainly by the Americans.
If you look into the history of films, cinema was considered as art in the rest of the world, except in America. In USA, the major interest was in the business aspect of the films and not the art. This was evident from the era of D.W.Griffith who was sent to Hollywood to find out new pastures for film making to the present era. But in Europe and Asia, film makers were more interested in the artistic possibilities of cinema rather than the business viabilities.
"Nouvelle Vogue" from France, "Free cinema" from Britain, "Neo Realism" from Italy, Film Theories from Russia, and "New Wave" from India can be seen as a result of this quest of the film makers for more artistic and meaningful cinema, rather than churning out some formula based flicks just to spin money. Godard's famous comment, "I pity the French Cinema, because it has no money. I pity the American Cinema, because it has no ideas!" came at this juncture. For Hollywood, Cinema was always larger than life and formulaic. This was what the film makers from other parts of the world tried to break. They believed that recreating the realities is what makes cinema magical. According Godard, cinema is something in-between art and life.
Cinema in America was always in the hand of major studios. The business model for film production and distribution were formed as early as 1910's, just after a decade of the invention of Cinema. The studio system became prominent and the 'Major 5 and little 3' as they were known, started to rule the cinema kingdom.
The creative aspects of film making diminished and Hollywood became factories that churn out films based on formulas and dimensions.
But there were attempts to break free from these clutches of the studio built, studio operated film making modes from the early years itself. The roots of independent film making can be traced back from as early as 1900s as a few film makers tried to break free from the patents of the Edison Motion Picture Company. The term 'independent film started to be heard more frequently during the 1900s itself. But during the early days the term 'independent film' meant to be the films made against the patent rights of the MPPC. But later on a group of film makers, inspired by the "art house" films of Ingmar Bergman of Sweden and Federico Fellini of Italy started to take film making seriously and they wanted to come out from the paved ways of Hollywood film making which was profit oriented.
The term independent film majorly meant any film made outside the major studios and with minimal budget. This gave freedom for the film makers to express themselves and upheld the concept of cinema as an art rather than a mere trading commodity.
The advent of portable cameras after the II world war gave more opportunities for anybody who was interested in Cinemas, to Write, Produce and direct movies. This inspired film makers like Maya Derren and Ray Abrashkin to come out with their highly influential and artistic films like 'Meshes of Afternoon' and 'Little Fugitive'. 'Little Fugitive' went on to be nominated for the Oscars for the best original screenplay. This was the first independent film to be nominated for the Academy awards.
By the mid of the 20th century, the studio system was collapsing and this helped these low-budget movies to explore new artistic territories. Avant Garde film making was taking shape. Film critic and later film maker Jonas Mekas can be called the 'godfather of the Avant garde films'. The famous underground film maker, Maya Derren was joined by the like minded filmmakers who were interested in cinema as an art rather than mere entertainment.
In 1959, John Mekas wrote in the popular magazine "Film Culture" , "Independent film makers free themselves from the over professionalism and over technicality that usually handicap the inspiration and spontaneity of the official cinema, guiding themselves more by intuition and improvisation than by discipline." He teamed up with Stan Brakhage, Sherly Clarke, Gregory Markopoulos and others to form 'The Film Maker's Co-operative' to distribute their films through a centralized archive.
By 1970s film makers started to transgress the Hollywood lines as an artistic freedom and succeeded. Filmmakers like David Lynch and John Waters established themselves as film makers with more artistic touch with disturbing and interlocked imageries. The 1977 film of David lynch, 'eraserhead' fetched him eight academy award nominations and established his place as a commercially viable director who is starkly different from his fellow Hollywood directors.
Today, in an Era dominated by the digital revolution, the independent film makers are more in control. They don't have to wait for major studios to finance their production. The inexpensive Digital cameras which almost replicate the image quality of the 35mm film and non-linear editing suites has made the life of the aspiring film makers' easy. They can make films for their satisfaction without any clutches from the studios. Even though the film production is made simple, the distribution of such films is still complex. Production and distribution has to be strong for such films to exist. The distribution system has to be made stronger and the focus should be in this direction.
Even though there are discussions happening on the possibility of using Internet as an option for distributing independent films, the success of such a venture has to be debated. Cinema is something that has to be enjoyed in the darkness with a crowd not less than a few hundreds and the silver screen and a projector. That's what makes the Cinema magical. The illusion of light that falls on to the darkness in the theatre is what makes cinema a cinema! Now, the major arena for the so called 'art films' are film festival circuits and online and Television rights. But there should be more focused approach from the independent film makers across the globe to have some kind of distribution system which can take their films to every nook and corner and regain the money spent on one film to fetch money for the next project, because for independent film makers, profit is not the motive, but funds for their next project is!
Let there be calls for such movements and make the independent film making more and more viable. Otherwise, the existence of cinema as a piece of art will be in jeopardy.