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in Filmmaking
on Dec 20, 2007

Writing in Salon, Andrew O’Hehir captures what a lot of people are thinking: it wasn’t a bad year for movies, but when it comes to independents, the long-form theatrical experience may be on its way out. There are no grand conclusions here, but O’Hehir talks to the right people — IFC’s Jonathan Sehring, Killer Films’ Christine Vachon, Milos Stehlik of Facets — in his attempt to assess the healthiness of independents surviving on the other side of the mini-major divide.

An excerpt:

Milos Stehlik, director of the Chicago-based video distributor and art-house proprietor Facets Multi-Media (which occasionally dabbles in theatrical distribution as well), has been observing the transformation of the indie-film niche for many years. The studio specialty divisions, he says, “release a lot of good movies, and that’s terrific. But they are the big gorillas in this little pond, and the way they can play the economics is very different. If something doesn’t work, they can absorb the loss. When something does work, they can maximize it and reap the payoff. Their business model is very different from anything a true independent with meager resources can muster.”

So the mini-major studios are implacably shoving the genuine indie distributors out of the marketplace they created; isn’t that just capitalism at work? Beyond empathizing with a few people’s bruised egos and disordered career paths, why should you care about this? That’s an open question, but my own hunch is that, Into Great Silence aside, certain kinds of unconventional and demanding films, the ones the specialty divisions don’t know how to package and present as spiritually beneficial holiday fare, will get driven even further under the radar than they are already. In my conversation with Stehlik, we began wondering whether filmmakers like Andrei Tarkovsky and Krzysztof Kieslowski (not that they were ever so wildly popular) would even get noticed if they were working today.

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