A Cinematic Breath of Fresh Air
It is easy to think of an independent film as a wasteland from which no good can come, since films made outside the Hollywood studio system are often made with very little money, few (if any) known actors and actresses, and by new filmmakers who are still cutting their cinematic teeth and may have bitten off more than they can chew with their first features. The truth is that a number of today's top filmmakers began their careers making independent movies while others, Robert Altman for example, have made a career out of making their films independently of Hollywood studios and garnering multiple awards, accolades, and nominations along the way.
Independent movies have never received more attention than they do today. This is due in part to the advent of the internet, which has created a new distribution medium for budding filmmakers, in part to the work of directors like Quentin Tarantino who have done more than their part to make independent films more accessible to wider audiences, and in part to the work of Miramax producers Harvey and Bob Weinstein who have practically dedicated their careers to furthering the efforts of independent filmmakers.
The Independent Film Channel
Kudos for the general increased awareness of independent films and filmmakers is due to the people at IFC or the Independent Film Channel. This cable channel offering specializes in airing independent films of all genres and from all eras of cinema. IFC also now airs original series produced independently, including the surprisingly funny Greg the Bunny in which a "troupe" of performing puppets reenacts scenes from various independent films and The Festival, a show that centers on the attempts of a small time filmmaker to get his movie shown at a film festival.
Another cable channel bringing films that might otherwise remain unseen to American living rooms is the Sundance Channel. Named after Robert Redford's Utah indie festival, Sundance offers all manner of independent and foreign films as well as political content such as Iconoclasts, an interview program which features famous performers interviewing other famous performers.
A real boon for the independent industry in recent years has been Project Greenlight, a contest created by actors Ben Affleck and Matt Damon and co-sponsored by Bob and Harvey Weinstein, which offers a one million dollar budget to produce a film from an unknown writer and an unknown director. Project Greenlight is responsible for three films to date; Stolen Summer, The Battle of Shaker Heights, and Feast (currently in post-production). The contest selection process is chronicled in a reality TV series, originally airing on HBO and since picked up by Bravo.
Ironically, one of the top forces behind the success of independent movies today is an offshoot of Disney, one of the biggest studios in America. Miramax not only bankrolls Project Greenlight but has also been instrumental in the success of directors like Kevin Smith, Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, and Eli Roth. Films distributed by Miramax run the gamut across all genres and tastes, staying loyal to the philosophy of independents while attempting to release financially successful productions as well.