What's Killing Independent Film?

So now what?

That's the question I've asked myself recently after watching any number of worthy but small movies. I come out of the screening room - or turn off the TV because I've had to watch a DVD screener - and thought, "This is a nice little movie - but who will ever have the chance to see it?"

Maybe these films will have a life on DVD or on cable or video-on-demand. But how will anyone hear about them if they wind up painted/tainted with that "straight-to-video" label?

Most of them, it seems, will barely be released into theaters, so they join the slurry of movies that seems to increase daily: films which, just a few years ago, would have had an arthouse release at a minimum. They'd have been reviewed, seen, remembered.

Recently I wrote about David Hollander's film Personal Effects, which starred Ashton Kutcher and Michelle Pfeiffer - and which was going straight to DVD after one-night-only screenings in Los Angeles and New York. Or The Deal, a witty little film about the movie world that William H. Macy co-wrote, co-produced and starred in with Meg Ryan.

And the list goes on. In March, I screened several films at a film club I host that were getting extremely limited releases before heading to the DVD/on-demand universe: Reunion, Sherman's Way, The Cake Eaters.

This week, the movie The Escapist, a British prison-escape drama, hits video-on-demand two days before its limited theatrical release in New York.

Indy-film guru John Pierson explained it to me a year ago at South by Southwest, when I was trying to peddle a documentary I'd made (still trying). The number of screens available for independent/foreign/documentary films isn't growing. Neither is the size of the audience for these films - at least not the audience willing to leave its home to pay to see a movie in a theater.

But the number of these movies being made has mushroomed. Literally thousands of films were submitted to Sundance this year for a couple hundred slots. Everyone seems to be operating from the model of 20 years ago when, as John Sayles once told me, "If it had sprockets, you could sell it." Or the model of five or 10 years ago, when selection to a major film festival meant your film had a good shot at being released.

So what of the thousands that don't get selected? Or worse - the hundreds that do play the festival circuit without ever attracting a buyer?

For the rest of this post, click here to go to my website, www.hollywoodandfine.com.

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