Monday, September 21, 2009

Can the indie "bloodbath" be traced to the decline of critcis?

After surveying the scene at the just-completed Toronto International Film Festival, Anne Thompson reports on the sad state of the indie film market. (Like me, she's surprised to see that Get Low couldn't nail down a distribution deal during TIFF.) Roger Ebert echoes her insights -- and adds a few of his own -- here.

For what it's worth, I posted this comment on Ebert's blog (which, like Thompson's, is required reading for any serious cinéaste):

I strongly suspect that, years from now, when pop-culture historians are writing about the early-21st-century indie film crisis, many will note a direct correlation between the decline in audiences for indie films and the decline of film critics on newspapers in major and secondary markets. Seriously. Yes, I know: Newspapers still run wire-service reviews. But that’s hardly the same thing as having someone on staff who’s an active advocate for indie movies, who’s eager to interview indie filmmakers – and who urges editors to occasionally make a review of an indie film the lead review in a Friday paper. Also: I think readers are more likely to heed the advice of a critic they have come to know, if not always agree with. That is, a critic who is a visible member of the community – someone who’s interviewed on local TV from time to time, who lectures and/or introduces films at museums and other venues, and whose reviews may get debated on radio talk shows.

Of course, there’s another factor to consider: The decline of newspapers, period. Yes, there are many, many websites where people can read astute and/or entertaining reviews of films. But those sites are frequented by people already inclined to see movies. With newspapers, you have what I call The Happenstance Factor: Someone leafing through the paper might stumble across a review of an indie movie – a movie he or she might not otherwise know about – and become sufficiently interested to actually go see the film in a first-run theater. I can’t tell you how many times I had people (even editors and fellow staffers) tell me back when I reviewed films for the now-defunct Houston Post that they never would have heard about (much less gone to see) certain movies if they hadn’t serendipitously come across my review while looking for the comics page or the horoscope column. Unfortunately, that sort of thing rarely happens on the Internet.

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