The independent film scene is less robust than 20 years ago when it was the ultimate cool. The major studios have a tough enough time reaping profits today, and with a few exceptions such as Participant Media, the big players have virtually abandoned personal film-making because the numbers don't add up. As a result, mainstream film fare typically targets hormonally charged youth who unfailingly pack the theaters.
Following the golden rule of "know thy audience," the major studios rely on the latest and greatest computer-generated gimmickry to satiate the thrill-seeking appetite of the video-game generation. These films require lots of money, and the trend is to throw in 3-D foran extra boost. The movie has a chance at box-office success if it has good-looking vampires,blood and guts, explosions, big guns and an artillery of implausibility led by a super-cut action hero shouting mono-syllabic commands like, "We've got to make a stand!"
It hardly pays to take a stand anymore. As famous film writer Pauline Kael wrote, "[P]eople no longer go to a picture just for itself, and ticket-buyers certainly aren't looking for the movie equivalent of ‘a good read.' They want to be battered, to be knocked out—they want to get wrecked. They want what ‘everybody's talking about.'"
Most indie filmmakers don't have the money to pay the people working on their project, much less any spare change for creating an event. But the ones that succeed (sort of like making it into the NFL or NBA) understand that no matter how brilliant your low-budget movie may be, the secret to success is building an audience, buzz, drama, and the extravaganza of an alternative reality where people live out their dreams. This is where film festivals like the Crossroads Film Festival make a real impact.
Film festivals have a track record of launching careers and building audiences. Festival success, through word-of-mouth buzz, has launched the careers of Kevin Smith, Quentin Tarantino and countless others. Smith's career went into high gear after "Clerks" became the darling of the 1994 Sundance Film Festival, and he sold the film to Miramax. Smith has gone from shooting his first film on a budget of $27,575 to making $30 million pictures.
Like Smith, Tarantino's career break came through a film festival. Without the success of "Reservoir Dogs" at the Sundance Film Festival, Tarantino may not have had the opportunity to make "Pulp Fiction," and without the success of "Pulp Fiction" at the Cannes Film Festival, no "Kill Bill" Vols. 1 and 2, and without "Kill Bill," no "Inglourious Basterds," which was nominated for eight Academy Awards this year, one of which was awarded to Christoph Waltz for his outstanding performance as Col. Hans Landa.
The big festivals, like Sundance, Cannes, Berlin, Venice and Toronto, are not the only ones to launch and sustain film-making careers. The 11th Annual Crossroads Film Festival, which runs Friday through Sunday at the Malco Grandview Theatre on Madison, has had a significant impact on filmmakers, audiences and the local film-making community.
"I see other people's works, and it keeps me inspired to pursue my own film ideas," says local filmmaker Philip Scarborough, who co-founded the festival.
Scarborough directs, edits and shoots for his Jackson-based company, which offers full production services. Among other things, he worked on "Prom Night in Mississippi," which premiered at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival and starred Morgan Freeman.
Nina Parikh, a festival founder and the associate director of the 2010 festival, has seen the long-term effects of Crossroads. "I've seen individuals attend their first film workshops one year and present their own film in a following year. I've seen high school students submit the videos they've made with friends to Crossroads, then move into studying film in college and then into the film/video industry. And I've even seen visiting filmmakers come back to Mississippi after attending the festival to shoot new films. It's cool to see the organization successfully meet many of its missions."
Crossroads also provides an opportunity for the filmmakers to meet and connect with the audience. Ferrell Tadlock, a festival founder, said that "feedback from an audience such as Crossroads is invaluable to a filmmaker. It is incredibly difficult to be objective about one's work. Only by submitting to the screening and the audience can a filmmaker know that what he or she does will be accepted."
The continued viability of independent film-making, which seems to have been withering on the vine during the past five years, depends on film festivals like the Crossroads Film Festival. Crossroads and other festivals in Mississippi—such as the Jewish Film Festival, Magnolia Independent Film Festival, Natchez Literary and Cinema Celebration, Oxford Film Festival, Tupelo Film Festival and Delta International Film and Video Festival—nurture the film leaders of tomorrow, expand the audience base and build upon the firm foundation of Mississippi's film industry.
Anita is a filmmaker and former Crossroads president. See her short, "Crimes Against Pizza," Friday, April 16 at 7:10 p.m.