Features

Capturing Controversy: A Look at Activist Filmmaking

Two veterans of the field reveal the true nature of activism in film.


An outreach nurse helps a patient in Nettie Wild's "Bevel Up."

"It’s understanding the difference between an issue, and what will really provide the elements of a film," said Nettie Wild a social documentary filmmaker and director of Bevel Up: Drugs, Users and Outreach Nursing (view the trailer here), which screened at HotDocs in 2008. Independent writer, Jericho Parms, talks to Wild as well as director Francine Cavanaugh (view the trailer for her latest film On Coal River here), co-founder of Mountain Eye Media, about the elements that make a good activist film, and the effect social media can have on society.

It’s been nearly 10 years since the streets of Seattle hosted the World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference and the subsequent chaos of the police response to the massive public protest, which turned into the so-called “battle on free speech in the name of free trade.” The event marked a significant phase of the anti-globalization movement—and a milestone in the activist nature of do

Film-Friendly State: Shooting in Michigan

In the first installment of The Independent's new Film-Friendly States series, Erin Trahan explores why Michigan might be the perfect spot to shoot your next film.


Michigan's famous five-mile-long Mackinac Bridge.

There is no doubt that the war of the tax credits can have an impact on your bottom line. And with states competing to get the best incentives on the books, it’s a buyer’s market. So how can filmmakers choose the right destination? A new series from The Independent assesses some of the top locations for independents in the United States.

From New Mexico to Massachusetts, from Michigan to California, state and local governments are luring film-production business by passing increasingly competitive tax-incentive policies. Michigan recently joined the party in April 2008, with an unprecedented 42 percent return.

Sustaining Big Projects through Small Gigs

A trend toward online documentary-style commercials might be a good source of supplemental income for filmmakers.


Filmmakers like Dave Jackel are meeting the growing demand for documentary-style online commercials.

Corporate television commercials are quickly becoming a thing of the past. Instead, businesses both big and small are turning to documercials, commercials shot like documentaries, to more sincerely convey their message via the Internet. Like it or not, this trend is opening up doors for independent filmmakers — both financially and professionally.

A machine’s dial turns, and a white powder is added to a spinning beaker of water as a woman’s voice overhead talks about toothpaste and animal testing. It looks like a documentary you might find on PBS, but instead, it’s a commercial for Tom's of Maine.

Film Journal: The Making of an Independent Feature

Filmmaker Valerie Weiss presents the first in a series about the making of her first feature Losing Control.


Valerie Weiss shares her experiences of writing and directing her first feature "Losing Control."

In The Independent's new series Film Journal: The Making of an Independent Feature, filmmaker Valerie Weiss will share her experiences of financing, making, and marketing her first independent feature film Losing Control. Here, she discusses her inspiration for making the film and her method of fundraising.

Filmmaker Valerie Weiss will share her experiences of financing, making, and marketing her first independent feature film Losing Control in this monthly film journal.

Three Approaches to Marketing an Independent Film

Three independent filmmakers discuss how they succeeded in marketing their films.


Sterlin Harjo, director of "Barking Water" (above), marketed his film through the Internet and by taking it on the road.

Completing a film is a Herculean task—especially for independent filmmakers. So it’s tempting to feel that once the film is in the can and ready to be shown, the hard work is over. But getting a film ready to be seen is only half the battle; one of the biggest filmmaking challenges still lies ahead: marketing your movie. This month, The Independent takes a look at three filmmakers who took different approaches to marketing their films: Gadi Harel, co-director of Deadgirl (view the trailer here); Sterlin Harjo, director of Barking Water (view the trailer here); and Bill Daniel, director of Who is Bozo Texino?(view the trailer here).

Independent filmmakers don’t have the luxury of the publicity divisions employed by studios. Yet smart filmmaker know that a film’s marketing is crucial to its success or failure—and doing it well requires an enormous amount of time and effort.

How Filmmakers Can Beat the Recession

From freelance work to virtual tip jars, The Independent examines the different ways that filmmakers can put their creativity to use for financial survival.


Filmmaker Brian Pickard used an alternative form of funding for his film, "Slayers".

The Independent's Sean Jones investigates some innovative and useful ideas to help cash-strapped filmmakers survive through difficult times. From free distribution for films to virtual tip jars, The Independent examines the different ways that filmmakers can put their creativity to use for financial survival during the recession.

As the recession continues to cast a shadow on the American economy, Hollywood studios are emerging as one of the few success stories. Audiences seeking an entertaining reprieve from layoffs and pay cuts are bringing theaters increased ticket sales and revenue and giving the film industry a "recession proof" reputation.

How the Recession Hits Independent Film

In this economy, "filmmakers have to stop being afraid of the money side," says Carole Dean of From the Heart Productions.


Director Becky Smith of the acclaimed "16 to Life" (above) is planning to make her next film on a tighter budget.

The recession presents an interesting paradox for independent filmmakers: While tough times often inspire creative projects, funding and distribution resources are much harder to come by even for established filmmakers. The Independent's Peter Hoy approached a broad cross-section of the independent-film community to cover the ramifications of the current economic situation from all angles. Hear the opinions of Becky Smith, director of the award-winning film 16 to Life (view the trailer here), Tribeca Film Festial executive director Nancy Schafer, a recent film school graduate, and others, as they consider the fate of future projects—not to mention their own income—in this challenging environment.

A weak economy is often said to be good for Hollywood. Movie going is cheap entertainment, so ticket sales typically rise in a recession. But what about the world of independent film? Film festivals are scaling back, indie directors are being forced to do more with even less than usual, and producers are finding that grant-giving institutions are strapped for cash.

The Sarasota 350: Reject This!

Independent filmmakers band together after being publicly rejected by the Sarasota Film Festival.


Producers of Calypso Dreams, Michael Horne and Geoffrey Dunn, with calypso singer Lord Superior.

You spend years writing a script, story boarding, filming and editing -- putting all of your blood, sweat and money into a film, and finally sending it out to festivals in the hope that friends, family and the public will get a chance to see what your hard work and talent has created, but next thing you know, you've been rejected in front of hundreds of your peers. Sounds like a nightmare, but it happened to more than 350 filmmakers who applied to the Sarasota Film Festival this year. But, instead of letting it get to them, they went ahead and made the best out of a bad situation, creating their own Facebook group, laurels and even a fringe festival. The Independent's Dante A. Ciampaglia talks to several filmmakers that were part of the 350 and gets their opinion on what went down with Sarasota.

“I don’t think we should see each other anymore.” “It’s not you, it’s me.” “I just want to be friends.” “Thanks, but no thanks.”

The (R)evolution of Filmmaking: A Look at Online Festivals

How the Internet is changing the way independent films are seen and distributed.


Nina Paley's film <i>Sita Sings the Blues</i> is available to download online.

These days you can do just about everything online: pay a parking ticket, shop for Christmas presents or take out a loan. So, it's no surprise that film festivals are finding their place on the Web, with emerging outlets like Haydenfilms, Babelgum, and the former Independent Lens Online Shorts Festival, filmmakers are finding alternative outlets that are sometimes more conducive to short-format films and new filmmakers. But, online festivals are beginning to evolve as well, pairing up with traditional festivals to give filmmakers the networking opportunities that they may otherwise miss out when they submit through solely online festivals. Very soon, with prestigious festivals like Sundance partnering with IFC On-Demand (read more about it here), we may be seeing a lot more big festivals brought to the small screen.

When Deborah Wallwork first started out as a filmmaker in the early 1980s, her goal was to get her work onto one of North Dakota’s four TV channels, and the editing process was all analog. Then the technology changed. She started doing DOS-based computer editing.

“You had to learn programming language to edit,” she says.

The View From the Red Carpet: An Interview with Oscar-Winner Ari Sandel

Independent filmmaker, Ari Sandel, talks about the night he found himself walking the red carpet and the projects he's been working on since then.


Ari Sandel, picking up his Oscar for his short film, "West Bank Story," in 2006.

Ari Sandel, director of West Bank Story (view the trailer here), shares with Independent writer John McMahon, the path that led an independent filmmaker to walk the red carpet at the 78th Annual Academy Awards, where he won the Oscar for Best Short Film, Live Action. He talks about the projects he's taken on since then, including feature-length documentary Vince Vaughn’s Wild West Comedy Show and the script Brad Cutter Ruined My Life…Again which will be a film through Fox Atomic.

Ari Sandel was nervous and excited when he arrived at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood on the evening of March 5th, 2006 for the 78th Academy Awards that, for a moment, he forgot to breathe.

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