Film experts point to a slow but gradual shift in moviegoer tastes. Illustration: Kelsea Shore.
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Indie flicks like Annihilation received critical acclaim this year

The 2018 Oscar nominees were a somewhat surprising lineup for those accustomed to the typical directors, big-budget features, and A-list stars.

Four of the 2018 Oscars’ best picture nominees, including Call Me By Your Name, Get Out, Lady Bird, and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, were independent films. It was proof of a growing public inclination towards the indie genre, asking movie lovers to check out TIFF-sponsored festivals or small arthouse theatres, rather than just settling for the Tuesday discount at their local Cineplex.

The changes aren’t just taking place in audience’s heads, but on movie sets themselves.

Get Out made headlines for its Black director, Black star, small budget, and massive box office success. Call Me By Your Name tackled a same-sex love affair. Lady Bird was directed by a woman and boasted a largely female cast.

“It’s a slow, glacial shift but it’s there and it’s underway (and) the momentum now is considerable,” says Tom McSorley, executive director of the Canadian Film Institute. “It takes a lot of seismic shocks for the establishment to move but I think it’s starting to happen.”

This year’s best picture nominees are proof that the traditional concept of what type of movie is considered worthy of film’s greatest honour is beginning to change.

Independent film is able to explore themes, on-screen and during production, that are more difficult to access in Hollywood. Marginalized groups who may not have been given acclaim on the world stage in the past are able to find a voice in the independent market. One such group is Canadian film.

Canada is home to TIFF, one of the world’s largest film festivals, and Toronto and Vancouver are frequent shooting locations for American programs, but Canadian film is historically underrepresented in theatres both Canadian and international. A renewed enthusiasm in the indie film industry may be changing that.

“A lingering indie spirit”

“It’s always the end of the world and it’s always the beginning of the world in the Canadian film industry,” says McSorley. “However conscious or not, (there’s) this sort of lingering indie spirit in Canada. It’s always been about doing it yourself, because there’s no studio you can work at and work your way up. That doesn’t exist in Canada.”

In particular, films and filmmakers from Quebec have seen increasing success, both within Canada and beyond, says Bruce Harvey, film commissioner with the Ottawa Film Office.

“Quebec directors have been doing phenomenally well on the international scene,” Harvey explains, pointing to the success of directors Denis Villeneuve and Xavier Dolan.

Dolan’s film The Death and Life of John F. Donovan became his first English language film and his first to debut at TIFF in September, accomplishments that are perhaps symptomatic of changing attitudes in indie distribution.

A growth in the public appetite for indie films has led to an increase in their absorption by the Hollywood market. Some suggest that this is a threat to the integrity of the industry, but McSorley sees it as a potential for introducing more diversity.

“I think it’s potentially damaging to the individual artist, but (Hollywood) is always on the lookout for talent,” he says. “Everybody critiques Hollywood, but it is kind of amazing that they brought in Guillermo del Toro, and a few other Mexican filmmakers, to make films with more money than those guys had ever made films with before, because the producers saw talent in them.”

As a consequence of American interest in independents, American or otherwise, a new wave of Canadian directors are flocking to Hollywood. Both Harvey and McSorley cite Denis Villeneuve, whose blockbuster Arrival was nominated for eight Oscars last year, as an example of this phenomenon.

It seems 2018 proved that cultural globalization, changing social norms, and technological advancement are changing the face of the film industry in favour of independent film, which is sure to produce more innovative and exciting art in the near future.

If you’re interested in sampling some of the best recent indie films,read on for reviews of some of the Fulcrum’s favourites.

The Florida Project, Sean Baker

Sean Baker’s latest feature is as bold as it is unique. Baker, the director who rose to fame through his previous features shot entirely on iPhones, switched to a camera for The Florida Project (most of it anyway, a short scene in Disney World is shot on iPhone), but it retains the same effortless type of cinematography that thrust him to fame on the independent scene. The bright colours help accentuate the lens of childish innocence that seeps through the story. .

The Florida Project is almost entirely shown through the eyes of six-year-old Moonee, living with her young mother in a motel near Orlando. The juxtaposition of the amusement park paradise, full of wealthy families and childhood dreams, next to the poverty and unsavoury nature of Moonee’s life in the motel is striking. Despite her questionable parenting ability, Moonee’s mother Halley’s love for Moonee is a constant throughout the film.

The tragic realism of the situation, which worsens as Halley is forced to engage in more and more morally questionable ventures in order to support her small family, makes the film relatable and heart-wrenching. It is also a testament to the power of childhood, able to flourish in all situations.

Highlights in this film include the performance of seven-year-old actress Brooklyn Prince, whose acting ability is far beyond her years, and the quiet heroism portrayed by Willem Dafoe that earned him an Oscar nomination.

Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig

In her directing debut, Greta Gerwig delivers a convincing, heartwarming and altogether relatable story about the teenage years and mother-daughter relationships. Her writing is witty, her characters potent and her story unique. The coming of age genre sometimes feels repetitive and predictable, but Lady Bird is neither.

Centred on the tumultuous relationship between teenaged Christine, who has renamed herself “Lady Bird,” and her mother, the film is at once about teenage angst, popularity, and eccentricity. There is a piece of Christine that is relatable to everyone, and her exploits are somehow both enviable and hilarious.

On a deeper level though, the story is also about confronting the realities of adulthood, whether that be behaving diplomatically with one’s family, getting into relationships, or, a central issue throughout the film, figuring out the next steps after high school.

The chemistry between Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf is convincingly familial and will have you reminiscing on all the high school clashes between you and your mother. The best part of the film may just be its end, where it is able to somehow remain ambiguous while giving the audience a sense of closure, continuing to emulate the uncertainty and unpredictability of youth until the credits roll.