Orphan & Bastard: The New/Old Indies

Well we can all acknowledge the death of indie film, right? I mean...indie is no longer synonymous with the terms of production as it is a style, feel and commodified counter-culture vibe. People call Wes Anderson indie. Wes Anderson's last movie supposedly cost $16million to make. And the "Independent Spirit" awards is just that, a spirit, given that an indie is defined as costing under $500,000 as opposed to something like Clerks which rang in at under $30,000 during the original indie heyday. So...where does this leave the real independent filmmaker? And how do we even define indie filmmaker nowadays? I don't know. But I do know I have been seeing more and more indie film iterations popping up that might just be the next step in the indie film chain.

The first one I came across recently was "bastard film." An person I know was flooding facebook a few weeks back with constant blurry shot of film screens, bingo games (?), and dudes sitting in chairs to form various panel-like situations all under the umbrella of some unknown event called the Bastard Film Encounter. After some research, it turns out that this little symposium that took place in Raleigh North Carolina is something of an ephemeral filmmaker's dream composed of films dubbed bastard- as defined by the fest's website as "something irregular, inferior, spurious or unusual." The "Thematically clustered screening" and "lengthy discussion q&a sessions" centered around a wide ranging group of films, some long forgotten documents of things best forgotten, others bordering the eerie home movie, and others adaptations of books into movies into other movies, into art- all centering around a discourse about the need, desire, and importance of preserving these misfit films. The fest itself seemed to draw quite a few names in the bastardly world of film too with people like the Keynote speaker artist/Curator of Collections at the Anthology of Film Archives Andrew Lampert, Liz Coffrey a conservator at the Harvard Film Library, Kelli Hix the Curator of Moving Images at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum and even a banjo playing archivist/researcher in the form of Rich Remsberg. I couldn't find too much information on what went down at this event but with screening headings like "Regional Memorabilia," "Conversion Narratives," Sliced and Diced," and "Fascinating Detritus" one can only imagine the things shining brightly onto the pupils of this audience of bastards! And then, this fest lead me to the discovery of another brand of offbeat indie: the orphan film.

The Orphan Film Symposium, this years event coming up May 10th & 11th, is a venture between The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and NYU/Tisch School of the Arts. "Orphan," as it's known, describes it's films as those "..abandoned by its owner or caretaker...films outside the commercial mainstream: public domain materials, home movies, outtakes, unreleased films,  industrial and educational movies..." and so on and so on. Two stand outs from this years bill are A Portrait of Jason, Shirley Clarke's recently restored 1967 experimental documentary about a gay, black, "hustler" a film & subject pushed the boundaries of race, sexuality and culture and has all but been lost until now...and the other stand out is a screening of the only surviving "Auroratone" film which was a genre of near psychedelic, crystalline light show scenes set to slow, calming music produced in the 40s meant as a form of meditative healing mostly for post traumatic stress suffering war veterans. Orphans, like bastards, seem to have a tendency towards the anthropological side seeing these nearly discarded relics as historical artifact in need of preservation, which is what I think connects these categories to the roots of indie film.

The Indie film genre began as a platform for unheard voices unable to be be funded by the mainstream, the counterculture, the underground just as the orphans & bastards are remnants of ideas that people felt the need to preserve and promote for whatever reason. To take it a step further, youtube, vimeo, videocamera phones, vine- are all nearly instant access to moving images, a new kind of DIY whose digital archives are incalculable- all part of everyday voices that can be accessed like never before. The orphans and the bastards really are the forefathers of a new type of indie cinema- the lost home movies, the glimpses of the unseen, the beauty in someone- anyone's- vision through a camera (or now, a phone or computer or eyeglass) lens. By making the moving image medium more approachable where is it heading? Will new ideas, new platforms, more ways of seeing emerge? Most likely yes, as will a multitude of lives and pictures people have never seen before...the promise for a globalization of cultural sharing through film is on the brink of new dawn and I really hope this fact will let all the orphans & bastards out there have a voice, and maybe even gain attention in causes, issues, lifestyles & beauty we barely even know exist.



Donna K. is a recent transplant to the Midwest where she can be found exploring culture at large through film programming, writing and her general interest in the world- both on and offline.