Nate von Zumwalt
It’s easy to get lost in the grand, occasionally ostentatious, festivities that accompany the Fourth of July. But at the heart of the nation’s revelry is a collective nod to the freedom we enjoy as American citizens. On the eve of Independence Day, we take a look at five Sundance-supported films that embody the true ethos of independent filmmaking. From microscopic budgets to DIY directors, each of these filmmakers found a way to turn their creative visions into realities without breaking the bank. Happy Fourth of July!
Between its do-it-all director, an absurdly diminutive budget, and a thrilling labyrinth of a storyline, Primer is among the most fascinating film feats of the past decade. Shane Carruth’s directorial debut showcases his dexterity as a complete filmmaker with an almost unprecedented knack for self-sufficiency—he wrote, produced, starred in, and directed the 2004 Grand Jury Prize winner.
Primer tells the story of a group of engineers who, amidst their work on an apparatus intended to reduce the weight of objects, inadvertently build a time travel machine. What ensues is anyone’s guess, but there are countless blogs and graphics that attempt to detangle the convoluted progression of events. In an almost cruel adherence to authenticity, Carruth stays true to the technical parlance and scientific theories that he had come to know as a mathematics major and former software engineer.
On paper, Napoleon Dynamite doesn’t gross $46 million, spawn a moon boot revival, and prompt the sale of thousands of ‘Vote for Pedro’ t-shirts. And perhaps that improbability is the greatest testament to the work of director Jared Hess and the quirkiest of performances from John Heder.
Napoleon’s best friend and fellow outcast, Pedro (Efren Ramirez), is running for class president, and the two must devise a plan to defeat the snooty Summer Wheatly (Haylie Duff). While Napoleon Dynamite did garner an enthusiastic, somewhat fanatical group of followers, that group is by no means small. This is not your average cult classic.
Blair Witch Project
Arguably the most seminal horror film to descend upon daring Festivalgoers, Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez’s genre-spanning psychological horror left some audiences traumatized, and others simply nauseated. Whether the jarring handheld camerawork appealed to your horror film tastes or not, the film pulled off the ultimate something-from-nothing achievement by grossing nearly $250MM.
More often than not, documentary features fuse elements of hearty enterprising, long hours, and tenuous financial backing—all the components of a truly independent film. Thus explains, in part, our inclusion of Detropia, a raw and evocative tableau of a once iconic American city on the precipice of abandonment. Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady eschewed the traditional distribution route and opted to independently release the film through their production company Loki films, along with the support of crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and Sundance Institute’s own digital distribution service #ArtistServices. Watch the film here.
Kevin Smith is one of independent film’s greatest ambassadors, and a pioneer in molding the modern interpretation of ‘indie.’ That’s the kind of standing one can achieve when your first film is shot at the convenience store where you work.
Clerks, which depicts in bizarre detail (though in black and white) a day in the life of a convenience store clerk and his buddies, acquired distribution at the 1994 Sundance Film Festival and went on to an award-winning run at Cannes, effectively launching Smith’s career.