Until not very long ago, the summer belonged to the Hollywood blockbusters. Of course, with Spider-Man, The Dark Knight, Iron Man and other superhero franchises coming our way, that statement is still true. However, increasingly, independent distributors are seeing the wisdom in offering the more “adult” or “discriminating” viewer a choice, even during the traditional blockbuster season. Rather than waiting until the end of August when the tentpole films have begun to peeter out, indie distributors are taking on their Hollywood brethren at the height of the summer season. This is nothing but good news for those who are interested in some indie fare (with air conditioning) during the interminable heat wave.
In the last few weeks alone, the run-up to the July 4th Weekend (the biggest of the summer) has seen indie films do quite well, thank you. In the mix is MOONRISE KINGDOM, the Wes Anderson film that opened the Cannes Film Festival. Receiving some of the best reviews of the year, the ensemble dramedy is turning into one of the big indie hits of the year, still expanding its run after more than 6 weeks in theaters. While not making as many waves at the box office, indie films that opened in June are continuing their national runs, now moving into the hinterlands to offer some much needed relief from underwhelming blockbusters such as PROMETHEUS and BATTLESHIP (although MADASGASCAR 3 is cleaning up around the world). Such indie films as LOLA VERSUS starring Greta Gerwig, HIDE AWAY with Josh Lucas, YOUR SISTER’S SISTER with the trifecta of Emily Blunt, Rosemary DeWitt and ubiquitous everyman Mark Duplass, SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED (Duplass again and a substantial debut by indie fave of the moment Aubrey Plaza), Sundance sensation BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD and Sarah Polley’s TAKE THIS WALTZ (with award consideration performances by Michelle Williams and Seth Rogen) offer a varied and distinctive landscape of indie choices. Add to this list the latest confection from Woody Allen, FROM ROME WITH LOVE, which had a strong opening weekend and looks on track to be the Woodman’s next big hit after MIDNIGHT IN PARIS.
Documentaries used to be a risky choice for the summer season, but clearly indie distributors are taking their chances with a variety of excellent non-fiction fare. In the past few weeks alone, such Oscar/Independent Spirit hopefuls as THE INVISIBLE WAR (Kirby Dick), WISH ME AWAY (Bobbi Berleffi), PAUL WILLIAMS: STILL ALIVE (Stephen Kessler), MARINA ABRAMOVIC: THE ARTIST IS NOT PRESENT (Matthew Akers), THE ART OF RAP (Ice-T and Andy Baybutt), KUMARE (Vikram Gandhi) and NEIL YOUNG: JOURNEYS (Jonathan Demme) have opened in theaters and are standing up pretty well to the onslaught of big budget blockbusters and popular indie features.
So, does that make summer an ideal time to release a well-respected indie film? The counter-programming angle and widening of choice is certainly appealing and a good business strategy. The only downside could be that a Fall release (traditionally the time for more “prestige” pictures) keeps films fresh in the minds of critics and guild members who can give the films a nod for awards season. Films that made their biggest impact before September may risk being forgotten and passed over, but clearly this is a risk that those involved with the release of the films are willing to take. So, marching bravely into the fray in the coming weeks are such anticipated indie films as the love story CRAZY EYES with Lukas Haas and Madeline Zima, Sundance fave THE PACT, actor-turned-director Martin Donovan’s COLLABORATOR, the Duplass Brothers’ romp THE DO-DECA PENTATHELON, the metaphysical thriller RED LIGHTS with Robert De Niro and Cillian Murphy, the return of indie favorite Nancy Savoca with the multi-character UNION SQUARE, and the celebrated documentaries SEARCHING FOR SUGARMAN, THE QUEEN OF VERSAILLES, SHUT UP AND PLAY THE HITS and THE IMPOSTER. So when you are craving a break from the summer swelter, the indie choices this season are abundant and diverse. Hopefully they are coming to a theater near you…….