It used to be the dream scenario for aspiring indie film-makers: you would scrabble together a first feature, maxing out credit cards and remortgaging your parents' house, and get it shown at the Sundance film festival, where your raw talent would get noticed and your movie picked up for a record sum, establishing your A-list career. In the early 2000s, thousands followed that dream, hoping to be the next Quentin Tarantino or Paul Thomas Anderson. It was barely achievable at the best of times – last year's Sundance received more than 14,000 submissions – but right now is the worst of times.
In a recent interview in Variety, film-maker Oren Moverman did not mince his words. "It's very clear that independent cinema, as we know it and as we love it, is over," he said. Moverman, who directed movies such as The Messenger and Rampart, questioned whether there was still a place for the sort of "grungy putting-together of 10 dollars here, 10 dollars there to make a film".
Even if they do get their films made, indie film-makers have no place to show them. The pandemic has exacerbated a trend that was already pushing studio blockbusters towards the big screen and everything else towards the small screen. Universal's recent deal with the AMC chain to reduce the theatrical window (the period movies play exclusively in cinemas) from three months to three weeks is another blow.
Meanwhile, the small screen is now dominated by streaming giants such as Netflix, Amazon and Apple, which are either producing their own content or snapping up indie films at festivals. And the streamers' tolerance for "independence" is not always high. Just ask Michaela Coel, who walked when Netflix wouldn't let her keep even 0.5% of the rights to I May Destroy You.