Making Independent Films

Having been exposed to numerous film schools in addition to both mainstream and independent films in a work capacity, ranging from experimental to 3-act narrative features, episodic and live television, commercials and music video productions, the question is, what does filmmaking mean to me?

Metaphysics and Cinema

Independent films can tap into the metaphysical essence of our world and being, making it tangible on a visceral level. It rarely happens, but when it does, a film can be transformational. It's a form of alchemy and I don't believe it can be taught, especially not at film schools.

Convention

The rules and grammar of conventional 3-act paradigm narrative storytelling and the accompanying visual conventions works very well but also produces predetermined symbols that are contrived. The interesting ones are discovered within the work and as such, present themselves in the process of working with the image.

Andrey Tarkovsky

Films by Andrey Tarkovsky do this more than any other filmmaker that I've come across. In my opinion, calling him an independent filmmaker doesn't serve him justice. He transcended others in the same field.

I think the reason Tarkovsky has impacted me so much is because his films are a form of worship. They contemplate on faith and our relationship to the divine using poetry.

His films lack plot in the conventional sense but do an exquisite job at portraying longing and the atmosphere and feel of the spaces that the characters inhabit.

Etre et Avoir by Nicolas Philibert

The pacing and rhythm of Etre et Avoir (Being and Having), a documentary film directed by Nicolas Philibert that portrays life in a rural one-classroom school in France under only one teacher, Georges Lopez, is one of the most beautiful and warmest documentary films that I have ever seen. There is no voice-over and little narrative to speak of and yet, the film draws you in as a celebration of the goodness that can exist. It is of course not all true and I have no idea of how the film has been edited in order to produce this effect, but that's the point for me. All independent filmmaking is like composing a symphony of sorts, in documentary you choose how to frame reality and how to produce meaning from the material you have. This film is deceptive in how simple it appears and in my opinion, an extremely difficult feat to achieve as a filmmaker.

Mira Nari, James Longley & Fernando Perez

Another three independent filmmakers who influenced the making of Dear Lina. Mira Nair's THE NAMESAKE is a feature that tells the story of Gogol, born in the U.S. to first generation Indian immigrants. It's a clash of the parents' traditional values, challenges in creating a new life and longing for home and their son's yearning to fit in. Dealing with identity issues and cultural challenges, it relates to some of the themes of Dear Lina and our marriage. Perhaps more indirectly, but the film is very well made so I like to mention it.

SUITE HABANA, a documentary directed by Fernando Perez is a wonderful film that captures the hopes and dreams of 13 people structured as a day in the life of. No dialogue but wonderful rhythm and cinematography. The observational approach of the film, borrowing from cinema verite strategies but taking far more liberty, is similar in approach to how I shot Dear Lina. Having been in contact with the cinematographer, he let me know that they lived with their characters in order to get the required intimacy. What's interesting about this, is that there is no one standard approach to documentary film production.

James Longley, director of the documentary, IRAQ IN FRAGMENTS, shot on the Panasonic DVX 100 and the results are stunning. I shot part of Dear Lina on the next generation, HVX 200 that uses similar gamma curves to render a lush, cinematic look on video. As a quick note, this cheap technology has entirely smashed through the previously prohibitive high cost of documentary film production and because Dear Lina was shot over several years, the technology actually improved as I changed cameras over time.

“Arthouse films” / Independent Films

I'll be honest, a lot of so-called arthouse films strike me as utter rubbish. Not always of course and I do think that this sub-genre receives a fairly bad rap, but having seen a fair amount of “art films” it's difficult to not dismiss a lot of the work as simply lacking in quality. Similar case with so-called Indie or independent films that can be terrific, but can also just be badly told stories. It's a shame there's this gap between industry and art when it comes to filmmaking and it strikes me as overly polarized – there's little or no communication between the different communities.

I've heard it said that industry made films and the accompanying ideologies, are diametrically opposed to experimental filmmaking ideologies and politically, maybe there's much truth to this. Still, at the end of the day, a good film is just that, regardless of where it originates from and I will continue to insist, you can learn from all these different approaches.

Film as Art

Approaching film as art, changes the way you make them. Film directing is therefore more about seeking out and embracing creative solutions to save money and express your ideas. Frequently the old, “less is more”, is true. Throwing money at the problem doesn't always solve it. Nothing wrong with the stuff though – it's how you approach it.

Personal Cinema

Strictly speaking, Dear Lina is not of the personal cinema tradition, it's more of an independent film really, but the themes of belonging and identity are personal and the approach subjective so therefore, this form interests me greatly. Going further, the personal essay cinema is defined as searching for meaning as you film, as though solving a mystery, and is of great interest. I consider this a form of personal expression where there is digression and a circling in on the main theme in a process of uncovering meaning and discovering symbols. This is a pure form of cinema because the style is subjective as is the meaning and form.

Personal cinema is also rich in complexity because it contains contradictions. There is a tension in the approach itself that is necessary to implement in order to break out of certain molds. It's a tricky balance.

Use of conventional strategies can and should be used but you are free to wonder off the beaten path if you so desire. There is seemingly a looseness to this form of structure but I would argue that on the contrary, it requires a greater discipline of structure than many other forms.

Return from Independent Films to Dear Lina

BUY THE DVD

Film Reviews

Sandy W. Coleman from California

“What a film. You captured the essence of our past lives as we move forward on our path. Who are we? A collection of our past, current experiences and dreams. Thank you.”

Hiro Narita (ASC - American Society of Cinematographers)

“Dear Lina demonstrates his understanding of cultures beyond borders in cinematic language that implicitly expresses human emotions.”

Anthony Romero of DaCast

“I must say that I was blown away by the cinematography and use of colors through out. So as a film buff, kudos for making a stellar product.”