From Major to Minor

Why the best films of 2004 look like indies but aren't

If In Good Company (which opens December 29 in New York and Los Angeles) were a Focus movie, there wouldn't be much pressure to succeed; the studio would roll it out slowly, letting it garner acclaim and awards and momentum rather than springing it on thousands of screens in January. But this is a Universal movie, which means it needs to make a lot of money in a hurry, lest the studio bury it in the boneyard with other well-intentioned studio movies that were never given the care and consideration bestowed upon their most respected indie brethren.

Which brings us back to Primer, the very definition of a transformational experience, and a movie that's very much a state of mind.

In January, not two weeks after Biskind's book had been published, Carruth's movie did a most unexpected thing: It won the coveted Grand Jury Prize at Sundance--beating out, among others, Napoleon Dynamiteand Garden State. For weeks afterward, Carruth could not believe his good fortune and convinced himself that the only reason he won was because the jurors had read Biskind's book and were determined to award a truly independent film.

Primer, written and directed by Dallas' Shane Carruth, right, was the year's most "indie" independent release.
Primer, written and directed by Dallas' Shane Carruth, right, was the year's most "indie" independent release.
Harvey Weinstein's Miramax once ruled Indieland. Now, he's about to get the boot from the Magic Kingdom.
Harvey Weinstein's Miramax once ruled Indieland. Now, he's about to get the boot from the Magic Kingdom.

"The only reason I even have this question is because of this book and because of what's happening in independent film," Carruth said when we spoke in February. "I am sure a lot of people look at this and go, 'Sundance is worried about their image, because they're starting to look like a showcase and not so much a festival for independents, so, hey, they just happened to pick the cheapest film in competition and say that's their winner'...I didn't set out to be the poster boy for independent film."

Alas, Primerhasn't made a fortune, despite being touted by Esquireas the best sci-fi movie since 2001: A Space Odyssey. A major would have buried it long ago: Primerhas pocketed a meager $414,000 since its limited release in October. Yet ThinkFilm is still opening it in theaters, and Carruth agreed to share the expense of promoting and distributing his movie. And it doesn't need to make a fortune. After all, it was made for a pittance--you could make 2,857 Primers for what it costs to make a Warner Independent "independent"--and, more important, Carruth made the movie he wanted to, for himself if for no one else. That, and nothing else, is the definition of an independent film.

"A preponderance of the best films released this year were independents, and that's not speaking for anything I did," Gill says. "It's a panoply of material, as it should be, and the range of diversity is stunning, and it shows no signs of slowing down because the audience wants it and because there are enough companies out there with some economic wherewithal to distribute these movies. It feels to me like it's the beginning of a new golden age of independent film."

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