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Critic's Notebook: Is the American Indie Film Extinct?

By Zach Wigon | Indiewire April 20, 2012 at 1:06PM

The film is about a traveler in a foreign land, stationed there for work; while on assignment, he falls in love with a native, even though the foreigner is due to return home soon. The film, made with a complicated formalist approach and focused on the foreigner's attempts to understand this new and exotic land, is mimicked by the filmmaker’s journey, because the director is the same nationality as his foreign subject. This description might call to mind Alain Resnais' "Hiroshima, Mon Amour," but it just as easily describes Braden King's newly released "HERE" (which opens in Los Angeles next Friday). "HERE" is about an American cartographer on assignment in Armenia; after falling for an Armenian photographer, they travel the countryside together. It's not uncommon for filmmakers of different nationalities to make works that bear a resemblance to each another. "HERE" is set in Armenia, in which all but one character is Armenian, with a narrative that resembles a French-made film set in Japan more than anything else. So what exactly qualifies it as an "American" movie? There’s no failsafe indicator for what determines a film’s nationality, but two main criteria come to mind: country of production and filmmaker nationality. Of course, filmmakers can have different nationalities from their films: No one’s going to argue that "Drive" is a Danish film because its director is Danish or that "The Darjeeling Limited" is an Indian film because it takes place in India. Generally speaking, "national cinema" tends to mean films made in a certain country by filmmakers of that nationality. The thing is, filmmaker nationality and country of production have become increasingly complicated terms. "HERE" is just one of many recent high-profile "American" indies set outside the U.S. Joshua Marston's "The Forgiveness Of Blood," released earlier this year, was made in Albania with an all-Albanian cast. Any viewer who doesn’t know the filmmaker will assume it’s an Albanian film.
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"Here"
Strand Releasing "Here"

The film is about a traveler in a foreign land, stationed there for work; while on assignment, he falls in love with a native, even though the foreigner is due to return home soon. The film, made with a complicated formalist approach and focused on the foreigner's attempts to understand this new and exotic land, is mimicked by the filmmaker’s journey, because the director is the same nationality as his foreign subject.

This description might call to mind Alain Resnais' "Hiroshima, Mon Amour," but it just as easily describes Braden King's newly released "HERE" (which opens in Los Angeles next Friday). "HERE" is about an American cartographer on assignment in Armenia; after falling for an Armenian photographer, they travel the countryside together. It's not uncommon for filmmakers of different nationalities to make works that bear a resemblance to each another. "HERE" is set in Armenia, in which all but one character is Armenian, with a narrative that resembles a French-made film set in Japan more than anything else. So what exactly qualifies it as an "American" movie?

There’s no failsafe indicator for what determines a film’s nationality, but two main criteria come to mind: country of production and filmmaker nationality. Of course, filmmakers can have different nationalities from their films: No one’s going to argue that "Drive" is a Danish film because its director is Danish or that "The Darjeeling Limited" is an Indian film because it takes place in India. Generally speaking, "national cinema" tends to mean films made in a certain country by filmmakers of that nationality.

The thing is, filmmaker nationality and country of production have become increasingly complicated terms. "HERE" is just one of many recent high-profile "American" indies set outside the U.S. Joshua Marston's "The Forgiveness Of Blood," released earlier this year, was made in Albania with an all-Albanian cast. Any viewer who doesn’t know the filmmaker will assume it’s an Albanian film.

Julia Loktev, a Russian-American who has lived in the U.S. since she was nine, went to Georgia to make "The Loneliest Planet," which revolves around a Mexican man and an Israeli woman and their Georgian guide.

Antonio Campos shot "Simon Killer" (about an American man’s relationship with a French-Senegalese woman) in France. So Yong-Kim, a Korean-American who grew up in Los Angeles, made 2008's "Treeless Mountain" in South Korea. Sophia Takal ("Green") is making her next film in Africa. In short, low-budget filmmakers are broadening the geographical scope of their stories as never before.

This article is related to: HERE, Braden King, Critic's Notebook, Reviews