The family has always occupied an oddly supporting role in mainstream American cinema. It clucks disapproval or offers encouragement in romantic comedies/dramas and musicals, perennially playing second fiddle to a heterosexual romance. It exists to be endangered in many westerns and action/adventure films, both humanizing the tough male hero and allowing him to prove his abilities as a masculine protector. Even high-toned prestige pictures frequently view the family solely in terms of the influence it’s had on a single protagonist or couple. The daily experience of living with one’s parents, siblings, and extended relatives—within the same physical space, social network, or emotional/psychological web—is rarely afforded the sole focus of a Hollywood film. Of course, one can pluck out a multitude of exceptions to this rule, from The Magnificent Ambersons to Terms of Endearment to The Family Stone. But even then, the spotlight is largely predicated upon the outsize emotional fireworks or extreme circumstances in which we see them. Movie studios rarely deem the family worthy of primary interest unless the ante is significantly upped: historical significance and material opulence; life-threatening illnesses; and/or skeleton-after-rattling-skeleton yanked out of the closet. (Is it any wonder that so many familial sagas are also crime epics, the rivalries and recriminations made relevant via generous splashes of blood?)
Independent cinema would seemingly provide the ideal opportunity to illuminate the quotidian conflicts and complex emotional tapestries that mark familial life. Theoretically freed from Hollywood’s hoary assumptions and market-driven skittishness, the indie camera’s lens not only promises the chance for heretofore unseen individuals to have their stories told, but provides a means by which to correct, complicate, or outright reject how mainstream film has previously represented more established issues. Read Matt Connolly’s contribution to Reverse Shot’s Stuck in the Middle symposium.