As streaming players like Netflix and Amazing rose to prominence, many in the independent film community were encouraged by those companies’ interest in telling unique stories from unique perspectives. But reflecting on recent changes in the industry, “Call Me by Your Name” producer Rodrigo Teixeira said as streamers have risen to power, they’ve begun mimicking the creative meddling that studios are so famous for and says a platform like Criterion Channel ought to step up to save artistic integrity.
Teixeira sounded off during a panel titled “The State of Independent Film” as part of the Locarno Film Festival StepIn 2020, hosted by Variety on Thursday. In addition to indies like “Call Me by Your Name,” Teixeira produced “Ad Astra,” which needed studio involvement from 20th Century due to its large budget, he said.
“It became a studio film, and I saw how it was to work with a studio. It’s a completely different situation than in independent film — I think we are going into the 2.0 phase [of executive meddling] with the streamers,” he said.
Another one of his recent productions, “Invisible Life,” was acquired by Amazon after it won Cannes’ Un Certain Regard last year. He’s quick to point out that it was funded and produced independently.
“I didn’t produce with Amazon and I know if I did, I would lose my freedom,” he said. “And I prefer to have my freedom, with the director.”
As streamers become more involved in production of high-profile movies (Netflix premiered three titles on Sundance’s opening night), Teixeira said the solution is for more independent streamers, like Criterion, to step up their game and create original films.
“I think these guys are going to be the ones,” he said. “You have that library and you’re also producing independent films — you’re going to save independent films. I think this will happen … you don’t need to be Netflix, you don’t need to be Amazon, you can have your own way to do that.”
But Daniel Battsek, director of Film4, said on the panel that streamers are not the “big, bad wolf,” pointing to how they’ve helped usher in an era where mainstream audiences are watching documentary films once considered too niche.
“In many ways, they’ve created a vanguard for certain types of filmmaking and turned audiences on to certain types of filmmaking that, however hard we try, we’re never going to have a big enough voice … to really make audiences aware of how amazing documentaries are,” he said.
He pointed out that distributors A24 and Neon are also turning the release of art films into a successful business.
Neon, for example, has an output deal with Hulu that ensures films like “Parasite” are available to a wide, mainstream audience. Its executives coordinate closely with those at Hulu in making festival acquisitions.