“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” is written on the Statue of Liberty. At the time in the late 19th century, it was seen as a positive sign of welcome. Since the birth of film in America, this message was reinforced via funnily enough westerns that showed settlers conquering a ‘savage’ land, making it their own.
In the late 1940’s, the mood changed, and cinematically, America saw a challenge to the idea of the “American Dream” through Hollywood crime dramas, “film noir” in other words. Suddenly, America was no longer the land of milk and honey, the streets were mean, not paved with gold. In the wake of 9/11, (the attacks on the World Trade Centre), the Iraq war, the 2008 financial melt down a number of film directors from the start of this century
Alexander Payne, Jason Reitman, Tom McCarthy, the actor-directors George Clooney and Robert Redford, or the couple Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris took a different approach.”Endowed” for them, is all about the narrative from the point of view of ordinary people and how they responded to events. Geo-politics and how it affects the USA, has meant a need to re-look at what the “American Dream” really means. The American Dream, for the poor huddled masses, meant immigrants could remake themselves, become successful or if not them, then their children”.
A number of film directors, such as Michael Moore, Sophia Coppola, have had box office successes with films that are either overtly political or are more subtle in their depictions of people trying to reconnect, dispel their ennui. Independent film, has, unlike more mainstream fare, been able to explore the complexity of how people relate/don’t relate to each other. The films of say Hal Hartley, such as “Simple Men” are a very good example of this; https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hal_Hartley.
The cinematic aesthetic took a big shock in the aftermath of 9/11, all of a sudden, even Independent film makers were supposed to sign up and do their bit for ‘Uncle Sam’, in the fight against “The War on Terror”. The British newspaper in February 2015 asked the question; http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/features/from-american-sniper-to-timbuktu-how-should-cinema-respond-to-terrorism-10044488.html
The point that it was trying to make, as it relates to the cultural side of the ongoing “War against Terror”, is that only certain narratives are allowed to be portrayed. “What’s clear is that cinema’s response to terrorism is more fraught an issue than ever. On the one hand, Western cinema is a new front in the “war on terror”. While on the other, jihadism in 2015 is itself appropriating the language of Western popular culture with its murderous viral videos, designed to both intimidate and recruit, and showing a terrible appreciation of the language of Western action films and video games.
When Abu Sumayyah al-Britani, a teenager from a nice part of Cardiff, joined Isis last June, he said: “Jihad is better than Call of Duty.”Amid all this, is it not time for the film industry to start thinking seriously about its responsibilities? It is interesting to note the creative features that shape this generation of independent filmmakers as a coherent group that emerged in the early years of the twenty- first century. To this end, the key aspects of the narrative, social and cultural imagination of the American Dream in the twenty-first century, as outlined in the 2011 study carried out the research team led by Hanson and White, are read as the main points of reference.
The eight key aspects reflected by the Indiewood generation encompass the projection of a domestic problems onto a national stage in crisis; a hopeful optimism with respect to the resolution of conflicts; the epic portrayal of ordinary people; the inspiration of cinematic archetypes that first emerged in the New Deal era; the description or critique of civil rights under threat; political interference in the civil liberties of citizens; the use of narrative strategies typical of the American Dream story, including the journey, the frontier and the recovery of home; and finally, the importance of a generational consciousness in relation to both past and future.
I think that it could be safely argued that “Indiewood”, is a necessary cultural check and balance for the political body, in that films tend to represent a society’s anxieties, pains, pleasures, questions. For example, the “Generation X” (directors born between 1960 and 1980) era of films and directors, often show the paradox of people in relationships that are fragile and brittle, yet they still long to connect with someone, but marriage and rarely plays a part in that. Another recurring feature in the work of the Indiewood filmmakers is their concern regarding the kind of cultural, economic and social legacy to be handed down to later generations.
Generational consciousness and the idea of inheritance are motifs in crisis narratives; they also figure in the work of film directors from the 1930s and 1940s who articulated their social concern in the movies they made It was in the early 1980s, in an economic climate shaped by neoliberalism, that saw a generation fated to fall short of their parents in terms of material prosperity.
Difficulty in saving money or finding a good job are likewise signs of the times for a generation marked by domestic instability, a high divorce rate and an increasing number of so-called ‘latchkey’ children. In his account of twenty-first century independent cinema, Ortner holds that, as a result of the situation outlined above, Generation X people “they express themselves–in their writings, their music and their films–as angry and frustrated, damaged and depressed, or, as a defence against all that, ironically removed from, and with a dark sense of humour” (Ortner, 2013: 21).
I suspect that “Indiewood”, are not so much against the “American Dream” and more trying to point out that the dream has become ever elusive for some, and a nightmare for others. The emotional displacement has become a defence mechanism for people who are unsure how to get their piece of “the dream”, as the usual methods used by previous generations is not working.
So, in effect what we are left with, when the wish to be “cool”, to be “ironic” to be at a distance, is set aside? Well, it’s a whole filmic genre that questions the socially conservative notion of “mom and apple pie”. This generation of film makers and directors are asking the question of “how did we get here?”, “is here where I want to be?”