...I often complain that Huntsville is not a movie person's town. It's a two hour drive in any direction to the nearest art house or revival theater. This is an engineer's town, a NASA town, so I know the population doesn't get all worked up about Joan Blondell and Buster Keaton the way I do. You would, however, think there would be a strong interest in a movie about physicists discovering the Higgs-Boson particle and a movie about the struggle to adapt one of the most influential science fiction novels of all time into a revolutionary film. Engineers love science, right? Aren't they really into science fiction?Living in New York, it is so damn easy to take the accessibility and availability of movies, past and present, Hollywood blockbusters and no-budget indies, for granted. Last week, I put together my schedule of outdoor films to watch this summer, a list that currently includes, among other things, a silent film, a French film, an Italian film and a classic Hollywood musical. These older, somewhat esoteric films are all gonna be shown for free - and if past experience is any indication, I expect each and every one of these films to be well attended.
So when Jennifer put up this piece about the tough time non-Hollywood movies have in her hometown, it reminded me, once again, of the year I spent living in the Midwest, far away from a major market city, and what the audience for indie films was like there.
|Wexner Center for the Arts|
And one can see independent films in Columbus. The Drexel in suburban Bexley is a classy art-deco theater that brings in top-notch indies. The Wex often presents indie films, sometimes with filmmaker appearances. And the Gateway Film Center usually mixes indies in with mainstream Hollywood stuff.
My experience with indie films in Columbus was mixed in terms of audience size. The Wex tended to consistently attract the bigger, more sophisticated crowds, relatively speaking. I saw the low-budget animated film Sita Sings the Blues there, and that drew a decent crowd for a film that had to rely completely on word of mouth. I also saw Steve McQueen's first film Hunger there; it played at the Wex before it came to New York, in fact. I don't remember the size of that crowd but it wasn't small - and this, of course, was long before McQueen became an Oscar-winning director/producer.
At the time, I felt grateful I could see movies like these, even if I had to wait a little longer for them than I would in NYC. The Drexel was in some financial trouble for awhile when I was there, and I do remember thinking that it wasn't getting the support it deserved. They're still around today, so I can only conclude that people do still want indie films in Columbus. Other than that, though, I don't remember consistently thinking that indies had it rough there. I suspect crowd size depended on stars & subject matter, venue and visibility, among other things. I still follow the Drexel on Facebook, and they still bring in quality indie films, foreign and domestic, so somebody's watching them.
From LA to Little Rock, indie films will always have to compete with big-budget Hollywood films for attention at the box office, and Hollywood will always have the upper hand, especially in the summertime when everyone wants to see superheroes and cartoons and whatnot. I've never been to Huntsville, so I can't speak to what it's like there, obviously, but there are times when I'll see a small crowd for an indie movie at the Kew Gardens here in Queens, and I'll feel the same sense of frustration as Jennifer - "Why aren't more people seeing this?" Still, theaters aren't going away anytime soon, even in this age of online streaming and video-on-demand, and as long as that continues to be true, I figure all we can do is continue to turn out for indie movies, whether it's one person or a hundred... because the theater is still the best way to see a movie. Any movie.