Overrun With Indies?

Contemplating this year’s Sundance festival, Manohla Dargis makes a request of movie producers (NYT):

[T]ake a moment and consider whether flooding theaters with titles is good for movies and moviegoers alike. Because no matter how exciting Sundance will be this year, no matter how aesthetically electrifying, innovative and entertaining the selections, it’s hard to see how American independent cinema can sustain itself if it continues to focus on consumption rather than curation. There are, bluntly, too many lackluster, forgettable and just plain bad movies pouring into theaters, distracting the entertainment media and, more important, overwhelming the audience. Dumping “product” into theaters week after week damages an already fragile cinematic ecosystem.

Tim Wu has a great counterargument, writing that “making lots of films to yield a few hits is not dangerous to independent film but exactly how independent film sustains itself—and ultimately how it improves Hollywood”:

Who exactly gets hurt if too many movies are made?

If making films weren’t challenging and fun for the people involved, they wouldn’t do it. As John Kenneth Galbraith wrote decades ago, we live in an affluent society, with plenty of surplus cash, much of which ends up in the arts. More art means more bad art, too, but so what? … It may sound strange, but visible failures are the sign of a fertile cultural industry.

Ultimately, the only real victims are film reviewers like Dargis, whose job is complicated and made tiresome by the duty of watching so many films. … This leads to a suggestion for the Times’ critics: namely, that the paper’s ambition of reviewing every film that is “released” in New York City theatres is folly and entirely too twentieth-century. (The Times reviewed nearly nine hundred films in 2013.) The significance of a release is eroding in every media market—film is just the latest. Just as book-review sections long ago gave up on trying to keep track of every book published, it is pointless to review every film released, especially when the real life of most films happens on the small screen anyhow.

(Video: Trailer for Computer Chess, winner of the Alfred P. Sloan Prize at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival)