Waco needs indie films

Rewon Shimray | Cartoonist Photo credit: Rewon Shimray

When we think back on our favorite films, most of us will recall a particularly impactful storyline, an especially believable character or a memorable plot element. The truth is, for many years now, big budget films have fallen short in these regards. Also, it seems like every heavily marketed film falls into the category of unnecessary remake or un-asked-for sequel. In recent years, films that have continued to inspire audiences, raise provocative questions and illustrate a unique perspective are often not distributed to as broad an audience.

Independent films, or indies, are typically produced with a relatively low budget, free from the constraints of major movie studios that prioritize monetary gain over artistic vision. Supporting these types of movies that challenge and engage viewers helps ensure this type of filmmaking continues.

Sherry B. Ortner of University of California, Los Angeles explains that indie movies serve as an antithesis to Hollywood studio films.

“Where Hollywood films generally eschew taking sides on political issues, independent films are often explicitly political and critical; where Hollywood films are in the business of fantasy and illusion, independent films include virtually all documentary films, and even features are usually highly realist; and finally, where Hollywood films classically have happy endings, independent films rarely do,” Ortner writes.

Film is one of the most accessible mediums of storytelling; however, in Waco, the types of stories being told in most theaters fall into the entertainment-focused studio film category. This reality is not unusual for smaller cities like Waco.

Most independent films are first shown at festivals, where distributors like A24 (known for “Lady Bird” and “Eighth Grade”) can make agreements with filmmakers. Theaters can then work with distributors to screen a film — usually only if they believe it will be profitable to them. Therein lies the Catch 22 for Waco: Although there may be a potentially lucrative audience for independent films in this town, distribution companies and theaters have no way of knowing this by ticket sales since there are currently relatively few independent movies screened here.

Most Wacoans interested in viewing independent movies are left with two options: drive to Austin or Dallas or wait until the movie is released on DVD or in digital form.

That being said, there are some opportunities to see indie movies in Waco. The Hippodrome, usually through Movie Mondays, will show independent documentaries and movies such as “I, Tonya” and “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” — and at a cost free to students. This, too, is not unusual. Independent theaters, even in larger cities, usually take the lead in screening these movies.

In addition, sometimes independent movies will come to Waco a few weeks after their initial release date, as was the case with “Isle of Dogs” this spring.

Central Texas even provides local filmmakers with a platform to share their independent movies with the community. The Deep in the Heart Film Festival, held each spring, screens all genres of independent films. Similarly, the Black Glasses also takes place in the spring and shows films made by Baylor students.

When we take advantage of these opportunities we not only open ourselves up to watching engaging movies, but we also show that people in Waco have an interest in watching these types of films in the theater.

Independent movies operate outside the constraints of pure entertainment. They tell important narratives and raise salient questions. However, that doesn’t mean they aren’t entertaining. When you see an impactful independent film, post about it on social media as a way to encourage your friends and family to also support the artists behind the work, but also as a way to show distributors and local theaters that Wacoans are interested in seeing films that challenge the audience.

Independent filmmakers view movies as a method of storytelling, but also as an artistic medium. Their finished products – from Sofia Coppola’s “Lost in Translation” to Boots Riley’s “Sorry to Bother You” – are the manifestation of their artistic visions and perspectives. They deserve support and attention – even in Waco.