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Docurama presents
Independent's Day (1997)

"Everyone is the most important person, and everyone needs to be in there right away, and everyone's got this thing and everyone's a somebody...and yet at the same time, everyone's just no one."
- Martha Plimpton

Review By: Matt Peterson  
Published: June 27, 2004

Stars: Steven Soderbergh, Neil LaBute, Tom DiCillo, Sydney Pollack, Greg Mottola, Robert Redford, Roger Ebert, Parker Posey, Geoffrey Gilmore
Other Stars: Bryan Singer, Peter Fonda
Director: Marina Zenovich

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (language)
Run Time: 00h:53m:59s
Release Date: June 29, 2004
UPC: 767685959930
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B- BB-B- B+

DVD Review

The film begins with a telling caption: "In 1985, there were 50 independent films made. In 1997, there were 800." Independent film is here to stay. It is what keeps modern cinema alive and fresh. There's nothing wrong with a Hollywood popcorn blockbuster, but a steady diet of them is like McDonald's for every meal—not good for one's cinematic health. After the dawn of the blockbuster, studios began to shy away from the kinds of impactful character studies that marked the work of the Easy Riders, Raging Bulls of the late 20th century. There was more money to be made, and fewer concepts that seemed bankable. Hollywood is, after all, a business, and a very good one at that.

But where is the appreciation for art? For story? For character? Is cinema not potentially the ultimate combination of all art forms? So, in steps independent film, brought into the limelight by directors such as Steven Soderbergh, whose Sex, Lies and Videotape made a huge, historic splash at a some place called Park City, Utah. There's just a little event there called the Sundance Film Festival. What started as a small event by founder Robert Redford has become a monstrosity of hopes, dreams, desperation, and way too many filmmakers with way too many bad films. Thankfully, a few gems emerge.

This constant pull and push is what director Marina Zenovich is trying to capture in her frank, honest documentary. This is a wordy film, heavily dependent on the talking heads of such figures as the aforementioned Soderbergh (who is the real backbone of the piece), Tom DiCillo, Greg Mottola, Neil LaBute, Sydney Pollack, Roger Ebert, and even a brief appearance by Peter Fonda. Their comments span the expected topics: their personal passions for filmmaking; stories of rejection and hope, and their own personal theories on the nature of the modern film; and the roles played by independents. There is even a brief look at the spin-off, reactionary festivals of Slamdance and Slumdance.

The film pretty much ends with this. It's an entertaining, brisk, revealing piece that even covers the outward annoyance of the residents of Park City, who have to deal with hundreds of Hollywood types, each with their own bloated ego. However, it fails to go much deeper beyond the surface comments of a handful of Sundance participants. Where is the candid footage when they learn they have been accepted or rejected? How were the screenings received? Where are the audience members and what are their reactions? Clearly, there were many missed opportunities here. The piece is less a documentary and more a collection of interviews.

Still, there is truth to be found, including the frequent pitfalls of indie film. Most participants have clearly had a tough go; making it in film requires a level of passion and disregard for debt that few have. It's a seemingly impossible feat, to paraphrase Neil LaBute: Did the film make it into Sundance? Yes? Did it compete? Yes? Did it win awards? Yes? Did you get a distribution deal? Yes? Did you make money? Yes? Did it to better than The Brothers McMullen? No? See? It's insane, yet wonderful at the same time.

Though there is a trend among indie filmmakers to make movies that are ultimately derivative of other films, feature excessive voiceover, and are eventually about making films (the Ed Wood syndrome), it is one of the few potential Cinderella stories still left in the entertainment world. It's a venue in which a person can go from rags to riches, and frequently back to rags once more. It's a roller coaster out there. If you're unfamiliar, this documentary will give you a taste.

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Shot on video, the image quality is what you'd expect: Slightly washed out with less than crisp detail, with bits of video noise here and there. For a video source, it looks very stable and clean. Good enough.

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: Recorded in frequently noisy environments, the audio sounds quite harsh and a bit distorted from time to time. However, the important component, the dialogue, is clearly audible.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
1 Documentaries
6 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Marina Zenovich and editor Stephen Garrett
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Insert with a catalog of Docurama titles
Extras Review: Since the documentary is quite short, there are quite a few extras to fill up disc space. First is a commentary by director Marina Zenovich and editor Stephen Garrett, which starts out very jovially, both adoring the "baby" they made together. Zenovich begins with how she began the project, stemming from her acting role in an indie film that did not make it into Sundance. They discuss joys and difficulties, including sound problems that led to Bryan Singer's interview being trimmed. This is an entertaining, lively, anecdotal track.

Next, there are three early versions of the film, each dubbed with a new title: Ten Feet in Ten Days (17m:09s), Just Another Dance (12m:08s) and Indie Filmmakers 1997 (6m:50s). Each of these micro pieces are tailored as separate documentaries. Clearly, this project went through many incarnations and versions. Much of the footage within is a duplication of what is presented in the main feature, but there are some new comments and filmmakers included, most notably Kevin Smith.

Four filmmakers give even more insight through a set of extended interviews: Steven Soderbergh (5m:36s), Sydney Pollack (7m:17s), Neil LaBute (10m:50s), and Bryan Singer (3m:25s). These were all recorded in and around 1996 or 1997, and cover various topics, preceded by title cards. Soderbergh's are especially intriguing, covering the good and bad effects of Sex, Lies and his not-so-positive encounters with Robert Redford. Watching their comments within the context of their current status makes for interesting viewing.

Finally, there is a biography on director Marina Zenovich, info on Docurama, and a text-based catalog of Docurama's titles.

Extras Grade: B+


Final Comments

Though not as engaging as it could be, Marina Zenovich's film does manage to capture the insanity that is Sundance, Slamdance, Slumdance and the indie film world through a collection of interviews. There is quite a bit to digest, but it could have gone deeper.


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