The Next Great Crop of American Indies Might Come From This Polish Film Festival
By Steve Dollar, December 29, 2018
American independent cinema has gone through several generations since the end of the 1990s. The accelerated evolution might mirror the technological advances of the past 20 years, from the easy availability of early, consumer-grade digital cameras to the ubiquity of streaming platforms, as well as new social networks and the rising impact of regional film festivals.
You can put all that in perspective by spending a week in, of all places, Wrocław, Poland, where the ninth edition of the American Film Festival concluded this fall. The festival thoughtfully reframes highlights from the preceding year’s run of major (and minor) film gatherings, cherry-picking selections out of Sundance, South by Southwest, Tribeca, and others, as well as more multiplex-friendly items (“A Star Is Born,” “Halloween”) getting a premium introduction to the Polish market.
But the festival isn’t a rehash. While accounting for work along an auteurist arc from Frederick Wiseman (“Monrovia, Indiana”) to Alex Ross Perry (“Her Smell”), the program also offers a deep-dish context, as well as serious hang time for an array of guests that included producers Sara Murphy and Ryan Zacarias (supporting Rick Alverson’s “The Mountain,” with star Tye Sheridan), Aaron Shimberg (“Chained for Life”), Matt Grady (of indie distributor Factory 25), Ryan Scafuro (“Phantom Cowboys”,) and Nicole Brending (for the world premiere of “Dollhouse: The Eradication of Female Subjectivity in American Popular Culture,” a savage takedown of the Whitney/Britney celebrity-industrial complex, cast with dolls and painstakingly constructed over years in the filmmaker’s Twin Cities apartment).
There was a Hal Ashby retrospective (complete with a Hal Ashby lookalike contest) and well-considered retrospectives devoted to a pair of American indie “OGs,” Sara Driver (“Sleepwalk”) and Alexandre Rockwell (“In the Soup”), whose ’80s and ’90s work evoked that distant, haptic pre-digital era (and the scummy wonderland of pre-Giuliani NYC) with undiminished vibrancy. That generational range established, the fest’s annual U.S. in Progress program — sponsored by the Warsaw production company Papaya Films — unveiled four new films from American directors whose varied approaches spoke to the vitality and diversity of the contemporary indie scene.
Each of the selections received awards of post-production services from Polish studios, designed to aid in final polishing before festival submissions of the completed films. They included three debut features, as well as “Initials S.G.,” the latest effort from the filmmaking duo Rania Attieh and Daniel Garcia (“H.”), who were unable to attend. (Producer Iván Eibuszyc, who represented the film, opted out of media coverage). IndieWire asked the other three filmmakers to take us behind the scenes of their promising features, which should be lighting up the festival circuit in the new year.