An important part of the general discussion that happens around indie film is what nonprofessional consumers have to say about it. I am, after all, attempting to gain a little insight as to who in the circle of participants in the indie film culture holds power in determining what defines an indie film, and consumers of films are definitely participants. Part of what makes them nonprofessional and consumers is that they their language won’t always be highly educated, and of course, their language will revolve around things that they’ve consumed. To tap into their discussions, I picked a film which manages in many ways to straddle the line between “studio” and “indie” (if there is indeed such a line, as many would insist.)
Black Swan’s message acts as a direct commentary on “real”ness and truth. It features a ballet director who wishes to produce a more “real” and visceral version of Swan Lake. The story which plays out following the main female lead constitutes what the indie film producer would see as a successful “truthful” narrative; the themes and imagery are dark and uncomfortable, many aspects are unclear and at the end of the film many questions are left unresolved. The story of Portman’s character fulfills not only the goal for truth in the artistic film but also reflects the goal for truth her ballet director strives to achieve. By the end of the film, she is in the midst of a severe psychotic breakdown during which she (potentially fatally – we don’t know) injures herself, yet she is satisfied with her performance because her suffering matches that of the swan she portrays.
This obsession with truth, the many unanswered questions, and the difficult-to-define artsy vibe it puts off in its creative imagery techniques makes it capable of being categorized as “artistic”. It was the winner of the Independent Spirit Awards in 2011, which puts it in the “independent” category, at least to the people who run these awards. According to the Spirit Awards Rules for Eligibility, the total cost of a completed film must be less than $20 million, and the film must have made an appearance in either a commercial theater or one of a slew of independent film festivals in the previous year – but these are the only requirements for submission that are related to a film’s status as “independent”.
This film also has many characteristics of a film that the independent film community would view as definitely not indie. Its budget fits the constraints of the Independent Spirit Awards at $13 million according to IMDb, but its worldwide gross was $329,398,046 according to Box Office Mojo. It was nominated for Academy Awards Best Motion Picture of the Year in 2011, and Natalie Portman won the award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role.
With its relatively high budget, high profit, and slew of well-known actors, it does not meet the criteria for a true independent film, but this makes it a good subject for research, because it certainly attempts to present the aesthetic of such a film. This attempt gives us a look into what the film maker at least thinks will be perceived as artistic.