Independent Film in the Age of Netflix - Raindance

Our 2019 Crowdfunding Campaign is based on the idea that “you always remember you first” – the first indie film experience that turned us into film lovers and filmmakers, and that would like to share with young audiences to spark their interest in indie film. We’ve compiled a list of what we consider to be cult indie films (from Pulp Fiction to , and in doing so we’ve accumulated a variety of questions about what independent film is and what it means to us. Also, what does it mean in this age of streaming services like Netflix? Though it’s a passion of ours, we too find these questions difficult from time to time.

Award Qualification

Technically, an independent film is one that is made without the funding of a major motion picture studio based out of Hollywood. According to the British Independent Film Awards website, these companies are 20th Century Fox, Paramount, Sony, Warner Brothers, Disney, Amazon, and Netflix. Assumably, funding from these companies might call for disqualification. However, BIFA does not disqualify films funded by these films if the budget is under 20 million or if the film is made in their studio, but instead assess individually.

What if it is nominated or wins a Film Independent Spirit Award? As an organization that recognises achievement in independent film, are there the same expectations of what qualifies a film as independent? According to the FISA website, the awards committee judges what makes a film ‘independent’ by meeting the following criteria: uniqueness of vision, original/provocative subject matter, economy of means, and percentage of financing from independent sources. Like BIFA, however, the financing of a film by a major studio may still be considered if the subject is of an original or provocative matter.

These qualifications fuel controversy in the film industry of what the true definition of an independent film actually is. Some, like the awards above, believe the qualifications have limits. If finances fall under a certain number, Hollywood studios can assist in production. Others feel that any involvement from major studios strips a film from its independent worth. Artistic vision cannot be bought, and should be left up to the independent artists whom fund the film themselves. Independent film simply does not have a single connotation.

Streaming Services

In the era we live in, there’s no denying the power streaming services have created. Theatrical releases are in jeopardy, and qualifications for major awards ceremonies are beginning to shift. This new approach to the cinematic experience has some cinephiles up-in-arms, worried that this is contributing to the death of indie film.

According to an article from Deadline, streaming sites are not to blame for a decline in cinema goers, but praised for expanding the marketplace. In discussion of the controversial release of Roma on Netflix, Deadline spoke to director Alfonso Curaón about his opinions on streaming and the effects it had on his film:

[Cuarón] ‘exclaimed that he has the best of both worlds in Netflix’s handling of Roma,’ he said. ‘They’ve made the movie available in theaters with Dolby Atmos and 70MM theaters as well as to their 139M subscribers, an anomaly for a black and white foreign language title [that normally] would have been challenged at the box office. Roma’s win is a triumph of art over commerce.’ Whether or not you agree with Curaón, what is worth mentioning is the effect that a streaming service like Netflix has done for an independent film such as Roma. Though it challenged both cinematic and award ceremony standards with a limited theatrical release, the film excelled eventually taking home three Oscars.

Not everyone supports the marriage of independent film and streaming, of course. In an article from The Ringer titled ‘The End of Independent Film As We Know It’, the conversation of streaming services’ involvement in the independent film market is a toxic one. The article claims indie film faces huge interruption from streaming kings like Netflix and Amazon, bringing the future of film into question. Film festivals are what was originally used to market indie film, and now distributers have taken it to the internet. The author cites:

‘Film festivals that screen these movies were once the bastion for work created beyond the perception of Hollywood’s studio structures . Today, a movie that has been bought, paid for, and strategized against a global calendar by a massive public company is dissonant with the spirit of independent movies.’

What It Means To Us

The definition of independent film is a tricky one that comes with layers. Some may feel that studio backing is acceptable if limited, while others may feel that they should be alleviated from the category all together. Whatever the case may be, independent film will always be what matters most at Raindance. We support filmmakers’ stories being told, and appreciate how they get there. Though a topic that may never reach a singular resolution, it is one that deserves conversation regardless. What does independent film mean to you?



Charlotte is an MA Film Studies student at King's College London. Originally from the United States, she enjoys traveling and watching films as much as she can in between studies. Following graduation next year, she hopes to build her career in the film industry.