The State of Independence
The following observations represent my personal
attempts to come to terms with the idea and substance of "Independent
Animation." This means we have here some subjective, unsorted ideas.
My viewpoint is not that of a theoretician. The following thoughts are based
on my extensive activities as an independent festival consultant and programmer,
and as an independent observer of the international scene. Here, for the first
time, I'll try to tie it all together.
The following observations represent my personal attempts to come to terms with the idea and substance of "Independent Animation." This means we have here some subjective, unsorted ideas. My viewpoint is not that of a theoretician. The following thoughts are based on my extensive activities as an independent festival consultant and programmer, and as an independent observer of the international scene. Here, for the first time, I'll try to tie it all together.
Definition of Terms
"Independent Film" is an expression that crystallized out of the Avant-Garde film scene of the late 1950s and 1960s, and reached its culmination in 1968 with the political high-point of the Student Movement. At that time the Avant-Garde concerned itself with trying to develop new strategies for communication, and, simply formulated, pressed for the abolition of older aesthetic standards. The Independent Film, overlooking its own dependence, attacked "the monopolization of communication media, and furthered, among other things, jury-free festivals and the communalization of means of production" [from Ernst Scheugl and Hans Schmidt, A Sub-History of Film]. Along with this goes the denial of the filmmaker vis-a-vis the institutions, and opposition against the industrial mechanics of production. Freedom of experience (everyone could and should make films) and the demand for the socialization of production means were further goals of the "Independents." Now the filmic Avant-Garde ever since its beginnings in the 1910s and 1920s cultivated a very close relationship with the Fine Arts (Futurism/Cubism), and since Animation itself can also be seen as a synthesis of film and the graphic arts, naturally the expression "Independent" was also used in the realm of Animation. And it seems to me that the term is much more popular today than it was earlier.
Definition of Terms
A Faded Expression
In the past years, this term "Independent Animation," through its indifferent and inflationary use to designate everything that isn't part of the mainstream Disney provenance or produced under contract to television, has been robbed of its true political content. The expression has become a label that anyone can use for whatever their own purposes are. The grounds for this, it seems to me, lie, among other things, in the global animation boom sustained over a number of years, which enormously widened the range of content and technical variety, as well as finding outlets in all sorts of communication media (TV, Internet, CD-ROM, advertising, Art, education, etc.). Further factors, inherent in this quick growth, are rationalization, professionalism, and standardization of all phases of production, with the inevitable accompanying conditioning and leveling of viewing opportunities. Likewise, one can no longer differentiate with the label "Independent" an artistic scene which arose with dizzying growth, from the shallow content and polished aesthetics of commercial production. The original meaning of the word "Independent" (which has in the meantime become rather obsolete historical content) is therefore lost. The rapidity with which the international market for Animation expanded prevented paradoxically the necessary reflection about the nature of the medium itself. The theoretical debate hangs criminally far behind the economic development.
I would make the definition of "Independent" simple. First of all, it stands for freedom of content and economic freedom for the artist. That is, freedom in all phases of the production of a work. The only obligation involved is the individual artistic invention. The fulfillment of the audience's expectations, the attempt to serve trends, speculation on material profit, counting on success with the public, or even the wish for artistic or other recognition, must not be a major concern.
This idealized definition of Independence can, as absurd as it may seem, be applied to the situation of Animation artists who worked in the state-owned studios of the communist countries (ca. 1955-1990), since Animation was treated in the politics of these countries almost exclusively as children's films. In the shadow of the harsher censorship leveled against live-action feature and documentary films, Animation opened an area of artistic freedom which answered, in production techniques and economic structure, all the requirements of "Independent" animation, and represented an island of artistic freedom in a repressive system. Despite government control and intervention, an independent aesthetic developed, and brilliant works were produced, many of which gained a secure place in the history of Animation. Fedor Khitruk, Yuri Norstein, Jerzy Kucia, and Priit Pärn, to name only a few examples, created grand masterpieces that could never have been accomplished outside the context of the state-run studio system. Today, almost 10 years after the political changeover and the "introduction" of capitalism, many artists are forced into very different working conditions. Despite what seems to be a transformation, only a few artists have managed to continue working independently in these insecure, difficult conditions. Economic peaks and valleys, and inadequate government film support have proven rather disadvantageous for Art.
A Faded Expression