While comedies are still Hollywood’s most profitable commodity, the anxiety surrounding The Great Recession has given birth to a more serious tone in most independent films coming from North America. The tension is not just economic … the uncertainty of jobs and personal security has unleashed a perfect storm of emotions that has distanced people from their governments, from their valued institutions and from one another. As in any sort of crisis, both the best and the worst of human behavior comes to the surface.
Perhaps because the American Dream long prized (in North America and elsewhere) has become more elusive or because scandals on Wall Street, in the church and at the highest levels of government have created a cynicism and helplessness that strangles our hopes for the future, the films in this year’s Competition of North American Indies have a more serious tone, even when they are working to make us laugh.
The downsizing of American life and the uncertainty of family loyalty or personal fulfillment provides the uneasy sub-text in such films as “3 Backyards”, “Helena from Wedding”, “That Evening Sun”, “The Last Escape”, and “Twelve Thirty”. As the rules of what is acceptable and unacceptable keep shifting, an underlying tension touches at the core of self-identity in the films “Grown Up Movie Star”, “The Imperialists Are Still Alive!”, “The Year of the Carnivore” and “White Irish Drinkers”. Our growing awareness that problems in one part of the world can easily infect our own is emotionally explored in the Middle East family drama “Incendies”. Even a comedy about a young woman’s inappropriate sexual education contains the seeds of feelings of low self esteem and the power of the media to shape our most intimate desires.
While the current economic crisis will surely come to an end and the social tension that has marked the first decade of the 21st century may turn out to be a brief period of adjustment, there is no question that a new world order is asserting itself. Technology is leading us ever faster into vast terrains that are unknowable and for which we may not yet be prepared for. History will record this as a pivotal moment when one century gave birth to its successor and the hard-and-fast rules began to change at an alarming rate. When people in years to come want to understand this particular moment in time … its promise, its disillusionment and its conflicts, they need look no further than the films presented here.
By Sandy Mandelberger, Competition of North American Indies