Miramax, Roberto, and the ‘Indie’ Film

Indie, Inc.: Miramax and the Transformation of Hollywood in the 1990s by Alisa Perren discusses Miramax’s unique choices of films to distribute, and more importantly, how it changed the film industry through economic, creative and cultural means. I had known that Harvey Weinstein was the head of Miramax, but I wasn’t sure what that entailed; at the Oscars, he seems to be considered a God among, well, lesser gods (the Hollywood Elite). It has always seemed like he received a thank you during acceptance speeches, and a cameraman was always crouched at his feet ready to film his reactions. The only other guy I knew less about at the Oscars was this guy, who I would see about once every 3 minutes in the audience and call him Whitebeardy (turns out he is Oscar-winning and former president of the Director’s Guild of America Taylor Hackford, and is married to Helen Mirren. Well, now I know– apologies to Mr. Hackford and his white beard.).

I’ve seen several of the Miramax-distributed films mentioned in the book, including Good Will Hunting, Pulp Fiction, Clerks, Life Is Beautiful, The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover, and Sling Blade, among others, and I consider every one of these to be fantastic films. If I had been given this list of films without knowing they were distributed by Miramax, I would have made the connection that these are films with a unique voice written for the most part by up-and-comers. Also, I know several of these are directed by and starring the same person, like Kevin Smith, Quentin Tarantino, and Billy Bob Thornton. Life Is Beautiful, in particular, is an fascinating example. For those who haven’t seen it, I have a question: does a “feel-good Holocaust weepie” sound possible? Well,

With seven nominations, including Best Original Screenplay, Best Film Editing, Best Director, and Best Picture, Life Is Beautiful was the most nominated foreign-language film in Oscar history, (Perren, 199).

Roberto Benigni and co-star/wife Nicoletta Braschi.

Roberto Benigni and co-star/wife Nicoletta Braschi.

And, with what is considered one of the greatest Oscar acceptance speeches ever, Roberto Benigni captivated the world. Unlike the films Miramax distributes from the United States, foreign films have to adhere to a specific set of guidelines for them to be picked up:

“Of all the types of films Miramax released, its foreign-language imports often were the most classical in style, unambitious in structure, and conservative in politics,” (Perren, 192).

This is in stark contrast to the domestic films they distribute, like Pulp Fiction, which is known to be exactly the opposite. I find it ironic that this example of a foreign film, which they specifically chose in order to appeal to the widest audience in terms of story and composition, is a “feel-good Holocaust weepie,” which is in no way an ordinary genre.

The term ‘independent film’ takes on all kinds of interpretations– positive, negative, or somewhere in between. Originally, “[t]he word’s appeal expanded as it became more closely linked to a particular subculture of white, male, upper-middle-class tastes in music and fashion,” (Perren, 7). However, “[t]he rise of Miramax and other indie subsidiaries can be seen as intersecting with the global media conglomerates’ increasing focus on producing and distributing niche products to specific demographic groups,” (Perren, 6).

These days, when I hear ‘Independent filmmaker,’ I can’t help but think of Wes Anderson. I think of him because of his unique, quirky style, which is entirely the wrong reason for thinking of him as such. On top of that, he has made films for Focus Features and Fox Searchlight, making him, undeniably, not independent. I also couldn’t help but think there was a pretentiousness to the term ‘Indie’ film nowadays, but that may have been due to my own early misreading of it; Indie films? That’s just art house drivel. This 50- second independent film may be seen as drivel to some, but I’m more proud of it than any other film I’ve had the pleasure of making (shoutout to Diego).

Works Cited

Perren, Alisa. Indie, Inc.: Miramax and the Transformation of Hollywood in the 1990s. Austin: University of Texas, 2012. PDF.

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