Lili at Sundance
A Question of
Independence

Talking to Lili Taylor on how Sundance has affected the indie-film scene. Has it lost its independence?

JAMIE PAINTER: The term "independent film" seems to mean something much different now than it did four or five years ago. Do you think it has become a meaningless buzzword?

LILI TAYLOR: I think we're having to redefine independence: It doesn't seem to matter how much money a film is made for but rather what the director's vision is and how protected it is. That can happen with a budget anywhere from $500,000 to $30 million, but it's rarer when the budget gets higher because the stakes are higher in terms of making the investment back.

JP: Do you think independent film reached its peak in the early to mid '90s and now we're seeing a bit of a downhill trend?

LT: I think so. It's gotten more sophisticated--a bit more greedy. There was an innocence back then and a real strong desire to make a film. It was more important that a film get made with an independent producer like a Christine Vachon, for instance. She seemed less concerned with the profit and more with supporting that director. And now it seems that commerce and marketability are much bigger factors than they were in the mid '90s.

JP: Is it difficult to find great female roles in film, even in the independents?

LT: Generally speaking, we've got a ways to go in that department because the imbalance is so old. We're dealing with thousands of years. I do feel the movie industry is a really interesting microcosm of the problem. For a long time there's been double the amount of roles for men as for women. And we earn much less than men do. When the independents were purer and didn't need to make so much money, they could take more risks, especially in the kinds of women that they could show. But when there's a bigger budget there's more of a formula, and the women fit into that formula in a very specific way. Usually a complicated woman is not a part of it.

JP: Who do you think are the most potent voices to have emerged among directors in the past few years?

LT: Todd Haynes, Todd Solondz, and Mary Harron. I say those three especially because they've all fought battles, like Mary with American Psycho and the whole debacle she had to go through. Also, Nick Gomez is truly an independent guy. And Abel Ferrara, who hasn't just come around but is someone who really does it his way. And Stanley Tucci.

JP: Sundance has been a catapult for a myriad of talented artists, including you. And yet, some would argue that the festival has become too successful: for its own good. Do you think Sundance has suffered from the hype surrounding the influx of agents and other industry folks?

LT: Yeah, but the people running it are good people. It isn't their fault the tide changed and it became a marketplace, I think the real unfortunate thing is that Sundance became too stressful for directors. If you didn't sell you film at Sundance or if your film didn't make it into Sundance, it was finito. And that's unfortunate. A lot of directors started to cater their movies to getting them sold at Sundance. It became very result-oriented, as opposed to making a film because you need to make that film and then putting it into a festival more for a celebration.

JP: Will you be attending Sundance this year?

LT: Hopefully. We're waiting to hear if our film shows (A Slipping Down Life, directed by first-timer Ton Kalem). If I can get a couple days off I really would like to go, because I do like to show up for the director and to be a part of that.

JAMIE PAINTER


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