By Julian Phillips – Nov. 25, 2011

The American Film Market in Santa Monica again this year, Nov. 2 through Nov. 9, hosted some 900 new completed feature films, and more hopeful independent film makers than overflow parking at the Loews Hotel could possibly handle. AFM shuttle service and valet parking? Got it. Discount AFM Lufthansa jet-air travel rates? Sure. Prepaid AFM broadband Internet service? Well, why not? And don’t get me started about the food! But, if you’ll ‘never do lunch in this tow again’, one reason may be the sense in which independent filmmakin must rely so heavily on traditional, more financially successful and far more connected Big Hollywood, as seen at the 31st American Film Market, founded in 1981.

AFM is a lot like many other large, metropolitan/urban-area media arts-centered conventions and expositions, such as MIPCOM, Comic-Con, Cannes, and others. A film-festival is one thing, and often very similar. But this is specifically a ‘market’, where the buyers and sellers are no different feller’s, and real-money deals happen for new film projects. A closer view demonstrates that the starving-artist spark of newness and slum-dog quality artistry that makes novice films appealing in the first place, is necessarily conformed to mainstream Hollywood values at AFM, for the non-vested beginner to possibly dream of making a living or career from all his labors.

The event takes place in and around Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade. In the past there have been as many as 8,000 attendees from all over the world, hundreds of film-screenings, numerous parties, and no particular favor or extended courtesy for small-budget, ‘indie’ films, with no stars, no studio-backing, and no quality digital audio sound-track. Why? It’s a ‘Bowfinger’ world, competition is ferocious, and even very big ‘blockbuster’, major studio films, are right there next to the little guy’s. What’s not to like? Corporate media never really changes much, like any other businesses, and its understood that small-budget independent film-makers may lack for ‘total recall’ when in hot pursuit of fame and fortune, only to hit the 99/1-percent solid gold brick wall.

Independent film is really where it all began, from even the earliest days of Hollywood. Charlie Chaplin, Thomas Edison, Al Jolson, the black-and-white chemical process 1930’s ‘film’ comedies and Gene Autrey Westerns, or gangster films, grew from independent roots, into today’s mega-media giant global stock-market driven consumer loveaffair with magic-mirror amusement. Today, sad-but-true, small films are the un-funded step-child, a beggar at the door, with not much more to offer than her up-skirt fantasy of what-she-dreams, and perhaps a fresh take on things. Big Hollywood needs ‘new’. The Hollywood outsider needs money. And somewhere in the crush, markets like AFM are where the exchange happens, or does not happen.

From the AFM website: ‘400 distribution and production companies, 1,000’s of new film projects, 100’s of world premieres, more than 400 film screenings’. You can view a list of the new films online at: But the ones you won’t see are still spinning like DVD Frisbees, or silver discs of Blue Ray joy, tossed into the Santa Monica ocean waves by frustrated independent film-makers. That’s a movie in itself, one might suppose. Guilt-by-association with glamorous tinsel-town values, is not much different than success-by-association with thesame social-status high-climbers who have already arrived, on-display conspicuously at AFM. But it doesn’t improve the quality of the films, which is where the independent film-maker sometimes pins his hopes, offering his ‘fresh view’ or ‘new take’.

–Julian Phillips


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