darjeeling wes anderson

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Indie Cinema

What is ‘Indie’? Indie is just a popular abbreviation of the word, ‘independent’. While this applies to most art-forms, it is perhaps the most distinctively enunciated in filmmaking! But when it comes to Indie cinema, there are two perspectives to be considered. One, the audience’s perception of what it is; and two, the industry’s. While the latter is the objective approach to understand whether a certain movie fits the bill of the genre, it’s the audience’s perception that inevitably sways public opinion! 

Independent filmmaking by definition refers to low-budget production and editing. However, it’s the traits of the plot and the characters that typically define its nature. The story, if any, is told almost exclusively through the characters, and in no way outside of them! After their completion, film festivals all around the globe screen these films. If the critics see merit in them, they get picked up by production houses like A24 Films, who purchase the viewing rights and sanction them for mass distribution. That’s generally how the timeline of a good Indie movie in the 21st century looks like! 

Keeping the technicalities of the industry aside now, let’s delve into these films that audiences across generations and countries alike regard as ‘Indie’, irrespective of their production budgets! 

After all, art is for the people, not just the artist!


The Darjeeling Limited (2007) ~ dir. Wes Anderson

Over the course of the last two decades, Wes Anderson has gone on to become one of the most prolific and original indie filmmakers in the history of modern cinema. The idiosyncratic camera techniques, emotionally detached characters, and uncannily honest storytelling are all elements that have helped him carve his niche out in the industry, almost effortlessly! The Darjeeling Limited is easily one of his most personal works as a filmmaker, as he tells the story of three emotionally distant brothers, stravaiging about India, trying to fit their unfound selves and their siblings in a life of coexistence. It’s funny, chaotic, and unabashed!


Beginners (2011) ~ dir. Mike Mills

The relationship dynamic between a myriad of complicated relations concerning a timid man, is often the last thing to make a film on, right? Well, Beginners is simply the story of Oliver, an emotionally drained young man trying to find his place in the world through love, whilst balancing the day-to-day affairs of his old man, who recently came out of the closet after the death of his wife, Oliver’s mother. While a synopsis won’t ever do justice to the beauty of a film, it is sometimes necessary given how underrated and underappreciated this one is! 


The ‘Before’ Trilogy (1995-2013) ~ dir. Richard Linklater

Talk about romance, talk about conversations, talk about intellectualism all you want, and we’d still not scratch the surface of Richard Linklater’s astounding realism. No one breathes life into the dull, mundane acts of everyday life quite like Mr. Linklater. Imagine making three films essentially about two people having a conversation in three different stages of life, each nine years apart! It’s often joked about how Mr. Linkalter could make a film out of merely placing the camera somewhere, and cueing his actors in! If you’re observant enough with his work, you’d realize that the joke’s not too far off from reality!


Lady Bird (2017) ~ dir. Greta Gerwig

Greta Gerwig has become the face of the coming-of-age stories that have grown on audiences all around the world in these past five years or so, very quickly! In Ladybird, she tells the story of a girl on the cusp of adulthood, college, and the independence that she longs for. Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf breathe life into the tensions between a spirited daughter and a strong mother ever so seamlessly. The film’s a beautiful take on all the layers of emotion underneath parental love and affection!


Lost in Translation (2003) ~ dir. Sofia Coppola

Set in Tokyo, Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson share loneliness in the vast expanse of the city, together. Sofia Coppola explores romance and the need for companionship in perhaps the most intimate and unconventional of ways. There is more to the film than the dysfunctionality of relationships. A lot more than just that! It’s inherently about sitting at the bar together, and pouring your heart out without a word of conversation, or laying in bed together and mutually acknowledging the absence of an ether of emotional disconnect. It’s about reading between the lines on a blank sheet of paper.  


Dazed and Confused (1993) ~ dir. Richard Linklater

The essence of an indie film, as an audience, lies in how much it makes us ponder over the characters and their arcs, and how little about the plot of the film, and Dazed and Confused captures this rather candidly. It is a film purely about the randomness of teenage life in the 70s . Featuring Mathew McConaughey on debut, dropping his notoriously catchy, “Alright, alright, alright”, on-screen; the film is essentially about youth, with a sappy, nostalgic undertone to it!


Annie Hall (1977) ~ dir. Woody Allen

“That is essentially how I feel about life: Full of loneliness, misery, suffering, and unhappiness, and it’s all over much too quickly.” 

Woody Allen incorporates obscure existentialism, midlife anxiety, romantic frustrations, and clinical depression all together into a viscous concoction, talking about life! The thing that makes the film stand out though is the juxtaposition of these heavy and harrowing themes with a subtle comedic undertone revolving around social anxiety, throughout the course of the film. You’d be surprised to see how witty a movie talking about mortality and existentialism can be!


The Breakfast Club (1985) ~ dir. John Hughes

Detention brings together five high school students from different walks of life into nine hours of coexistence, under the observation of their insufferable principal. What ensues eventually is a touching congregation of self-assessment, acceptance, and empathy amongst the five of them, that opens their eyes to schools of thought way beyond the usual scope of high school students. John Hughes’s deep understanding and portrayal of the different facets of the teenage psyche under the most trivial of premises is what makes this film a timeless classic!  


The Florida Project (2017) ~ dir. Sean Baker

Sean Baker’s take on childhood, serendipity, and urban poverty is a heartfelt ode to minimalist filmmaking. The Florida Project is perhaps the blueprint of an Indie film, in the 21st century. From its humble production budget to its 85-second outro sequence shot on an iPhone 6s Plus, and every little element of humanism in between, the film’s a work of art! It juxtaposes the nonchalance of its protagonist - Moonee, a bubbly six-year-old living with her single mother, with the uncertain reality of the working-class people living in the same Motel, to bring out the underlying tragedy of their lives. It’s the kind of film that leaves you feeling empty and full at the same time!


Days and Nights in the Forest (1970) ~ dir. Satyajit Ray

Aranyer Din Ratri, as it’s commonly known in most Bengali households, is quite simply a film about four friends traveling to a forest to get away from the hustle-bustle of the city. But if we dig deeper, it’s a film about people finding themselves in the honest mirror that the forest upholds in front of them. It’s about people understanding, accepting, and succumbing to their deepest psychological inhibitions. Satyajit Ray is arguably one of the greatest directors in the history of modern cinema. Over the years, the profound humanism in his cinema has cut through the barriers of culture, language, and time, as if they never existed in the first place! What makes this film stand out, however, is just how empathetically ahead of its time it is! Aranyer Din Ratri​ and Pather Panchali (1955)​ are both unanimously considered to be the auteur’s two greatest contributions to the art-form.  

Indie by budget or plot, or both; it’s films that leave you questioning the boundaries of storytelling, with a disoriented look on your face, that wins the final argument! This is not an article about the ​“Greatest Indie Films of All Time” if there were such a thing. There’d have to be a lot many films on the list then, starting from ​Moonlight (2016), Taxi Driver (1976), American Beauty (1999), etc. But, as extraordinary as these films are, they might not be the easiest ones to watch, digest, and comprehend when one’s starting out. This article is simply a place to start for anyone who’s willing to explore this beautifully bizarre genre of cinema!

“Dear Mr. Vernon,

….You see us as you want to see us - in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess, and a criminal. Does that answer your question?

Sincerely yours, The Breakfast Club”