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What Is an Independent Film?

The film industry as a whole releases a wide variety of movies each year. While there is an extensive range of stories and types of film in circulation, there are also some important distinctions regarding how films are made, funded, and distributed. You might have heard of “independent films” or “indie movies”, but understanding what actually qualifies as one, and why independent theaters focus on showing them is a bit more complicated.

Salt Lake Film Society operates two independent theaters and we take a lot of pride in the films we show in Salt Lake City. Many of these films, from gripping foreign dramas to small-budget, local documentaries, can be classified as independent films. But we also exhibit and enjoy plenty of films that are created within the major studio system as well. 

This is not to say that one film type is inherently better than the other; there will always be amazing films being made and incredible stories being told, whether independently or studio-supported. At Salt Lake Film Society, we just believe that understanding and contextualizing the differences between independent films and studio films is a part of being a conscientious and engaged cinephile.  

Distinctions Between Independent Films and Studio Films

While there can be plenty of noticeable differences between the experience of watching an independent vs. a studio-supported film, the more clear cut differences usually lie behind the scenes. For the audience, these differences can be evident in the types of stories told and the contrast in creative decisions made. But the differentiating factors that can more clearly distinguish the two revolve around the production and distribution processes, and the respective financial situations of each film type’s budget. 

The definition of what constitutes an independent production can be somewhat muddled, but the most defining trait of an independent film is that it is produced and distributed outside the “major” film studio system. Studio films on the other hand, are defined by their production through a studio owned by one of the “Big 5” media conglomerates (NBC/Comcast, Paramount, Disney, Warner Bros, Sony). These studio films are also funded and distributed by massive production companies that operate under the umbrella of these media conglomerates. 

still of Daniel Kaluuya in the independent film Get Out
Daniel Kaluuya in Get Out, independently produced by Blumhouse Productions

While many independent films are made by individual filmmakers, many are still made by film studios, albeit smaller ones. But an important consideration is that these films usually don’t have a guaranteed distribution network or production funding like the larger studios with their parent companies. Independent films need to scrap and source for producers and distributors almost from day one.

Sometimes, these more independent-focused distributors (A24, Neon, Blumhouse) will fund a project at the beginning, sometimes they purchase it halfway through or after it’s made, but the search for funds and distribution is a relentless necessity that characterizes most independent films. That’s why these films often dominate the film festival circuit (and why most festivals even exist in the first place); these filmmakers are showing off their product to distributors with the hope of it being purchased, and distributed.

While there is no specific dollar amount that separates an independent film budget from a studio film budget, spending range is another major factor that distinguishes these two film types. Independent film budgets can range vastly, from tens of thousands dollars to tens of millions, and occasionally will even require fundraising to finish production and find distributors. Studio film budgets will also vary quite substantially, but their upper limits are astronomically higher, with some studio films working with predetermined budgets that can range up to half a billion dollars. 

Different Motivations, Different Expectations

This large contrast in monetary and distribution processes consequently leads to a variety of differences in production, artistic influence, and definitions of success. Studio films are often formulaic and controlled by senior management from start to finish, and while the production needs vary from film to film, they always maintain some form of uniformity in operation, staffing, and expenses. Independent film productions are more free-form, following the direction and desire of the producers and their artistic vision, often sourcing staff, equipment, and money as they go along. 

still of penelope cruz, johnny depp, and ian mcshane in pirates of the Caribbean: stranger tides
Penélope Cruz, Johnny Depp, and Ian McShane in Pirates of the Caribbean: Stranger Tides, the most expensive film ever made with a budget over $400 million

These creative and production differences understandably lead to clear differences in motivation for producing the film, and what defines a film’s release as successful. Studio films and the stories they tell are much more likely to have the biggest names and the grandest visual effects, and are often made with the primary goal of commercial success. There has never been a studio film made that hasn’t undergone rigorous financial calculations by studio executives beforehand regarding the potential money it might bring in. These films are usually designed to cater to as many people as possible, in order to maximize  attendance and box office revenue (often to recoup some of the expenditures from their immense budgets).

Independent films (and the independent theaters that proudly and consistently show them) have different motivations. These films usually put more emphasis on the art of storytelling, and presenting the perspective of a wide diversity of voices. They often don’t cater to the largest possible audience. Instead, they aim to craft a narrative that makes the audience take a mental step back and ask questions, like “Who?”, “What?”, or “Why?”. Independent films are not totally free from the industry’s financial expectations, but their purpose will usually be more driven towards the limitless freedom of artistic expression, the introspection of the audience, and the diversity of filmmakers, experiences, and stories that naturally comes from that.

Muddied Definitions of “Studio” and “Independent” Films

For any fan of film who has explored the varied types of stories and styles the industry has to offer, it’s clear that there are some distinctive differences between smaller budget, “art house” indie films, and bigger budget, franchise-spawning studio films. But just like the real world, the conversation and categorization is a bit more nuanced than that. In reality, most films do not sit neatly in one category or the other, or their content doesn’t fit the archetype expected from their production and funding.

still of John Corbett and Nia Vardalos in My Big Fat Greek Wedding
John Corbett and Nia Vardalos in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, an independent film which grossed $369 million, with only a $5 million budget

Big studio films can spend big while still emphasizing diverse narratives and more artistically-driven creators (consider Taika Waititi now directing Thor: Ragnarok and Thor: Love and Thunder). On the other hand, independent films with small budgets can still tell more generalized stories that aim for studio-esque commercial success (the independent rom-com, My Big Fat Greek Wedding grossed $368.7 million worldwide). While some may call these exceptions to the rule, others might say that the definitions are simply more muddied in the modern film era. And when it comes to streaming services now consistently producing and distributing their own content, the conversation can become even more complicated.

Independent Theaters in Salt Lake City – SLFS

At Salt Lake Film Society we are proud to exhibit thought-provoking stories and inspiring films to our community through our independent theaters, whether they be niche independent films or widespread studio films. Our goal as a independent cinema is less about properly defining film as “independent” or “studio”, and more about cultivating in our audience a natural curiosity about each film they see, learning more about who made it, how they made it, why they made it, and what creators or organizations they are supporting by purchasing a ticket for it. 

Our independent theaters love to present independent films that emphasize art, culture, and underrepresented voices, but we all have plenty of studio films that we adore. We just love film, and we love the questions and conversations it can produce, so come see a movie and join the discussion, and learn a bit more about different types of film yourself.

To see a list of our upcoming films and events, click here.
To join our Red Carpet Club, or to learn more about RCC levels, discounts, and benefits, click here.


Why SLFS Matters to Us

When it comes to film as an art form and determining its importance to our community, Salt Lake Film Society might have some fairly strong opinions with regards to this discussion. The mission of our organization is focused on utilizing the power that film has to inspire and educate our community, and our team here at SLFS is highly motivated to help achieve that mission. We love film, but more importantly, we deeply believe in film’s importance, as well as our role in providing access to it in Salt Lake City.

For many of our staff here, the independent theaters we operate, the independent films that we show, and Salt Lake Film Society itself have a deeper purpose and relevance to us than just being our jobs. Many of us have lived in the Salt Lake City area for a long time, and we have had our own amazing experiences at Tower or Broadway, whether seeing a local documentary with a Q&A after, or rediscovering a classic during a Summer Late Night showing.

Our love and respect for the art form of film translates not only into the care we put into our jobs, but reminds us everyday why SLFS matters not just to Salt Lake City, but also to its staff who whole-heartedly strive to achieve its mission.

A Legacy of Independent Film in Salt Lake City

Many of our team have lived the Salt Lake Film Society experience, both as staff and as patrons or members. We’ve been to see movies at the Broadway Centre Cinemas or Tower Theatre as simply local cinephiles, and we have seen Salt Lake City grow and grow and grow over the years. But a critical part of why SLFS matters so much to our team comes from the legacy of our impact in the Salt Lake City community. We have been operating our independent theaters in the Salt Lake Valley for over two decades now, with core staff members who were there at the beginning still working at SLFS today.

photo of the Tower theater with a blank marquee and people lined up outside
                                       Tower Theatre in 2016

With such entrenched roots in not only the local art house film scene, but the existence and mission of Salt Lake Film Society itself, our staff continues to take plenty of pleasure and pride in supporting a vibrant cultural and arts community in our city. We are truly fulfilled by what we do, and this fulfillment is exemplified through programs like our annual Cultural Film Tours (Masima: Pacific Island, Filméxico, Climate Change Film Tour, L’Chaim Jewish Film Tour).

Creating local partnerships, sharing impactful stories, and organizing panel discussions that take the discourse from the big-screen and into the realities and solutions of the world is the quintessential, cross-cultural impact we have, not just as an organization, but as people who live in and care about Salt Lake City too.

The Independent Theater Experience

While the lasting social impact that we hope to have in Salt Lake City is a driving force behind why SLFS matters to us, one of the more tangible manifestations of our mission is preserving the independent theater experience. We are purposeful in the programming of films we offer, and the experience of watching these films on the big-screen with other people remains the soul of our organization.

a full movie theater at Broadway Centre Cinemas, viewed from the back with a sponsorship message on screen
                                  Broadway Centre Cinemas

Communal cinema is indescribably powerful. When people can be present with each other, existing in the same space, watching the same film, and sharing a common physical, mental, and emotional experience, it fosters an intimacy with your fellow person that is foundational to cultivating tolerance, compassion, and human decency, through the arts.

At Salt Lake Film Society, we are beyond passionate about our role in offering this theater experience to others, mainly because we’ve experienced its magic ourselves time and time again. Sharing tears, laughs, and morally-challenging revelations with total strangers is a transcendent and liberating human experience. Through our independent theaters, Tower and Broadway, we are proud to bring these experiences to our community, and create a welcoming space for people to watch, connect, and introspect.

Independent Theaters in Salt Lake City – Salt Lake Film Society

To many of our patrons, members, and community supporters, Salt Lake Film Society matters as much to them as it does to us. We couldn’t be prouder of how supportive and committed our community continues to be. Our non-profit organization has worked diligently to support the amplification of diversity, engage the hearts and minds of our community, and uphold the legacy of exhibiting quality independent films in Salt Lake City.

Through our work and our engagement, SLFS has become a vital contributor to actualizing the belief that we can have a positive impact in this world we live in. To its staff, Salt Lake Film Society matters a great deal to us; our work is more than just a paycheck, it’s a mission that we truly believe in, and we come to work everyday to make our community feel the same.

If you feel a similar importance and passion about Salt Lake Film Society, and its impact on your life and your community, please let us know. We would love to hear more about the stories and experiences of our patrons and members, and publish them on this blog for others to see. Email jessesindelar@saltlakefilmsociety.org for more details.

SLFS Staff Picks In 2022 (So Far)

At Salt Lake Film Society, we absolutely adore cinema. Whether it’s an emotional independent film making the rounds at Cannes or an obscure cult-classic from the ‘80’s; our staff has an enduring and insatiable passion for movies, and the stories and visuals that define it as an art form. And this passion becomes even stronger when we get to watch these films on the big screen at the independent theaters we operate.

For our staff here at SLFS, we try our hardest to translate this passion into all the work we do for you, from the films we choose to exhibit, to the local film and cultural tours we are proud to host. But sometimes, we just love watching movies, and when we watch a movie we like, it’s nearly impossible for us to stay quiet about it.

It could be an unknown film from a first-time director, or a classic movie with a legendary cast that we are rediscovering; the members of our staff have watched plenty of good movies in 2022 so far, for business and for pleasure, and we can’t help but share some of our favorite picks with you, our dedicated supporters and patrons.

Salt Lake Film Society – Our Favorite Films We’ve Seen This Year

THE NORTHMAN Tori Baker, President/CEO

  • “Robert Eggers composes a shot with a visceral punch that demands attention, screen size, and community viewing. It’s jaw-dropping in its pure mastery of editing, color pallet, and magic-imagery.”

FIRE OF LOVE – Marcie Collett,  Associate Director of Development

  • “At its magmatic core, this is a love and adventure story that makes you believe that every oddball – even a volcanophile – has an oddball soulmate. Extraordinary footage and sound, especially on our Broadway big screen.”
renate reinsve running on a street in a scene from the film The Worst Person in The World
Renate Reinsve in The Worst Person in the World

THE WORST PERSON IN THE WORLD Rachel Getts, Associate Director of Digital Content 

  • “Great take on the quarter-life crisis we all seem to have. Renate Reinsve is a star.”

BETTER NATE THAN EVER Brandon Suisse,  Associate Director of Development

  • “I don’t think a film has been more memorable or impactful for me this year than Everything Everywhere All at Once. But Better Nate than Ever had absolutely no business being as delightful as it was.”

LOST HIGHWAYStephen Simmons, Associate Director of Production

  • “The 4K restoration was like watching Lost Highway for the first time. Everything from the sound mix to the crisp visuals, this gorgeous transfer allows this dark and underrated masterpiece a breath of new life after 25 years.”

PETITE MAMANAlly Lantz, Theater Operations Manager

  • “Celine Sciamma is my favorite working director, she has this ability to beautifully depict the emotional complexities of human relationships. This one just feels like a warm hug.”

ALL MY FRIENDS HATE ME – Noah Hinton, Front of House Staff

  • “It was a thrill watching how fast someone’s life can be seemingly ruined through just words and innocuous actions.”

MAD GOD – Landon Adams, Theater Operations Manager

  • “An old testament nightmare willed into existence over thirty years. Horror has never looked so beautiful.”

EVERYTHING, EVERYWHERE, ALL AT ONCEJesse Sindelar, Development Manager

  • “One of the most incredible human storytelling experiences I’ve seen from a movie. Loved the hotdog fingers. I’ve seen it 2 ½ times and I’ve cried 2 ½ times.”
lea seydoux, viggo mortensen, and kristen stewart in a scene from the Cronenberg film Crimes of the Future
Léa Seydoux, Viggo Mortensen, and Kristen Stewart in Crimes of the Future

CRIMES OF THE FUTURE Susan Tive, Head of Development

  • “Cronenberg takes a dark and surprisingly humorous look at how the future might send artists looking inward to find the only blank canvas left.” 

X Patrick Charles, Theater Operations Manager

  • “Just a good old fashioned horror flick. Plus, Howard’s got the moves.” 

 

MARCEL THE SHELL WITH SHOES ON – Amy Beth Aste, Head of Theater Operations

  • “The perfect little movie, the creativity is amazing. Leave it to a Shell to remind us to examine our community, question social media, and place importance on caring for our elders.”

OFFICIAL COMPETITION Max Kunz, Theater Operations Manager

  • “While fitting the bill of an off-beat independent film, it also has a multi-layered commentary on the people who create those types of works. Cohn and Duprat tackle this story with a great, self-aware sense of the surreal nature of such projects.”

HAPPENING – Guy Wheatley, Head Projectionist

  • “A topical, French, period film about a girl struggling with illegalized abortion. It’s a horror as a well as a drama; the best kind of horror films reflect the anxiety of the times, and this one definitely counts as that.”

TOP GUN: MAVERICK – Abby Derrick,  Front of House Staff

  • “It was just a good time. One of the best theater experiences I’ve had in a really long time.”

Art House Films in Salt Lake City – SLFS

Whether it was released this month or 30 years ago, the world of film is continuously providing an intense diversity of movies. This vast selection is a never-ending supply with the potential to engage the interests and intrigues of all types of individuals, including the wide range of tastes within our staff. And just like with every film we play at our independent theaters, we hope that these selections and suggestions help our patrons discover new films and novel stories that engage their minds and excite their hearts through the power of film.

Feel free to ask a staff member about their pick the next time you visit the Broadway or the Tower, and help us keep the discourse and discussion about film alive and well in Salt Lake City.

SLFS: Our Impact Through Independent Film

We have all seen films that have changed us, whether by shifting our perspective or making us think about their themes and stories for days on end. But an important question remains; can film really make a positive difference in the world? As a non-profit that seeks to amplify diversity and support social progress in our community through film, Salt Lake Film Society would definitely say “yes” to that question. However, the reality is a bit more nuanced; films do not vote or pay taxes, nor do they determine policy, constitutional rights, or election results. But crucially, they have the power and potential to inspire those who do. 

“The purpose of civilization and growth is to be able to reach out and empathize a little bit with other people… the movies are like a machine that generates empathy. They let you understand a little bit more about different hopes, aspirations, dreams and fears.”

Roger Ebert

This quote from the famed movie critic Roger Ebert defines our philosophy at SLFS, and the impact of cinema that we believe in. Independent films that exhibit unique stories and amplify diverse voices help cultivate a more sympathetic community, full of people aware of the issues and inequalities in our society, and as curious as they are impassioned to do something about it. A group of inspired people can change the world, and that’s why our independent theaters strive to play independent films that educate, advocate, and inspire people everyday.

Independent Film – A Machine of Empathy and Accessibility

How exactly does film help though? What makes film a potential tool for social good? Well firstly, movies are accessible. The variability of human experiences that the film medium can present and represent makes it a highly approachable form of art for all types of people from all types of backgrounds. Watching a film on the big screen is also easier than ever, as most theaters offer a wide selection of showtimes, all day, everyday, at fairly affordable rates. There seems to be a visual story out there for just about everyone; almost every person has a favorite film, and rarely are they the same.

director guy nattiv doing a q and a with SLFS CEO tori baker

Oscar-winning director Guy Nattiv, at a Q&A with SLFS CEO, Tori Baker

But more importantly, the diversity of visual stories that film can tell leads to a nearly unavoidable exchange of ideas, culture, and human experiences. Film pares down these large, intricate concepts or issues into approachable encounters with your fellow human beings, giving audience members an emotional glimpse into the lives, aspirations, and suffering of other people. Every film is a machine capable of producing this empathetic epiphany that Ebert describes, and this effect is only intensified when we share a film in a theater with others. A thoughtful film can make us feel closer and more connected to the people in our society, and also more aware of the struggles and prejudices they may face.

Furthermore, this type of film can foster a vital introspection and advocacy regarding the disadvantages that many marginalized people experience and suffer from. Independent films are some of the most common contributors of diverse and galvanizing stories. The proper telling of an underrepresented story on the big screen can play a pivotal part in the educational fight against bigotry and systemic oppression; movies are made by people, for people, and the more we can expose everyone to the lives, decisions, and experiences of others, the more progress we can make towards constructing an aware and empathetic society.

Salt Lake Film Society – Independent Theaters

street-level photo of front of Broadway Centre Cinemas

The front of Broadway Centre Cinemas, showcasing our marquee for February 2021

At Salt Lake Film Society, our mission revolves around educating, advocating, and informing both about, and through cinema, especially independent film. Independent films consistently emphasize giving their audience this glimpse into the lives of others, and our goal is to show as many of these diverse and thought-provoking movies as possible. 

Through independent film and the independent theaters we operate, we help cultivate a local community filled with compassionate and curious people, who are willing to learn and listen and ultimately do something about the problems they are made aware of. There’s no better place in Salt Lake City to experience consistent access to independent film than Broadway Center Cinemas or the Tower Theater. Take a step towards understanding the life of another, and come see a movie that might just inspire you.

Welcome to Our Salt Lake Film Society Blog!

Hello and welcome to the first post of the Salt Lake Film Society blog! Whether you’re a long-time patron or a curious movie connoisseur looking for your fill of independent cinema, SLFS is proud to have provided the Salt Lake City community with reliable access to independent film for over two decades now. 

The undertaking of our organization is to offer the Utah public consistent access to thought-provoking and socially-engaging films. Furthermore, our mission revolves around the power of film as a universal language, and how these visual stories prompt discussion, inspiration, and introspection in our local community. We are proud to provide physical spaces for film access in Salt Lake City through the Tower Theater and Broadway Centre Cinemas, and with this blog, we also want to create a digital space to further the discourse and dissemination about independent cinema.

Salt Lake Film Society: Home to Independent Film in Salt Lake City

We want to foster a more consistent connection with our fellow movie-goers, and showcase the people working behind the scenes at SLFS to create the experiences that you love. Whether you’re reading about the impactful viewing experiences of our members, or learning more about the films that educate and energize our staff, this blog plans to offer a variety of avenues for patrons, donors and staff alike to engage with our mission, and the visual stories that define it.

The Importance of Independent Film

Why independent films though? What about the film medium and the survival of independent theaters is so important to our community here in Salt Lake City?

“Filmmaking is a chance to live many lifetimes”

Robert Altman

At SLFS, this quote from Robert Altman presents an ideology that exists at the core of why we do what we do. Movies are an indispensable form of entertainment; we love to be entertained. A thoughtful visual story on a big screen has the capacity to captivate our imagination like nothing else. Film lets us feel what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes, if only for a brief moment, and the ability to live these vicarious “lifetimes” through cinema gives our minds the opportunity to break out from the ordinariness of everyday life and dip our toes into the extraordinary. 

old black and white photo of Tower Theater
Tower Theatre, the oldest movie theater still operating in the Salt Lake Valley

We love to be entertained, but at the same time, we also like to be challenged, to be compelled to think, analyze, and learn. Film pairs human faces and feelings to the stories and experiences of our world. They are naturally inclusive, turning large, complex concepts into accessible, ubiquitous storylines that we can’t help but relate to. Film helps us open up our minds to an exchange of culture and ideas, especially when someone sees a film about a place or persons dissimilar to their own, 

At SLFS, we work hard to curate programming that promotes this cultural and ideological exchange, whether it’s Norwegian romantic dramas (Worst Person in the World), or Macedonian horror stories (You Won’t Be Alone). We strive to play our part in the cultivation of a more compassionate and thoughtful community, and our mission aims to do this one film at a time. 

Independent Theaters in Salt Lake City – Salt Lake Film Society

The independent theaters we operate seek to embody this diverse quality of independent film as well, a commitment we have established through our Never Zero pledge; we will never have an absence of programming that represents marginalized voices.

Broadway Centre Cinemas and the Tower Theater, as well as independent theaters around the world, have always made it their mission to exhibit as many of these captivating and trailblazing films as possible, and to get as many people to see them as possible. We don’t play the movies that will fill the most seats or make the most money. We want our Salt Lake City community to see films they’ve never heard of, engage with stories they’ve never experienced, and live a few lifetimes they’ve never even thought about. 

So help us support the amplification of diversity and the introspection of your community. Join us for some big-screen entertainment, and leave feeling inspired, at Salt Lake Film Society.

To see a list of our upcoming films and events, click here.
To join our Red Carpet Club, or to learn more about RCC levels, discounts, and benefits, click here.