This timeline of Independent film picks up from an article on the early (1890 to 1960) history of indie filmmaking.
1961 – 1968 Independent film exploded with the reining era of B-Movie King, Roger Corman and films such as Gordon Lewis’s 1963 “Blood Feast”. The Art House circuit was also bursting with influence and output in Film Festivals that popped up around the world. Experimental films gained recognition in avant-garde communities. Jack Smith, Andy Warhol and Ken Anger made it cool to be Indie and American experimental filmmakers like Jonas Mekas, Shirley Clarke, Stan Brakhage and Gregory Markopoulos pushed boundaries.
European filmmakers had a tremendous creative output during the 1960s with films such as Akira Kurosawa’s 1961 “Yojimbo”, Federico Fellini’s 1963 “8 ½”, Hiroshi Teshigahara’s 1964 “Woman in the Dunes”, Roland Polanski’s 1965 “Repulsion”, Ingmar Bergman’s “Persona”, Gillo Pontecorvo’s “The Battle of Algiers”, and Michelangelo Antonioni’s “Blowup” in 1966, and Milos Forman’s 1967 “The Firemen’s Ball”. In 1966 African filmmaker Ousmane Sembene released the first internationally acclaimed African film, “La Noire de…”. In 1962 Anselmo Duarte’s “Keeper of Promises” and a 1968 Argentine film from Fernando Solanas put South America on the radar of world cinema.
1968 A domineering Hollywood Production Code kept major studios producing dramas, comedies, family films, historical epics and musicals. This gave way to MPAA ratings, but before they could slap a rating on a young George Romero, he released his landmark independent horror film, “Night of the Living Dead”. The stubbornly independent Stanley Kubrick released “2001: A Space Odyssey”, and while not an independent release, was highly influential.
1969 The Cultural Revolution in America was in full swing and filmmaker/actor Dennis Hopper captured the moment with his film “Easy Rider”, a genesis of the New Hollywood Era. With MPAA ratings in effect, not even the Academy could deny John Schlesinger’s X-rated, “Midnight Cowboy”, which walked away with Best Picture, Director and Adapted Screenplay.
1971 The Academy once again recognized an X-rated feature nominating Stanley Kubrick’s ultra-violent “A Clockwork Orange” and then launched the career of Francis Ford Coppola by awarding his screenplay adaptation of “Patton”. Melvin Van Pebbles’s fiercely independent film “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song” became the year’s highest grossing independent film and a landmark triggering the Blaxploitation genre.
1971 – 1978 The New Hollywood Era resurrected the dying major studios with films independent in nature, which influenced today’s indie filmmakers. Francis Ford Coppola produced his “Godfather” films and also helped launch the career of George Lucas by independently producing “THX 1138”. “Godfather” star Al Pacino also riveted audiences in Sidney Lumet’s 1975 film “Dog Day Afternoon” and a year later “Godfather” co-star Robert De Niro starred in Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver”. These major studio films set a new precedent in Hollywood and blasted a defining notch in American Cinema.
Hollywood began taking big risks, which meant independent filmmakers had to step it up, which was seen in films like John Waters’s 1972 “Pink Flamingos”, Tobe Hooper’s 1974 “Texas Chainsaw Massacre”, David Lynch’s 1976 “Eraserhead” and from Germany, Werner Herzog’s 1972 “Aguirre, the Wrath of God”.
1978 A small independent Film Festival in Utah was established by Sterling Van Wagenen. Years later, this week long event became Robert Redford’s Sundance Film Festival, a driving force behind independents.
1979 An epic year as big budget science fiction and action-adventure movies went into production, yet the release of Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now” had a lasting impact on independent films, produced under his American Zoetrope studio. The film itself was heavily influenced by Herzog’s “Aguirre…”. George Miller also released his epic, “Mad Max”, an independent Australian film, launching the career of Mel Gibson and becoming the highest grossing independent film of all time, a record it would hold for 20 years. The Monty Python troupe also independently produced their film “Life of Brian”.
1980 – 1989 With the New Hollywood Era entering the decade of Blockbusters, American independent filmmakers had to fight for box office. Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese reunited to kick off the decade with a knockout, “Raging Bull”, released on the tail end of United Artists’s days as a carrier of Independent films.
Sam Raimi’s 1981 indie horror film “Evil Dead” was released into the lexicon of classic horror movies, Jim Jarmusch sets standards for Indie filmmakers with 1984’s “Stranger Than Paradise” as did the Coen Brothers debut, “Blood Simple”. Spike Lee’s first indie feature “She’s Gotta Have It” premiered in 1985 and raked in a substantial box office. 1986 saw another indie performer at the box office with David Lynch’s “Blue Velvet” and Gus Van Sant made an indie splash with his 1985 debut, “Mala Noche”, followed up with his 1989 indie crime drama, “Drugstore Cowboy”. Both “Stranger than Paradise” and “Blood Simple” were award winners at the 1985 Sundance Film Festival. It’s also interesting to note that “Blood Simple” co-director, Joel Coen was an assistant editor on Sam Raimi’s classic “Evil Dead”.
1990 -Today While independent filmmakers of the 1980s paved the way in-mass at the box office, it was small potatoes compared to the Era of Sundance. Since Robert Redford founded the Sundance Institute and took over the Park City Festival in 1985, it has launched the careers of important independent filmmakers. The festival also bred the trend of major film studios starting smaller divisions to handle indie fare and art house films.
The short list of Sundance alumni include breakthrough films such as Steven Soderbergh’s “Sex, lies, and videotape”, Quentin Tarantino’s “Reservoir Dogs”, Wes Anderson’s “Bottle Rocket”, Robert Rodriguez’s “El Mariachi”, Kevin Smith’s “Clerks”, Eduardo Sanchez and Daniel Myrick’s “The Blair Witch Project”, Darren Aronofsky’s “Pi”, Mary Harron’s “American Psycho”, Richard Kelly’s “Donnie Darko”, Christopher Nolan’s “Momento”, Danny Boyle’s “28 Days Later”, Patricia Cardoso’s “Real Women Have Curves”, Morgan Spurlock’s “Super Size Me”, James Wan’s “Saw”, Jared Hess’s “Napoleon Dynamite”, Noah Baumbach’s “The Squid and the Whale”, Walter Salles’s “The Motorcycle Diaries”…all modern indie classics with a list that grows exponentially every year.
Film Festivals all over the world are gaining recognition, television and the internet have embraced Independent movies, technology for independent filmmakers is affordable and accessible; it seems today’s world is ripe with opportunity for Indie Films.