5 Recent Independent Films That Changed My Life

The first time I saw a movie on the big screen was in college.  That’s one of the tragedies of growing up under the iron curtain of Christian fundamentalism in the deep South.  Most the films I saw as a child were blockbuster hits with saccharine characters and tidy endings–this is not to say they’re lacking in conflict and great fun.  Films with graphic violence or nudity were strictly avoided (there’s much more discussion to be had about this, but it’s not for this post).

It’s no shock then that I never wanted to be a filmmaker.  When I was kid, I wanted to be a Jedi Knight or a seafaring adventurer or the Lone Ranger….I didn’t know people worked in the movies.  Then in middle school and high school, I fell in love with the literature of the 1920s modernists and the dark romanticists.  I couldn’t stop reading Kafka & Hawthorne & Hemmingway–they grappled with all the hardship, pathos, and horror of life that I’d only just experienced with the deaths of both family and friends.  They captured my feelings of insignificance in the grand and perilous universe.

About that time something else happened.  I saw The Elephant Man–and it changed my life.  That started a journey into Battleship Potemkin, Metropolis, Wild Strawberries, Seventh Seal and others.  They were the first films I’d seen that dealt with the world in a nuanced way and that affected me with the same severity of literature.  (Just so you don’t think I’m too much of a snob, I did love Lord of the Rings in 5th grade when I first read it and continue to have a fanatical knowledge of obscure Middle-Earth details.)  That was the beginning of my journey into filmmaking.

I love independent films that tell human stories that challenge our notions of existence, that show us a slice of life we would never have otherwise seen, that create a memorable, authentic experience, that are bold and personal.  While this is certainly not an exhaustive list, these films did that for me.  (Many of them are on Netflix and should be in your instant queue.)

I’m greatly inspired by the minimalist cinematography of each of these films.  Visually they are gritty, poetic, unassuming, and genuine–beautiful in their realism and unrefined photography.  It is the sort of cinematography that never calls attention to itself, while always subconsciously guiding the viewer through the story.

1. Tyrannosaur

Director: Paddy Consindine
Cinematographer: Erik Alexander Wilson

2. Fish Tank
Director: Andrea Arnold
Cinematographer: Robbie Ryan


3. Hunger
Director: Steve McQueen
Cinematographer: Sean Bobbitt

4. Marcy, Martha, May Marlene

Director: Sean Durkin
Director of Photography: Jodie Lee Lipes

5. Blue Valentine
Director: Derek Cianfrance
Director of Photography: 
Andrij Parekh