KARLOVY VARY – When Oscar-winning talent agrees to sit down for an hour-long Q&A it’s always worth taking the time to stop by and see what they have to say. Especially when the talent is none other than Casey Affleck. This was Affleck’s second trip to the Karlovy Vary Film Festival in three years and while he seemed uncomfortable during a press conference on his previous visit, he was much more forthcoming this time around.
“There was definitely a time I would have taken any job that was given to me and most of the time I did and there are a lot of them on my resume I wish weren’t there,” Affleck says. “But then there was a time when I had a choice of choosing the movies I wanted to do and some of those turned out not so well either but at least they were things I wanted to do.”
The focus of the discussion was on Affleck’s new movie, “Light of My Life,” which debuted at the Berlin Film Festival in February and is expected to be released by Saban Films sometime this year. Even with his young co-star Anna Pniowsky on hand, there was more than enough time to touch on other topics. Somewhat naturally, the state of the independent film industry came up during the talk. Affleck had a unique perspective on the subject.
“I remember when I did ‘To Die For.’ Gus Van Sant made ‘Drugstore Cowboy’ in 1989. That was the year that Spike Lee had ‘Do The Right Thing’ and Steven Soderbergh had ‘Sex, Lies and Videotape.’ An explosion of independent movies. The Sundance Film Festival kicked off and it was just a brand new world of all this new stuff,” Affleck recalls. “Then by the time I got to work with Gus, people were already saying, ‘So, independent movies are dying. What’s going to happen next?’ That was in 1992 or 1991.* And I remember him saying, ‘That’s not going to happen.’ And I think he was right. People still say that ‘Independent movies are dying.’ And silent movies did die. I’m sure people were saying, ‘This is the death of silent movies.’ There were talkies and they were right, they kind of died off. But for the time being, people are still making independent movies because there are a lot of people who grew up with movies and they want to tell stories visually.”
*”To Die For” premiered in 1995, so this conversation likely took place in 1993 at the earliest.
Affleck continues, “Whether on Instagram or Snapchat or whatever, the future of…independent movies is gonna be one person’s idea of a story they want to tell which isn’t diluted by making every decision by committee and making sure those decisions support a financially successful outcome. That will continue forever in whatever form.”
Streaming giants such as Netflix, Hulu and Amazon have had an impact on independent filmmaking. Just take note of the major stars who are now alternating between studio features and streaming series or limited series instead of commercial and indie films. Strangely, Affleck didn’t speak to streaming services specifically but did note that his own kids “don’t want to go to the movies.”
“They just watching stuff on social media or youtube or whatever. And I do too,” Affleck admits. “They show me stuff that’s 15 minutes and it’s amazing and I kinda think, ‘Well, we could watch a couple of those or we could like shlep down to the movie theater.’ And it’s hard to make myself go out and do that because I do want to support movies.”
He also noted that in terms of its composition and style, “Light of My Life,” was intentionally made to be shown in a theater, “not on a phone.”
“On a phone no one is gonna watch this movie. It’s gonna be too slow, the images are going to be too wide, it’s not going to hold anyone’s attention. They are just gonna let go of the next thing and swipe left or whatever,” Affleck says. “In that theater, you have a captive audience. Some people walk out but a captive audience that won’t change the channel that I hope will last for a long time. At least as long as I’m still working.”
And for those who think filmmaking as an art form is dying? Affleck passionately feels that’s far from the case.
“There are so many young filmmakers who are making stuff too and it’s awesome and just totally different,” Affleck says. “They are gonna look back at the last 10 years as “[Eh]” and there have been better times for independent movies [creatively, but] the new wave of filmmakers who are 18, 19 or 20? Those kids are making just great stuff. There is gonna be a huge upswing and movies from around the world and movies that are looking at different cultures from the inside out. Because the process of making movies is totally demystified. Everyone has access to the technology. Everyone knows how to do it. Now you get to see not just the privileged few who went to film school but just the ordinary person on the street…I don’t care how you think I’m supposed to make a movie, I’m gonna use a phone and make whatever I want.”