LIFF and The Challenge of Defining ‘American Independent Film’

We met Leiden Film Festival Alexander Moure and Managing Director Evert de Vries in Cannes Film Festival and talked about the films they are looking for and why it’s so hard to define what real American independent films are.

We’re interested in ‘crossover’ films, not too commercial and not too art-house.’ Alexander Mouret, Artistic Director of the Leiden International Film Festival (LIFF) defines the films they are searching for. Since 2006, LIFF has become one of the leading film festivals in the Netherlands, showcasing films that explore the border between art-house and mainstream. With its’ American Independent Competition, LIFF focuses in on an oft under-represented genre in Europe. As one of the biggest worldwide film markets, the Marché du Film is predestined to be a treasure trove for American Independent films. 

Jana Dietze, FFL: I imagine your main aim here at Cannes Film Festival is to search for films. Which kind of films most suit the Leiden Film Festival’s program?

Alexander: Well, it’s quite broad. Our festival has a main competition called ‘American Indie Competition’, but then there are a lot of other programs too, so we basically show everything to our audience. To be more specific, we’re interested in ‘crossover’ films – films that aren’t too commercial and not too art-house. So, you’re not falling asleep whilst watching them but at the same time, they aren’t big blockbusters – like a ‘Mad Max’ movie. Our selection of films tries to fall in between the two excesses.

At the moment the main interest is in American indie films. We tend to pick fature films that already have done well in the indie festival circuit such as at Sundance, South by Southwest and Tribeca. Films that are now starting to plan their festival run in Europe.

Simona Patrizi, FFL: Can you tell us a little bit more about your ‘American Indie Competition’?

Alexander: This is the third year of the competition but it’s the tenth of the festival. A couple of years ago we decided to focus mainly on a competition for American independent movies because we thought there weren’t a lot of indie movies in the Netherlands. If you look at cinemas and other festivals, there is actually a lot of art-house outside of commercial movies, but the indies are somehow missing in festival and cinema programming.

I guess this is due to the fact that on both sides, art-house and commercial, there is the tendency to ‘exclude’ indie films – so much so that they end up never being shown. This is because art-house lovers automatically consider indie movies to be too commercial while commercial cinemas will never show them because they’re too small. So, this is why it’s interesting for us to concentrate on that genre.

Jana: Do you see any trend in the American independent film production here in Cannes?

Alexander: Well, the thing with American independent film is that it mainly exhibits mostly very young directors, of a really independent ilk. This means that they produce their film with a very low-budget. A lot of them are on their first or second feature films and you see that they are somehow trying to figure out what kind of directors they are and what kind of style they want to exhibit. In addition to this, they are generally addressing the issues of young people. Coming-of-age stories are thus a trend that pop up quite often in independent films.

Simona: What do you mean when you talk about indie films? Would you say that ‘A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night’ could fall into this genre you’re describing?

Alexander: Yes, absolutely! It’s the kind of indie film that perfectly fills the gap between art-house and commercial film. It’s sometimes difficult to watch it but at the end it is intriguing and it manages to capture the attention of the audience. This is mainly due to its narrative. Most of the art-house films are almost experimental and they actually lack a narrative. For instance the International Film Festival Rotterdam shows a lot of experimental art-house films and this is not the kind of programming that we’re planning to do in Leiden. So, Rotterdam covers more experimental art-house films while we aim at filling the gap and showing indie genre films that are missing in the Netherlands. Thanks to our Indie American Competition I think we’re fulfilling our mission.

However, it’s difficult to clearly define what is an indie film. The official term obviously refers to films that are independent from studios – financially and artistically speaking. But there are also indie movies made with a huge budget of 30 million against smaller indie films made with ten thousand.

Sometimes we watch a film that looks great but ultimately it’s not ‘indie’. This is a really difficult discussion, especially with filmmakers that generally assume to be indie just because their film has been made with a very low-budget. So very often our programmers have to explain why the film doesn’t have the so-called indie style we’re looking for and this is something very subjective.

Jana: Evert, last time we spoke, you told me that you’re working on a cooperation with other festivals. How is it going?

Evert: We tried to arrange with a couple of festivals a sort of collaboration in order to get filmmakers and talents on tour in Europe. That didn’t work quite well because there was often a gap between the different festivals. Filmmakers had to wait a week in Europe doing absolutely before next festival. However, we’re still working on it and we have remained in close contact with both filmmakers and festivals. What came out from this cooperation and what we noticed is that film festivals are less protective of their own selections. Festivals are starting to help each other in getting better programs instead of trying to keep their films as a secret.

At the Leiden Film Festival, we actually want our films to succeed in other festivals as well. Of course, this is something still considered rather revolutionary among film festivals, especially the big ones – who most of the time fight against each other in order to secure world or European premieres.

Alexander: We think this is an old-fashioned way of thinking. Nowadays with digital cinema and all the changes happening, we’re witnessing in the film industry, that a world premiere doesn’t really mean that much even if some festivals still think that it’s very important. If you think about it, so many film festivals want to have a world premiere and finally what they end up with is just another terrible film – mostly because all the other ‘big’ festivals didn’t want to show it!

If you aim for world premieres then your product will be less valuable for your audience. I guess that today younger festivals are moving forward to a new way of programming, less dictated by premieres and more concerned with showing the best work to the audience.

Jana. You are now using FilmFestivalLife platform for the second year. How do you find it?

Evert: It’s very good! We didn’t have many expectations the first time we tried it and we didn’t know if it would work for the festival, but we’re actually very enthusiastic about it. It definitely saves us a lot of time and avoids us having a lot of DVD’s floating around in the office. We’re really happy with it!

Jana: Do you want to add something? Why filmmakers should submit to your film festival?

Alexander: I think that for American Independent filmmakers Leiden Film Festival is a great opportunity to present their work in Europe and to show it to a very different European audience. It’s a way to get out of your comfort zone and be confronted with a different audience. Our festival is a small festival but it’s filmmaker-oriented. That means our festival has a real audience and filmmakers have the chance to talk to them and gather feedback directly from the audience in a very honest way. I would say that Dutch people are actually very honest and straightforward and this is both a new and great experience for American filmmakers, filmmakers who aren’t usually used to this type of audience.


Alexander Mouret, Artistic Director
Evert de Vries, Managing Director
Leiden International Film Festival
30 Oct – 08 Nov, 2015
Leiden, Netherlands

Submit to LIFF on FilmFestivalLife:

Earlybird Deadline: Jul 10, 2015
Regular Deadline: Aug 10, 2015
Late Deadline: Sep 10, 2015


More festival stories:
:: 6 Tips for Independent Filmmakers from LEIDEN INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
:: ‘A Great Story is a Great Story’ – American Documentary Film Festival calling for entries

Read more of Jana’s articles

Jana Dietze

Jana Dietze is the Head of Communications at FFL. Her editorial background includes positions as Editor of N24 News channel and Editor of Fulmidas Media Agency. Her film experience is grounded in studying Film Science, Georg-August University, Göttingen. Reach her at jana(at)filmfestivallife.com

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