Independent Filmmakers Are Alive, Irreverent And Thriving Online

By Frank Ahrens
Sunday, December 11, 2005

I heard of Pixar Animation Studios in 1989 when I saw the company's first short film, "Luxo Jr.," at a short-film festival at Georgetown's Biograph Theater. Thanks to "The Incredibles," "Toy Story," "Finding Nemo" and Pixar's other blockbuster feature-length films, filmgoers are now accustomed to the film studio's signature computer-animation style.

But in 1989, watching "Luxo Jr." -- a two-minute short about two non-speaking-but-lively table lamps and a ball -- was a revelation.

The film had come out three years earlier, but had appeared only at film festivals. Pre-Internet, I had no way of knowing about this revolutionary film and studio. The distribution channel for such films to mainstream culture at the time was tiny art-house theaters, such as the Biograph.

Today, 16 years later, the Biograph -- which was notable for serving no ice in fountain beverages and screening adult films during the day to make ends meet -- is long gone. The '90s saw the rise of suburban megaplex theaters and the demise of city indie art houses, which made it possible to see any Julia Roberts film on six screens simultaneously in every suburb and nearly impossible to see a short such as "Luxo Jr."

The Internet, however, has created a new distribution channel for not only burgeoning musicians, authors, artists and anyone with an opinion but filmmakers, as well. And cheap digital technology -- even established filmmakers such as Stephen Soderbergh use desk-top digital editing tools -- has spawned a swarm of new filmmakers.

There's a downside, of course. Everyone needs editing. Many of the short films you find on the Internet would have been improved by editing. And when we say "editing," we mean "deleting."

But there's plenty of good stuff to look at, as well. Here are some places to start: : One of the Internet's largest, most diverse and generally highest-quality movie sites, Atom Films features shorts ranging in length from a couple to several minutes. The films have synopses and user reviews, as well as full credits and festivals where they've screened. A couple of shorts on Atom Films now will offer up many yucks, including "Me and the Big Guy," a "1984" parody in which a talkative prole annoys Big Brother into turning off the view screen in his house; and "Sith Apprentice," a combo parody of "Star Wars" and "The Apprentice." It's worth noting there are plenty of Lucas-wannabes on these shorts sites.

The major movie studios plaster these sites with advertising for upcoming movies, understanding their target-rich environment. : Heavy on the animation, this site features Web cult favorites from "Knox's Korner," the crazy claymation creations of 18-year-old Texan Robert Benfer. : From Canadian duo Chris McCawley and Craig Macnaughton comes this charming site of shorts made for television and the Internet. Selections include live-action and animation. : Another Canadian site, featuring short documentaries, comedies, animation and viewer submissions. : Look for a fun little parody of a full-of-it-filmmaker called "Zombies in My Neighborhood." The site also caters to the trade by listing contact information and the personal Web pages of directors, composers and other filmmakers : Lots of commercials, commercial film clips, anime and clips from television shows on this ad-heavy site. Parents should keep an eye on this one, as some of the commercials and films are not suitable for children and teens owing to their sexual content. The site marks these with a red, all-caps "MATURE" label and provides a click-through warning.

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