Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Amit V Masurkar, the director of “Sulemani Keeda”, a self-proclaimed “Versova indie” that was released to much acclaim at last year’s Mumbai Film Festival. More about the film here.
Four years ago, a friend shared his hard disk with me which had gems such as Whit Stillman’s ‘Metropolitan’ and Noah Baumbach’s debut feature ‘Kicking and Screaming’. Google and tastekid led me to more gems from a similar world- young, urban, scruffy, real and often funny. That’s when I discovered (pretty late in life) true blue American Indie Cinema. I’m not counting Jim Jarmusch and Richard Linklater, I’m not talking about Larry Clark, I’m talking about young people like you and me who were actually taking their cameras and telling their own stories. In most cases, their courage and honesty was more inspiring than the film itself.
Here amongst my fellow cinema geeks I would like to share my ten favourite mumblecore-ish films. I’m sure atleast three filmmakers here will object to being bracketed here but it is with utmost respect and love for their films that I present this list. Hope you enjoy watching these films as much as I did! The numbering is random and not ranking.
Note1: I was tempted to add Noah Baumbach’s “Frances Ha” which in my opinion is his best but I’m desisting simply because he’s now a famous millionaire and his film cannot be considered low budget indie even if it is one!
Note 2: Also, I am not adding some famous first-films made on celluloid which were my inspiration for my debut feature film, Sulemani Keeda. Films such as Kevin Smith’s ‘Clerks’ , Jon Favreau’s Swingers and Indian classics like Saeed Mirza’s Arvind Desai ki Ajeeb Dastaan’ and Awtar Krishna Kaul’s ‘27 Down’. I want to limit this list to films made on the digital format in the last six-seven years.
1) In search of a Midnight Kiss (2007): Semi-autobiographical film by Alex Holdridge who made this film based on an experience of meeting a woman on Craiglist. Of course the other parts of them walking around the decrepit areas of Los Angeles on New Years’ Eve seem inspired by the template of Richard Linklater’s ‘Before Sunrise’ but everything else is fresh. They chose to go with Black and White to avoid the ‘digital look’ that SLR cameras give if not exposed correctly and it works for this movie. Watchout for the slight twist in the end, something not seen frequently in this genre. Also, one of the first leading roles of Scoot McNairy who pitched in the money for the film and went on to get better roles in films like Andrew Kaulder’s ‘Monsters’ which is a sci-fi fantasy about an American rescuing his ex-girlfriend from South America when aliens come attacking.! Monsters was shot guerilla and the director and his friends sat at home and made the mindblowing CG that studios spend millions in making!
2) Computer Chess (2013): With his earlier films, Beeswax and Mutual Appreciation, Andrew Bujalski proved that he was a formidable player in this sub-genre. But Computer Chess is where his ambitions and skills are shown in full bloom. This period black and white film explores the subculture of chess nerds who are fighting computers in duels.
3) Drinking Buddies (2013): My absolute favourite from this list. This one attempts to answer the famous question that has baffled psychologists and philosophers: “Kya ek ladka aur ladki sirf dost ho sakte hai?” Made by Joe Swanberg- the Dadamoni of the mumblecore movement who has made more than a dozen films in half a dozen years. IMDb lists some six films alone under his name in 2011. Most of these are not available online but the ones which I thought were worth mentioning include ‘Uncle Kent’, ‘All the Light in the Sky’ and ‘Alexander The Last’. After watching these films, like a fanboy, I had added Swanberg on Facebook and asked him for technical advice under the guise of making his acquiantance. Swanberg politely told me that he was quitting Facebook to focus on his films and asked me to check one of his many interviews on the web for the answers! I am ashamed to admit I haven’t watched his best known film, ‘Hannah Takes the Stairs’ starring the uber talented Greta Gerwig and if anyone has a DVD (since we don’t promote piracy here), I would love to do a swap.
4) Quiet City (2007): The most unassuming film in this list. Another film that follows the ‘Before Sunrise’ template- of a couple walking the talk, this time in New York, over two days. The film actually makes you feel how easy and free you feel when you shoot digital. However Aaron Katz, the director followed up with the disappointing mystery, ‘Cold Weather’.
5) Tiny Furniture (2010): Lena Dunham’s female (and better) version of ‘Wake up Sid’- ok, I’m not great at pitching, but this is a “I wanna figure out life after college” film and a masterstroke at that! I guess this is where she got noticed and got signed to make ‘Girls’ for TV.
6) Puffy Chair (2005): I’m tempted to add this handycam film! It’s grungy and the video quality is puke but the film purely works because of the underplayed performances by the lead pair. It’s about a guy played by the co-director Mark Duplass who goes on a road trip (another favourite template in this genre) to deliver a second hand chair to his father on his birthday. Accompanying him on this journey are his girlfriend and his good for nothing brother. Directed by The Duplass Brothers—Jay and Mark, who are veteran gareebon ke Coen Brothers of Mumblecore, they followed up with a horror comedy, “Baghead”. Mark satisfied his acting urges with the hilarious “Humpday”, directed by Lynn Shelton where two buddies attempt to shoot a gay porn film for some critical acclaim. Post these films, Mark has become a bada aadmi with starring roles in films such as “Your Sister’s Sister” and “Safety Not Guaranteed”.
7) August The First (2007): After its debut at SXSW and Karlovy Vary Festivals, Lanre Olabisi’s drama about a Nigerian father returning to New York at a familiy reunion with a hidden agenda has been waiting for the recognition it deserves. Lanre has now started The New York Film Collective and is directing ‘Somewhere in the Middle’- a crowd funded ensemble film.
8) Les Amours Imaginaires (2010): A simple French-Canadian story about a love triangle- M1 loves M2, F loves M2. But whom does M2 love? This one as wikipedia tells me was made on a budget of Canadian $6,00,000 (that’s roughly Rs. 3 Crores) and doesn’t qualify to be in this list. But STILL, I want it here because it’s a film you have to watch! I have no words to describe how beautifully it’s shot. My butt burnt (direct translation from the Hindi phrase) when I found out that the director Xavier Dolan was only 21 years old when he made this and… this was his second film. Such graceful direction and writing!
9) Gandu (2010): I went for a screening of Q’s Gandu at Film Republic which was cancelled as the manager feared an attack from some bigots who had found out about the notorious sex scene. But soon, I downloaded the film and watched it. I haven’t seen a better slacker film from India which puts the reality of our banal existence in a more brutal and straight forward way. It reminded me of another film with a similar theme which I had liked despite the poor projection quality at the MAMI festival, Srinivas Sunderrajan’s The Untitled Karthik Krishnan Project’.
10) Mumbai Cha Raja (2012): The most senstitive depiction of Mumbai’s slum kids after Salaam Bombay. What inspired me most was the fact that I knew Manjeet Singh for years and I never expected him (Sorry Manjeet!) to make such an amazing jewel. I saw him make it on a shoestring budget and directly hold him responsible for making me believe that good cinema can be made without big monies.