Last month, I had the honor of delivering the keynote speech at the Illinois Journalism Education Association’s All-State Journalism Team & Journalist of the Year Celebration in Springfield, Illinois. I was asked to share the story of my career with the remarkably gifted young writers in attendance, and the most crucial advice I had for them was that the work they create as a hobby may very well be what helps them the most in achieving their dreams. It was a decade ago that my sister Emily encouraged me to start this blog as a way of providing a platform for films that I wasn’t necessarily assigned to review, but I felt were sorely deserving of coverage. I gave it the name Indie Outlook, and though I’ve never made a dime off of the site, it has opened more doors for me than any paid gig in my career.
If I had not started this site, RogerEbert.com publisher Chaz Ebert may not have realized my potential as a writer, which she first took note of thanks to my 2014 essay, “In the Sweet By and By.” That means I likely wouldn’t have been assigned to cover the 2019 Academy Awards, a great privilege that led me to receive a last-minute invite to appear on Patti Vasquez’s WGN show. This is where I met Rebecca Martin, publisher of her own site, Cinema Femme, which is devoted to championing the work of female directors. A month later, Rebecca and I began dating, and on July 1st of this year, we were married. The reason why this annual retrospective is being published a couple days prior to Indie Outlook’s actual anniversary on July 5th is the fact that Rebecca and I will be busy having our honeymoon in Iceland on that date.
Will this be the last anniversary post for Indie Outlook? It’s difficult to say. The incredible opportunities I have received because of the work I’ve published on this site have resulted in me having very little time to devote to it. In fact, half of the new interviews published on the site this year were written by Rebecca, while the vast majority of non-RogerEbert.com interviews I’ve written over the past twelve months were published on other sites, including No Film School, White City Cinema, and of course, Cinema Femme. Click on the name of each extraordinary artist, and you will be directed to our full conversation with them, all of which are excerpted below…
“Part of my normal preparation process is to journal as a character, which enables me to put myself in her shoes and try to imagine what it would feel like if her obstacles were my own. That is the beautiful thing about acting as well as writing. You have to have the capacity for empathy. Sympathy won’t suffice.”—Emily Robinson, star of “Eighth Grade”
“A lot of people pretend that they’re Selznick and believe that they have to do a crunch time shoot no matter what. I see people on a lot of indie projects who have kickstarted $50,000 for a 13-day, non-stop shoot, and I’m like, ‘Dude, you could make seven movies with that money.’ Bob Evans is not gonna come and break a bottle of whiskey over your head if you don’t make your day. No one is stopping you but you from making this movie as good as you want it to be.”—Arthur De Larroche, co-director of “Clairevoyant”
“When we were shooting the movie, I had very bad acne, and I was really struggling with it. But after talking with everybody, I realized that it’s actually really good that I had it, because it would’ve helped me to see that onscreen. Women are usually portrayed with clear skin and filmed in hazy light, so I think it was really important that we get that representation on camera.”—Eleonoora Kauhanen, star of “Girl Picture”
“You get to see the result of the pain. The book is beautiful in the sense that it is such a peaceful observation of grief and loss and pain. The movie has that piece in it as well, but you actually get to see where that pain goes and how it is transmuted into something that will effect one’s life forever. For me, the pleasure of being able to see Jane come into herself, actually become her own person and change the way that she deals with the world is a total gift.”—Odessa Young, star of “Mothering Sunday”
“The night before we shot the scene, I had a dream about a message written in blood on the wall. When I went to do the scene, Lucian was shooting in an old abandoned insane asylum with a big piano. I’m acting opposite Marcel Iures, who is the Laurence Olivier of Romania. He later performed in one of my ‘Hotel Room’ plays at the National Theatre Bucharest, which still has bullet holes in the walls from the revolution to overthrow Ceaușescu. Marcel also happens to be a great improvisational actor, so when Lucian said, ‘Action,’ I made up all my lines, and Marcel went right with it. Afterward, Lucian got down on his knees in front of me and said, ‘I knew you could do it!’”—Barry Gifford, star of “The Phantom Father”
“After the bum materializes, the sound gets all echoey. One guy is hollering, ‘Dan! Dan!’, as the other loses consciousness. We initially went down a different road than what you hear, but I said to David, ‘That’s not what happens when you die.’ He asked, ‘How do you know?’, and I said, ‘Because I died in a doctor’s office in January of 1976. Luckily, they brought me back. Your hearing is the last thing to go, and everything sounds like its echoing in a tunnel.’ So David said, ‘Let’s try that,’ and what you hear in the scene really is what it sounds like when you die.”—John Neff, re-recording mixer of “Mulholland Dr.”
“If you are wanting to lead a sexually active life, it’s a normal thing, but in films, it often seems to be something that could get really dangerous. In this film, we definitely wanted to say that sexuality belongs to everyone. Even the so-called good girl is a sexual being. It’s a perfectly normal, sometimes complicated part of life, and everybody should be able to explore it safely and freely.”—Alli Haapasalo, director of “Girl Picture”
“I just really love making things in Oregon, and I’m so happy we got to shoot at a national park. We didn’t have any permits, but no one stopped us. I love that we have that in our backyard. This film shows how you can make something in a day with people that are really great, and it can be impactful. You don’t need a lot of money, you just need a lot of kindness.”—Jessica Barr, co-writer/star of “September”
“There’s so much more autonomy in filmmaking than there is in acting. That’s why I’ll take this experience with me for the rest of my life. If I’m ever down and out, hit by ageism, nepotism, or any other ‘ism’ Hollywood throws at me, I feel equipped now to handle everything. While acting remains my main focus, I’m so grateful that I was pushed to the brink and made ‘Clairevoyant,’ because I love making movies. Claire definitely healed something inside of me. I felt a lot more whole after being Claire for a while.”—Micaela Wittman, co-director/star of “Clairevoyant”
“I think my femininity is inherently a lens for my work. I don’t know if it’s a feminine cliché for me to focus more on domestic issues or relationships, but that’s how I am. Sometimes I want to be a contrarian, and work against that instinct. But I don’t really like action movies. I like comedic dramas about relationships, and I think that totally is there in my work. The culture on my sets is very much women-led. There’s a lot of collaboration when we’re listening to each other. I don’t dictate to them. I make sure everyone has a lot of input on set, and I’d like to think that’s also because I’m a woman.”—Emma Thatcher, director of “Fletcher”
“The emotions are so strong, they are overflowing. A young woman can be angry and frustrated and expressive and have weird emotions that she doesn’t even understand—and in the end, that’s okay. I haven’t seen that portrayed so much.”—Aamu Milonoff, star of “Girl Picture”
“On the first night, we stayed in a motel in the middle of nowhere. At around 2am, I heard a knock on the door. I opened it and there was Barry, looking like a phantom in the darkness. He said, ‘I can’t sleep, so I wrote this poem for you on a piece of paper, and don’t throw it away. One day, if you’re starving and need money, go into any American museum and don’t accept less than $10,000 for it.’ It was a line right out of a Gifford script. I still have that beautiful poem. I’m not starving yet and I’ll probably never sell it.”—Lucian Georgescu, director of “The Phantom Father”
“Nina Simone’s ‘Sinnerman,’ which plays over the end credits, is such a manic song to be playing after what you’ve just seen [in ‘Inland Empire’]. As the very last end credits are rolling, and there’s still all this stuff going on while you’re processing what’s just happened, there’s this moment in the song where Nina sings the lyric, ‘Don’t you know that I need you?’ In the film, Lynch adds a tail of reverb to that moment that just lets it hang there for a second. It’s not in the original recording, and it gives me chills every time I hear it. It’s such a subtle thing, and it may be one of the most potent and impactful parts of the film. After everything that you’ve gone through, it gives you this wide open space to sit in by yourself for a moment, and then the song picks up again.”—Daniel Knox, programmer of “David Lynch: A Complete Retrospective—The Return”
“Often in stories about ice skating that I’ve seen, the parents of teenagers are the ones through whose gaze we see the harsh training and the harshness directed towards the teenager. The skating becomes important because of the parents’ idea of what the teenager should do. In Emma’s story, she’s the one who has decided what she wants to do.”—Linnea Leino, star of “Girl Picture”
“It reminded me of Virginia Woolf’s comments in A Room of One’s Own where she wanders through the aisles of the library and she muses upon the fact that there’s hardly a name by a female writer on the shelf. I felt this scene was the cinematic version of that discourse where suddenly, just by her own presence, she belongs there and is an embodiment of the future of creativity, which is mind-blowing in itself. It’s such a powerful visual in a patriarchal society where for millennia, it was not even thinkable that she would be able to stand there at all, and all of a sudden, her presence is entirely natural. By not making this about the male gaze, which would have required her to be doing something sensual or sexy, it allows the scene to have an entirely different focus. It’s about nudity as a political statement, not nudity as sexuality in that moment, which reminds us of how political nudity inherently is.”—Eva Husson, director of “Mothering Sunday”
“This is such a little slice of life, and I would hope that there is a takeaway for people in recognizing the complexity of being human. It is complicated to be in relationships with people, in this case amidst grief, when people need and want different things. I’d like to think that when you show that semi-honestly, it resonates with people, whether or not they’ve ever been in that situation before. I hope they take away an inkling of truth.”—Sarah Sherman, director of “September”
In addition to these interviews, I published an extensive photo journal chronicling every day of Daniel Knox’s marvelous “David Lynch: A Complete Retrospective—The Return” at Chicago’s Music Box Theatre, as well as my rave review of Michael Glover Smith’s fourth and finest feature to date, “Relative” (featuring “Twin Peaks” star Wendy Robie). At Cinema Femme, I published dispatches from the virtual Sundance festival, which included reviews of such excellent titles as Ed Perkins’ documentary, “The Princess,” Jamie Dack’s prize-winning debut feature, “Palm Trees and Power Lines” and the best film I have seen thus far in 2022, Audrey Diwan’s “Happening.”
I presented my list ranking the Top 20 Films of 2021, though this time, they were unranked and alphabetized, while once again revealing who I would pick as the year’s deserving Oscar nominees. As for newly reprinted articles from years past, they included my interviews with Persepolis author Marjane Satrapi, “Forrest Gump” star Hanna Hall and the dearly departed television legends Ed Asner and Betty White. As I continue to embark on my most ambitious and sprawling projects to date, there is a chance that Indie Outlook will eventually cease to post new content. However, I will be eternally grateful to this decade-long portfolio for providing me with the ability to connect with more artists, readers, lifelong heroes and soul mates than I ever could’ve imagined. I’ll leave you with the highly enjoyable pre-Oscar conversation I had this past March with documentarian and film critic Ife Olatunji on her YouTube series, “South of Hollywood”…
Stay tuned for Part II of this anniversary retrospective, in which I compile all of the interviews and reviews I’ve published over the past twelve months at RogerEbert.com. In the meantime, feel free to revisit the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth anniversaries of Indie Outlook.