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Michael Goro Takeuchi

Mike Goro Takeuchi is a professional journalist who has written on film and sports  for numerous outlets sincr 2000. An award-winning creative non-fiction writer, Tak also pens a weekly sports column for a newspaper based in Southern California.


He was the production manager for the Santa Barbara International Film Festival from 2006-2015. 



Robert Redford and Film Independent President Josh Welsh on the Continuing Rise of Independent Filmmaking (Second of Two Parts)

By Mike Takeuchi

The Film Independent’s 29th Annual Spirit Awards will be held on Saturday afternoon in Santa Monica.  Hosted by Patton Oswalt, the Spirit Awards will be televised later that evening on the Independent Film Channel (IFC).  Check your local listings for showtimes.                                                                                   


Shortly after another edition of his successful Sundance Film Festival wrapped up, Robert Redford relaxed in a back room behind the stage at the Arlington Theatre in Santa Barbara.  He was set to go on in a few minutes to receive the Santa Barbara International Film Festival’s  American Riviera Award when this writer asked him what he thought about the state of independent film.  After taking a few seconds to ponder, Redford flashed the bright smile that made countless people swoon.  “I think in the last three years, independent films have gone to another level,”  Redford said. “And I only think it’s going to get exponentially better.

  Redford-who won an Academy Award for directing (“Ordinary People”, 1981) as well as a Lifetime Achievement Oscar in 2002-then said he was excited for the new breed of independent filmmakers who are using cutting edge techniques and unique points of view to overcome the challenges of a lack of funding.


 Redford-who is nominated for the Best Lead Actor Award at Saturday’s Film Independent Spirit Awards - then went on to use director J.C. Chandor, the producers and the crew of his latest film “All Is Lost”  for embodying that desire and vision. Both Chandor and cinematographer Frank G. DeMarco were also nominated for a film that was named in the Best Feature category.

  Film Independent (FIND)  president Josh Welsh expanded on the actor/director’s beliefs. 

   “Every year year is different in the line up of films, there are different strengths and weaknesses (but) I personally feel that 2013 was an incredibly strong year for film-definitely in the independent sector but also with some of the other shows that recognize bigger budget films,” Welsh said by phone.  “Of course a lot of that had to do with the performances.” 

As an example, Welsh pointed out the Spirit Awards category of Best Male Lead which had Oscar Isaac for “Inside Llewyn Davis”,  Michael B. Jordan for “Fruitvale Station”, Matthew McConaughey for “Dallas Buyers Club,  Bruce Dern for “Nebraska”,  and Chiwetel Ejiofor for “12 Years a Slave”-the last three of whom also received Best Actor Academy Award nominations-as a group that rose above even the cream of the crop. 

  “There were a lot of really worthy performers that didn’t get recognition during awards season,” Welsh said. “Every year you have your personal favorites where you are wishing that nominations or wins are different than they are, but this year some didn’t get recognized not out of unfairness but because it was such a strong year of compelling films and performances.”s



  The last two films of the aforementioned group have been nominated for both the Independent Spirit Award Best Feature and Oscar Best Picture Award.  Last year there were also two; “Beasts of the Southern Wild” and “Silver Linings Playbook”.  While in 2012 there was “The Descendants”, 2011 had an unprecedented four with “Black Swan”, “127 Hours”,  “Winter’s Bone”, and “The Kids Are All Right”.  

  But from 2012 back to when the Spirit Awards began in 1985, there were relatively few independent films nominated for an Oscar, eight in all.  The most notable was in 1986 when Oliver Stone’s “Platoon” became the only film to win both awards. (*Note In 2000, Ang Lee’s “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” won the Spirit Awards Best Feature, the Oscar in the foreign language category, while being nominated in the Best Picture category.) That could change if one of this year’s favorites, Steve McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave” has a big weekend. 

    Regardless of this or the past, with Spirit finalists  “12 Years…”,  “Nebraska”, as well as the produced-for-$5 million “Dallas Buyers Club”  nominated in the Oscar’s Best Picture category, there is  momentum shift that independent films are being more widely viewed beyond their niche.


“I believe that is the case-well I hope it is,” Welsh said. “This has been said many times before, but the studios make fewer films that they did 20 years ago.  And the adult dramas that win at the big awards shows aren’t being made by the studios any more. By and large they make franchise films. But some of these big-budget movies still tell an incredibly telling story like Warner Brothers “Gravity”. That film is deservedly getting lots of love in the Oscar race.”

  “(But in terms of straight dramas), by and large a lot of these films are coming from the independent sector, not only because the studios are making less dramas, but also because they are concentrating on bigger films that typically don’t get a lot of play in the awards space.

   “But that makes more room for artist-driven film making with unique perspectives. Take “Nebraska” for example.  Alexander Payne is an amazing filmmaker with such a distinct voice  and his films are by and large being made independently . I do think great films like his are  driving the audience towards independent films and that’s huge.”

  Welsh said that he sees this hunger annually at another of FIND’s big events, the Los Angeles Film Festival as well as labs made available to the non-profit group’s filmmaker Fellows. 

  “Innovative filmmakers need a lot of support across the board,” Welsh said. “They need mentoring, support to develop their projects.  Another thing they obviously need is cash to help them make their films from start to post production.”

  Welsh added that they “strategically” distribute grants to selected filmmakers that range from $10,000 to $50,000 with the larger amounts going to those whose idea FIND really wants to push. 

   “We know that there are allot of challenges with independent film today in terms of distribution and reaching an audience so a filmmaker can sustain their career, economically,” Welsh said. “We’re hoping that this relatively small amount of money can have a huge impact on a film or even the filmmaker’s life.” 

  That impact was realized when past FIND Fellow Jem Cohen, who wrote and directed “Museum Hours”, was nominated for the John Cassavetes Award (best feature made for under $500,000) and a Best Editing Award.  In 2005, Cohen won FIND’s Someone to Watch Award for his film “Chain”. In addition, another former Fellow Jill Soloway was nominated for a Spirit Award this year for Best First Screenplay for the movie “Afternoon Delight.”   

Welsh said that he hopes to develop more on Saturday, when he announces the two grants that are going specifically to Film Independent’s Fellows.  This is one of the awards that Welsh is going to relish the most.

  “My favorite thing to do is going into a theatre at a film festival without knowing anything about a film in advance,” he said. “Then I am totally surprised by it and think wow!  Who made this movie and where are they from?  It is so refreshing when you see something original that you haven’t seen before.  You don’t know who the filmmaker is, but you get to know their film by discovery.  I feel the same way about music-just find that unique voice.  That’s what we are trying to do.”



About Michael Goro Takeuchi