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Big on the Small Screen: Boyhood and the Importance of Independent Film

Thursday, 12 March, 2015

With the Academy Awards fast approaching, Boyhood’s recent awards season wins placed it as the frontrunner for the coveted Best Picture Oscar. Whether you hold any appreciation for the Oscars, or awards season in general, the recognition represented an emerging cultural shift regarding the artistic and cultural validity of independent films in relation to their big-scale Hollywood competition.

Boyhood details the life of a young man and his family from the ages of 6-18. Filmed over the span of 12 years, director Richard Linklater has crafted a film that demonstrates how our lives are defined and culminate through a series of passing events. The privilege of consistently working on the film from year to year granted the filmmakers freedom to constantly reassess and integrate elements of their own lives into the film. Linklater, whose own daughter stars in the film, stated that his understanding of his role as a parent changed drastically throughout the making of the movie and that this allowed his characters to grow and change in vastly unanticipated ways. The same can be said for the lead character Mason, played by Ellar Coltrane, as he grows from a video-game saturated 7 year-old into a free-thinking 17 year-old pestering his girlfriend about the intrusion of smartphones and social media. It’s no wonder that there has been a strong reaction from audiences worldwide as the film demonstrates the own progressive uncertainty that we face in our lives daily.

What’s important about the structure of Boyhood is that its independence has challenged film form and narrative conventions. There are no immediate character arcs in Boyhood; the characters simply evolve, change, grow older and seemingly learn to just live their lives. The scenes in the film have no recurring dramatic tension but rather centre on the general uncertainty that we face every day. Part of the privilege of independent filmmaking is the opportunity for filmmakers to challenge narrative structure and how a story is told and interpreted by an audience. In similar ways to John Cassavettes’ Shadows, Louis Malle’s My Dinner With Andre and Christopher Nolan’s Memento, Boyhood’s narrative innovation highlights that an independent film can find a global audience and that people are smart enough to look deeper and reconsider how a story is told to them.

Although the Oscars have come to be recognised as one of (if not) the greatest annual film awards that serves to verify the longevity of many films, relying on Oscar success as an indicator of the quality of films can leave audiences’ ability to make and voice their own opinions impaired. We are all guilty, in some way or another, of approaching any piece of work with an outside bias which we derive from critics’ scores, awards and word-of-mouth associations. This same sentiment can be associated with Boyhood as it has also received over 100 awards as-well as earning almost unanimous critical praise, particularly for its form and themes.

So where does that leave us? It forces us to reassess why we find a film culturally engaging and to clarify our own reactions and experiences with a film before our opinions are shaped by critical and award recognition. There is a grand scale of effort that goes into all films for the simple reason that the people feel that what they are trying to communicate to an audience is worthwhile, relevant or entertaining. It seems that, if anything, the greatest gift that Boyhood and its independence has offered us is the potential to think for ourselves, to question, reinvent and challenge the way we tell and engage with a story.