The Joys of Independent Filmmaking


Terry Gilliam writes for Dreams about the release of Tideland

Terry Gilliam on the set of Tideland (pic by PS)

For most of you, the DVD of Tideland will be your first opportunity to see the film. It popped in and out of the major cities faster than you could pull your socks on, cinch up your belt, find the keys to the car and, once near the cinema, fail to find a parking space.

It seems that without the blessings of sufficient numbers of mainstream critics, there wasn’t much the American distributor, THINKFILM, seemed capable of doing to reach the public. Too many films to handle. No time to devote sufficient energy, or the passion and imagination required to inspire the public to take a chance on something different and demanding. They had other films that were easier to sell. They had to deal with corporate changes. They probably had lives to lead.

So with only a week to go before the film opened in New York, and without a poster or ad to be seen, I was encouraged by my daughter to take to the streets with a cardboard sign reading “STUDIO-LESS FILM MAKER – FAMILY TO SUPPORT – WILL DIRECT FOR MONEY” and a begging cup to draw people’s attention to the impending release of Tideland. Not only did it work – we managed to get a large enough opening to generate a second and third week in the cinema – but also I made $25. Welcome to the joys and pain of independent film-making.

Tideland has turned out to be a very divisive film. People love or loathe it. Perhaps “love” is the wrong word, but the film does touch nerve endings that are not too often reached in the dark of today’s cinema. We didn’t set out to reach everybody, but we wanted to give encouragement to people with open minds and imaginations in need of support that they are not alone… or weird.

For me it was a kind of litmus paper test of our current society. Are people able to think for themselves or are they so overwhelmed by buzz words, manufactured fears, sensationalized reality that they have lost touch with life? Can they see beyond the surface? Is a child preparing heroin for her father a child abused… or a loving daughter? Does a child have to wail and weep at the loss of a parent to feel her loss? Is the perceived vulnerability of a child merely a projection of our own fears?

Those that look beyond the surface find the film very tender and truthful… and strangely wonderful. Even those uncertain about the film find it stays with them for days after seeing it. I encourage people to watch it twice. I can guarantee it will be a different experience each time.

Despite the fact that the film received six nomination for the Canadian “Genies”, won the FIPRESCI Prize at the San Sebastian Film Festival, ended up on a surprising number of Best of 2006 lists, was acclaimed a “masterpiece” by Harry Knowles of AINTITCOOL.COM (and Jodelle Ferland has just received another nomination… this time for a Saturn Award), it was nowhere to be found amongst the films up for nominations for this year’s Oscars. You might ask why? Well, it’s back to our good friends at THINKFILM where it seems there was a teensy-weensy “oversight” on their part. As I wrote them, “when I opened the envelope containing the Academy Award ballot papers and sat down to nominate the Best Picture and Best Director I discovered that Tideland was nowhere to be seen in the list of qualifying films. It saved me from the always painfully embarrassing decision of whether or not to vote for myself. Many thanks and keep up the good work.”


Gilliam plugs Tideland in NYC,
October 2006

More to explore

Films in depth

The Man Who Killed Don Quixote
The Zero Theorem
The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus
The Brothers Grimm
Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas
12 Monkeys
The Fisher King
The Adventures of Baron Munchausen
Time Bandits