Not Hollywood

Independent Film at the Twilight of the American Dream

Not Hollywood

Book Pages: 352 Illustrations: 3 tables Published: February 2013

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Cultural Studies, Media Studies > Film

The pioneering anthropologist Sherry B. Ortner combines her trademark ethnographic expertise with critical film interpretation to explore the independent film scene in New York and Los Angeles since the late 1980s. Not Hollywood is both a study of the lived experience of that scene and a critical examination of America as seen through the lenses of independent filmmakers. Based on interviews with scores of directors and producers, Ortner reveals the culture and practices of indie filmmaking, including the conviction of those involved that their films, unlike Hollywood movies, are "telling the truth" about American life. These films often illuminate the dark side of American society through narratives about the family, the economy, and politics in today's neoliberal era. Offering insightful interpretations of many of these films, Ortner argues that during the past three decades independent American cinema has functioned as a vital form of cultural critique.


“[T]his is an accessible, enjoyable and original study which will interest anyone concerned with the relationship between culture and economic forces, and which makes a distinctive contribution to the current anthropology of neoliberalism. Finally, it will awaken your curiosity about the range of American independent film, and encourage you to test your own thoughts and reactions against Ortner’s analysis – which is, no doubt, just as its author would wish.” — Fenella Cannell, Anthropology of This Century

“An original interpretation of film and public culture that addresses the nexus of anthropology and film studies. Best suited for anthropologists interested in contemporary visual culture and film professionals looking for perspective outside the film industry.” — Robin Chin Roemer, Library Journal

“There is much information to be gained from Ortner’s expert use of anthropological methodology to explore the culture of the culture of independent cinema. Film scholars are often too close to their material to obtain findings anywhere near as striking and engaging as the ones enumerated in this volume.” — Daniel Coffey, Foreword Reviews

“The major accomplishment of Not Hollywood is the way Ortner seamlessly pulls together her analyses of independent film, neoliberalism, generation and class. The result is a timely and insightful book.” — Lara McKenzie, PopAnth

“For a general overview of American independent cinema and how it fits into broader changes in U.S.society as a whole, Ortner’s book offers a comparatively light yet thoroughly engaging study.” — Alison Frank, Film Quarterly

“[A]n excellent account of how value is formed by and for independent cinema via the producers who drive the productions into the marketplace. The sociological-ethnographic focus on production in the book amounts to an excellent contribution to the understanding of the process of production in the sector, rather than simply its products. Ortner’s book is also highly readable and engaging, and will provide an excellent text for anyone who teaches undergraduates in either practice- or theory-based production studies.” — Steven Rawle, Scope

Not Hollywood is an outstanding example of how anthropology could foster non-conventional perspectives in the study of film, and of contemporary ‘Western’ societies more generally. Ortner is successful in constructing a fundamentally anthropological analysis, taking seriously the world of film production as any other cultural phenomenon. This book constitutes one of the rare published studies about film production from an anthropological perspective, and is thus a greatly appreciated and major contribution to the field of media anthropology.”  — María-Paz Peirano, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

“This book will be of particular interest to critical scholars of independent cinema and film festival cultures, particularly those with an interest in the rhetoric of independence and the contemporary American film industry. Additionally, scholars and critics engaged in Marxist theory will appreciate Ortner’s determined ideological approach to the subject and focus on class structures in relation to American neo-liberal capitalism.” — Kim Wilkins, Media International Australia

"An innovative and rich assessment of a little-studied aspect of U.S. public culture, Not Hollywood makes important contributions across a variety of fields.... Ortner writes in a clear and engaging style. This accessible, original, and timely book is relevant to anthropology, media studies, American studies, and film studies, and as a model of careful, detailed, and committed research, it is more generally relevant as well." — Colleen Ballerino Cohen, American Anthropologist

“Ortner has cogently and persuasively connected indie cinema to the dispositions of what I would call the ‘knowledge class.’ Although I think the attitudes and tastes of this class formation are less unified than in her portrayal, her ethnography makes a major contribution to the study of culture and social class.” — Elizabeth G. Traube, Journal of American Studies

“Ortner once again contributes much-needed analysis to understanding social class in the United States. Expertly combining a Geertzian approach to culture with a Marxist and Gramscian approach to power, she explores the links between the transformation in American class structure over the past four decades and the cultural shifts of our neoliberal age. Ortner is, as ever, brilliant at making difficult concepts accessible. At a moment when it may seem that anthropologists could have little more to say about neoliberalism, she uncovers its cultural effects in a clear, insightful, and absorbing way.” — Naomi Schiller, American Ethnologist

"Not Hollywood does what compelling ethnographies do: it helps us better understand the human complexities of something we simplistically thought we already knew. As a result, the Sundance 'scene' documented here sometimes feels like 'The Emperor’s New Clothes' and, at other times, like truly engaged progressive politics and effective cultural critique. Required reading in film and media studies, but relevant far beyond those fields." — John Thornton Caldwell, author of Production Culture: Industrial Reflexivity and Critical Practice in Film and Television

"Once again, Sherry B. Ortner takes us on an exploratory trip to an unexpected place: this time it's the 'media world' of American independent filmmakers. She reveals the cultural and emotional logics of passion, independence, and creativity that drive Gen X cineastes to max out their credit cards and push their friendships to the limit to create their own compelling visions of American life in films that are definitively 'not Hollywood.' Ortner never compromises her theoretical arguments, yet her clear and entertaining writing style makes this highly original book accessible to readers in anthropology, media and film studies, and American studies, as well as the interested public." — Faye Ginsburg, Director, Center for Media, Culture, and History, New York University

"Turning a sharp anthropologist's eye on a surprising subject, Sherry B. Ortner does for American independent film what Clifford Geertz did for Bali. Her outsider perspective allows her to raise and answer questions that most filmmakers, film historians, and audiences don't know exist." — Peter Biskind, author of Down and Dirty Pictures: Miramax, Sundance, and the Rise of Independent Filment Film


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Sherry B. Ortner is Distinguished Professor of Anthropology at UCLA. She is the author of numerous books including New Jersey Dreaming: Capital, Culture, and the Class of ’58 and Anthropology and Social Theory: Culture, Power, and the Acting Subject, both published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Notes for the Reader xiii

Introduction 1

1. Making Independence 29

2. Dark Indies 59

3. Making the Scene 91

4. Moral Ambiguity 121

5. Making Value 147

6. Film Feminism 173

7. Making Films 199

8. Politics 229

9. Conclusions 259

Filmography 273

Notes 285

References 299

Index 315
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5426-0 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5410-9
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