Given away in the title of the film, the question director Dave Cool travels North American to find the answer to is one that we have to ask ourselves all the time at Broken Pencil. We need to define indie in order to be sure we’re covering the right things, and by comparison, not covering things that are too mainstream. Cool (apparently this is his real last name) heard the word bandied about in the music world and wondered what it really meant. He decides the best way to find out is to travel around North America asking musicians what they think.
The doc touches on the mainstream co-opting of the word, from HMV creating a section called Indie, to a genre of music being tagged “indie rock.” It also touches on the difference between a label that calls itself an “indie” but is distributed by a major, and labels that are truly independent. As much as the subject matter is interesting, the presentation is a bit grade-school. He sets it up like he’s giving us a lesson, or as though he’s taking us through all of his research in order to put together the pieces of his puzzle. I have a problem with most documentaries that feature their director as a character, and though you barely ever see Mr. Cool on-screen, whenever he breaks in to talk about his findings, it becomes grating.
Probably the best part of the film is when he asks Jonathan Cummins from the Doughboys for his impressions on indie rock. “I think of some sort of myopic kid with a knapsack who’s never received or given a blowjob in his life,” he says. Aw, poor kids. But then again, so true, so true. (Lindsay Gibb)
Dir. Dave Cool, Whatisindiemovie.com