Sneak peak for almost free films

Each year, as the temperature drops across the country, film studios work tirelessly to put their prestige pictures in the best position to draw award nominations and make money off the attention these films receive. Each year, also around this time, I begin to receive red envelopes from Netflix for free. The films that are sent are nominees for the Independent Spirit Awards, and as a member of Film Independent, I receive a ballot and cast my vote.

The Independent Spirit Awards has been around for 20 years. It is a signature program of Film Independent, a non-profit organization that strives to provide resources for independent filmmakers. According to their website, “6,300 members have access to discounted equipment, editing suites, casting rooms, a valuable resource library, over 120 free screenings and 150 educational events every year.”

In addition to the awards, Film Independent also produces the Los Angeles Film Festival, which draws over 100,000 attendees per year. Past festival films include: “Little Miss Sunshine,” “The Devil Wears Prada,” “An Inconvenient Truth” and “Fahrenheit 9/11.”

This is my second year voting in the Spirit Awards. Last year’s ballot included “Brokeback Mountain,” “Capote,” “Crash” and “Hustle & Flow.” Once the nominees are announced around the first of January, members get a code and use their membership number to get a free subscription to Netflix. All the nominees are available on DVD, though many are not commercially released or released in American theatres. For example, one of the films nominated this year, an Oscar-nominated German film named “The Lives of Others” was available in January on Netflix but was not released in the US until Feb. 9.

Film Independent is a great way to link aspiring filmmakers to the film community for a low membership fee. The awards are also a great outlet for independent films which are not propped up by massive marketing campaigns or are unable to open on 3,000 screens. Aside from “The Lives of Others” (which is one of the best films of the year), the standout nominees include “Old Joy,” “The Dead Girl” and “A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints.” Three other wonderful films that received nominations but I had already seen were “Little Miss Sunshine,” “Half Nelson” and “Pan’s Labyrinth.”

Anyone who loves film should take a look at Film Independent. Even if they find that not all the benefits fit their needs, they may still discover a few gems hidden under the glut of mainstream cinema.

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Gabe Habash can be contacted at