How Arthouse Horror has increased diversity within Film industries

By Alexandria Slater

Deep in the Himalayan mountains of Uttarakhand lies glacial, crisp snow mirroring the heavy white mist of the winter’s sky. The serene panorama enticed aspiring filmmaker, Abhimanhyu Amoli, to explore the local legend of the mountain fairies.

Being from Uttarakhand “I wanted to stray away from heavily featured poverty porn and create a film closer to my roots,” Abhimanyu says.

He was inspired by the folklore tales of the Mahabharata — stories that originated from Hindu mythology — and so created his indie fantasy horror film, “Fairy Meadows.”

By nature, surrealism cinema excludes itself from the veracity of ordinary life. But the struggle of creating a successful film is very real for working class filmmakers like Abhimanyu.

Indian independence in 1947 saw Mumbai emerge as the nation’s financial capital.’ Wealthy entrepreneurs were presented with the profitable opportunity of investing into films, and so the archaic caste system manifested into Bollywood, remaining prevalent in the industry today.

Abhimanyu says, “nepotism is quite rampant here so it’s difficult for filmmakers to get recognition, especially for those who want to cater to an international audience and think beyond conventional Bollywood.”

He shares that the main struggle he faced was funding the production of Fairy Meadows. “I financed the film with my day job so I had to do it on an extremely tight budget.”

Abhimanyu revealed that he and his small crew of seven experienced “real life horror” whilst on set. But the pure passion to produce his film allowed them to persevere through the challenges.

“Whilst filming, temperatures dropped to minus twenty-two degrees. My DOP (director of photography) got frostbite in his fingers,” he says. “There were times when my actors couldn’t speak properly due to the cold.”

“We were shooting in areas with no electricity and we didn’t have generators so had to depend on natural light and reflectors” he adds. “And to make matters worse- the area where we shot the first half of the climax had bears roaming around the next day, so we had to find somewhere else and reshoot the whole scene again.”

Abhimanyu’s resilience allowed him to complete the film in ten days — “an impressive amount of time to produce a film”, I say to him.

I ask, what struggles do you face outside of the filming process?

“Finding support is a huge struggle” he shares. “Many people in the Hindi industry have this mindset that unless you have a crew of thirty people and access to every piece of equipment, you cannot make a good film.”

“I believe that all you need is creativity and the ability to tell a coherent story.”

Chaitanya Tamhane, director of the Award winning film for best screenplay, ‘The Discipline’ mentioned the same problem in an interview with Forbes magazine. He critiques the Bollywood industry as film is commodified and devalues the art form, putting independent filmmakers at a disadvantage.

The beauty of independent cinema stems from the desire to showcase creatives who don’t conform to the requirements of conventional film studios.

HOME cinema here in Manchester prioritises artwork from an array of regional, national and international backgrounds. I spoke to HOME’s creative director, Jason Wood who’s worked in the independent film industry for 26 years.

“Arthouse cinema is certainly enjoying a peak moment of popularity,” he says. “Pre lockdown, HOME and other independent cinemas were thriving with their best trading period. This was purely from the strength of contemporary film.”

Earlier this year, HOME screened Bong Joon-Ho’s latest film ‘Parasite,’ which took £12.2 million in the UK box office and was the first foreign language film to win an academy award.

It’s no coincidence the South Korean film, which focused on relevant themes like classism and diverged from typical Westernised narratives, made a huge breakthrough.

According to the Women and Hollywood report, the top 1,300 Hollywood films of 2007–2019 were made up of only 10.7% female directors; equating to a ratio of one female director for every twelve males. And out of the 1447 directors, just six percent of these were black.

The inequality of gender and race diversity is as problematic outside of the Western world too. “We have the same issues in Bollywood”, says Abhimanyu. “Although things are changing, it’s far too slow.”

Jason says, “I strongly believe that cinema should reflect the breadth and diversity of the public,” adding that a lack of inclusivity in the media is detrimental to society.

“It’s no longer acceptable for a certain sector- the privileged, the white, the wealthy, to be the only ones working in film.”

The British Film Institute is the UK’s leading organisation for film and funds venues like HOME. They implemented a diversity charter that films must abide by, ensuring that marginalised groups are fairly represented in front of and behind the camera.

“Because of organisations like BFI and important moments like the ‘Me Too’ movement and Black Lives Matter, there have been radical changes in the industry over the last five years or so,” claims Jason.

A report from University of California, Los Angeles states that film studios can lose up to 130 million dollars if authentic diversity in their story telling isn’t present. They reveal that small production companies lead the charge when it comes to inclusivity.

Jason believes that “it’s important to judge a film’s degree of success by the cultural value it possesses rather than it’s financial worth.”

A rare example of racial diversity making a positive impact within the mainstream film industry, is black American director, Jordan Peele. Both his films, ‘Get Out’ and ‘Us’ feature a predominantly black cast (and crew) providing a fresh, yet uncomfortable perspective for a white audience.

For those of you who haven’t watched ‘Get Out’ yet (I strongly advise you do), I won’t reveal any spoilers.

Peele cleverly subverts the common, horror character trope of the ‘white saviour’ and forces the audience to reflect on the oppression the black community experiences.

To some audiences arthouse can appear ostentatious, but it’s important to acknowledge that unlike many mainstream movies these independent films offer more than commodification and entertaining forms of escapism.

Directors like Bong Joon-Ho and Jordan Peele highlight the systemic corruption administered by the elite and help dismantle patronage within the industry.

Their exposure of social injustices and unorthodox approach to storytelling have introduced more opportunities for aspiring filmmakers coming from underrepresented backgrounds.

Jason says “independent cinema has generated a more even playing field for filmmakers” which is the necessary progression every creative field needs.