First off, I should make a confession. I have not seen Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ , so my arguments here are a matter of principle, not film criticism. Not long ago, there was a minor discussion at indieWIRE about whether or not to include coverage of the film in its weekly box office reports. The staff eventually decided it was eligible and went on to publish the box office as part of the weekend's indie gross and include stories praising Newmarket's Bob Berney (mind you, a very nice guy) for his latest indie blockbuster, after recent hits such as Whale Rider, Monster, and My Big Fat Greek Wedding (while he was at IFC Films).
But like the latter film, I don't believe The Passion is an "independent" film, even though it was technically made outside of the standard Hollywood Studio System. And I'll tell you why. Not simply because it was made for over $20 million and financed by a megastar's international corporate company, but because it is a reactionary piece of conservative propaganda. I know, I haven't seen the movie (yet), so perhaps this claim is tenuous, but judging from those who have seen it and interviews with its director, I believe that Mel Gibson is a wacky idealogue with a dangerous and dominant agenda. Sure, people can make any movie they want to make, but it's not "independent" when it comes with a staunch right-wing mission aimed at alienating some of America's minorities and rousing the conversative powers that already control the United States.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but aren't "independent" films meant to champion those who are under-represented in the mainstream? Last I checked, there were hundreds of thousands of Christian Churches in America. This film is not an underdog, nor an outsider. Just look at its box office: you don't make 400 million dollars worldwide with a film that reflects the experiences of those on the margins of society. When a movie caters to the tastes and prejudices of that many people, it just can't be considered "independent." The two are largely mutually exclusive.
In the same way, My Big Fat Greek Wedding was not an indie film. It was a TV sitcom for the entire family. And truly "indie" films, by my strict definition and probably not yours, are not for the entire family. They are artful, subtle, ambiguous, open-ended, and they don't include manipulative, sweeping slow motion shots, accompanied by swelling orchestral music, of heros being flayed and tortured. (I read about that scene.) So the next time a Hollywood star, whether Tom Hanks or Mel Gibson, comes aboard a project that feels as broad or bloated as My Big Fat Greek Passion of Christ, let's all in the alternative film community think twice, or maybe thrice, before embracing it as one of our own.