Indiepix Unlimited wants to be the Netflix of independent film

With its wide selection of under-the-radar movies, you could also call it ‘Off-the-beaten-path Flix.’

Those who regularly attend film festivals know that what many film buffs want most is a chance for bragging rights, to see new movies early, before they hit theaters. But there’s another kind of festival goer, the more intrepid soul who combs the catalog in search of the uncommon offering, the type of movie with such narrow appeal that it might be seen just once, and then virtually disappear.

The movie-streaming service IndiePix Unlimited aims to resurrect those kinds of films, offering more than 400 carefully curated films from a catalog distributed by its 12-year-old parent company, Indiepix Films. These guys know their stuff: There’s a broad mix of titles, with plenty of little treasures and very little mainstream or commercial hits cluttering things up. The service’s user interface is a little buggy, however, and is in need of a good polishing.

First, let’s consider the content, which is impressive. Users can start browsing on the homepage, through categories such as New, Trending, Shorts, Documentaries, Animated, International, Quick Shorts, and Staff Picks. There’s also a “browse all films” page, which offers a few ways to sort: by release year, by length (short films first), or alphabetical. After that, hopeful viewers are on their own.

Indiepix Unlimited

A $5.99-per-month subscription fee gives you access to more than 400 independent films in the service's growing inventory.

Each title includes individual linked keywords, ranging from “horror & suspense” and “sports” to things like cities and countries. A documentary about a women’s roller derby league, Hell on Wheels (2008), features these keywords: Recreation, Sports, Woman, Athlete, Athletic, and Women. These keywords work well, but if, while clicking around, you decide to go from a sports movie to a horror movie, you’ll have to get creative.

The site does not list cast members, a shortcoming that will annoy many cineastes. I found one title, Harrison Montgomery (2008), that featured a still of an actor who looked like Martin Landau, but nowhere on the page is his identity confirmed or denied. I discovered that by clicking the “Own the DVD” button and scrolling to the bottom, viewers can finally find a cast list (it actually is Landau); the lists are connected to the “store” portion of the site and not the streaming portion. Worse, not every movie has an “Own the DVD” button, so some cast lists are left unknown, save for a side search to the IMDB.

Indiepix Unlimited

One of Indiepix Unlimited's biggest shortcomings is its failure to provide cast credits for its films.

The site features a search box, but it seems untrustworthy. I did a search for “Martin Landau,” and Harrison Montgomery did not come up. I tried several other searches with equally mixed results. On the plus side, each title at least features the director or directors, and these are linked and seem to work fine. Each title includes a list of film festivals in which it appeared, although these are not linked and do not seem to work well in the search engine. (I tried a search for San Jose’s Cinequest festival and came up with nothing, even though I saw it listed under certain selections.)

In spite of its shortcomings, there are creative ways to get around the site and find movies. After sorting by date, I found that the site offers, like most other streaming sites, a generous collection of public domain movies. And why not? They’re free, and some of them are extremely cool: Buster Keaton’sThe General (1927) and Steamboat Bill Jr. (1928), My Man Godfrey (1936), Detour (1945), Fritz Lang’s Scarlet Street (1945), Frank Sinatra in Suddenly (1954), Roger Corman’s The Little Shop of Horrors (1960), Francis Ford Coppola’s Dementia 13 (1963), and Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn in Charade (1963), among many others.

Quite a few of those 400 titles are short films, which is great. But the cover images for these films are confusing, since they seem to have been shown at festivals in packages or compilations; the same image is used for any given group of five or 10 films, so it takes a little extra hunting to find out which is which. At random, I chose a title called Spin (2005), part of a collection called “Brooklyn Independent Vol. 1,” and found an absolute tiny treasure. It’s a very clever tale about a DJ who can use his turntables to “fix” things happening in the real world. The only drawback is that it lists “Animation” as one of its keywords, and, though it contains some special effects, it’s most decidedly a live-action short.

Indiepix Unlimited

Documentary film fans will find some obscure offerings here, including this one about a row-sham-bow competition.

I also tried an animated short called Dentist (2005) and found it not to my taste. It’s from a Latvian animator, Signe Baumane, who seems to prefer the gross-out approach, and the majority of the site’s animated shorts seem to be hers. These are not kids’ cartoons, not by a long shot. For that matter, the site doesn’t have any kind of designation for which films might—or might not—be good for kids.

I found a pair of baseball movies, both about Dominican Republic players, but the first—El Play (2008)—ironically, I had trouble getting to play. A documentary, Rock, Paper, Scissors: A Geek Tragedy (2007), also caught my eye, and it turns out to be about an actual annual tournament in which people play “rock, paper, scissors.” This funny, surprisingly thoughtful movie shows that the tournament actually has referees, trainers, and sports-related injuries, as well as gurus who insist that it’s not just a random game, that a master can actually control the outcome.

Weirdly, the site has a selection of a couple dozen ultra-cheap horror films, some of them shot on video, promising sex and gore. Titles include Blood Stained Bride (2006), Blood Sucking Babes from Burbank (2006), Bachelor Party in the Bungalow of the Damned (2008), Alice in Murderland (2010), and, unfortunately, Monsturd (2003).

Indiepix Unlimited

If you like cheap horror films, you'll find plenty to discover in Indiepix's vaults.

But mainly the site offers upright international and independent movies, like an interesting Iranian movie that I saw a few years back and had forgotten all about, Shirin Neshat’s Women Without Men (2009). So, yes, there’s definitely a selection of movies worth watching, but actually watching them is a little buggy.

Clicking on a movie brings up a new, small window, where, if you’re lucky, the movie will start playing. Viewers have the option to switch to lower quality for smoother playback over a slow (or mobile, I suppose) connection, or to keep it at high quality. Then, it’s possible to switch to full-screen mode; but once you do that, you can’t minimize again without the picture glitching out. (I tried the service in both Safari and Firefox and had slightly more success with the latter.) And, once a movie has started, the site does not remember your place; so if you quit and wish to return, you must start from the beginning and scrub forward.

In its current form, IndiePix is clearly geared toward hard-core movie fans who are willing to invest time in exploration or to just throw caution to the wind in an effort to find diamonds in the rough. The service will need some fine tuning before it will appeal to moviegoers who demand more information about a movie before investing time in it. But you can’t beat the price: $5.99 per month, with a one-month free trial.

Don't miss Jeffrey M. Anderson's weekly Now Streaming column, where our resident film critic picks the best films newly available for streaming.

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Jeffrey M. Anderson

TechHive (US)
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