Oscar Actors: Hawke, Ethan–Indie Icon

In 1991, actor Ethan Hawke, only 21, was represented at the Sundance Film Fest for the first time with the World War II drama, A Midnight Clear, in which he played a soldier.

“That was the first time I’d ever heard of the Sundance Film Festival,” says Hawke today. “I thought, ‘Aw, this will never work.’”

The indie film “revolution” hadn’t happened, but it was about to, as I documented in my book, Cinema of Outsiders: The Rise of American Independent Film, 1975-1999. (which went on to become the most popular film book in the 100 year plus history of NYU Press).

That very week, Richard Linklater, then an unknown director, premiered at Sundance Film Fest an experimental indie called Slacker, which would go on to become a cult movie.

Says Hawke: “Some wacky kid made a punk rock movie that beat the system. It was an event.  You had to see it.”

“I was suspicious of my ability to sustain an acting career,” he admits. So he spent his “Dead Poets Society” salary shooting his first short, a 21-minute romance, “Straight to One,” and submitted it to the 1994 Sundance Film Fest. To his surprise, it got in, as well as another, higher-profile indie in which he starred, Reality Bites.