Clockwise from upper left: 'Funny Ha Ha,' 'Head Trauma,' 'Charlotte Sometimes,' 'The Talent Given Us'

"I know it when I see it."--U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, in reference to the definition of obscenity, 1964

The past decade has seen an explosion in the number of films proudly identified -- either by the filmmakers themselves, marketing campaigns, or members of the press -- as "independent." But what makes an "independent" film independent, anyway? Is it the source of financing or is it the artistry? Or is it a combination of elements?

I've wrestled with this question for weeks, through at least one blown deadline, and keep coming back to Justice Stewart's definition: "I know it when I see it." Not that I'm an expert; in fact, one of the greatest frustrations of the past ten years has been the difficulty I've had in keeping up with all the films whose independence is defined by their artistry -- the closest to a definition that I can come. Over the decade I've worked in various capacities with several different film festivals and I've also covered a number of festivals as a working member of the press. So I've had the opportunity to see hundreds of indie films. And it's still not enough.

Setting aside all the decade's great documentaries, ably covered by Christopher Campbell, and all the wondrous foreign-language films, well captured by Jeffrey M. Anderson, we're left with thousands of English-language indies. (Sundance says they had 1,058 (?!) feature-length submissions for their dramatic competition this year.) Obviously, the biggest challenge is to see a reasonable amount of films. And unless you've been lucky enough to spend all your time watching movies, and traveling to a multitude of film festivals and markets, you only see a tiny percentage of what's been made.