Indies Under Fire: Bookstore Battles on Film

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Indies Under Fire: The Battle for the American Bookstore, a new documentary about the spirited struggle of California's Bay Area independent bookstores to survive, opened to an enthusiastic audience, including many booksellers, at its world premiere at the Wine Country Film Festival in Sonoma, California, on August 11. The Bay Area premiere of the film, directed by Jacob Bricca, will be held on September 30 in Menlo Park as part of the celebration of the one-year anniversary of Kepler's reopening. Facing many of the issues described in the film, the 50-year-old Kepler's closed briefly in 2005 and reopened with the help of tremendous community and local business support.

Bricca, whose other editing credits include Lost in La Mancha (2002) and Tell Me Do You Miss Me (2006), told Bookselling This Week that he had wanted to explore the issues confronting independent bookstores since witnessing the closing of Palo Alto's Printers Inc. bookstore in 1998.

"I took the [store's closing] very personally," Bricca said. "I grew up in Palo Alto and spent many hours reading and hanging out at Printers Inc. I saw the strong connection the community had to the bookstore and, like others in the film, was very distressed at its closing."

Indies Under Fire, which Bricca researched and filmed over a six-year period, examines the circumstances leading to Printers Inc.'s closing, as well as the efforts of Capitola Book Cafe and Bookshop Santa Cruz to not only survive, but thrive, in the face of growing competition from chain stores. The film features town-wide debates and sometimes-fierce confrontations about the growth of big box retailers within the bookstores' communities.

Bricca has included both the voices of passionate independent booksellers, such Bookshop Santa Cruz owner Neal Coonerty, and those of executives of Borders Books and Music. In contrasting points of view, some in the film make the argument that "freedom of the press" empowers chains to open stores and sell books in as many locations as possible, while independent booksellers express concerns that publishers' sensitivity to the dominance of giant retailers will lead to the disappearance of non-mainstream books -- resulting in an increasingly homogenized culture.

Bricca is working on ways to ensure that film doesn't "just preach to the choir" of independent bookstores and their loyal customers. He is developing plans to have the hour-long film aired and distributed, including in stores on DVD. The latest information on the film's availability is available from Bricca through the film's website, --Nomi Schwartz