Mike Fleming

UPDATE: Lloyd Kaufman disputed my assessment that The Toxic Avenger doesn’t belong on the short list of the elite indie films of the 1980s. I’m letting him have his turn, though I can’t say he has changed my mind.

Dear Mike,

Your article impugning the integrity of the IFTA Board of Directors, suggesting that its choices of the 30 “Most Significant Independent Films” have been foisted upon it by me, its Chairman, is absurd and an insult to the entire Board.

Everyone on the 27-member IFTA Board of Directors voted by secret ballot and I had absolutely no influence on the outcome. In fact, there was no politicking involved at all.  These are the Board’s choices and the board’s alone. It is ridiculous for you to state that a group that includes film icons like Roger Corman, Avi Lerner and Mark Damon would be led around by me!

IFTA, for whom I’ve had the honor of serving as chairman for the past three years, is recognizing the “Most Significant Independent Films” in terms of both art and commerce.  Nowhere did IFTA say “Best” or “Top” independent films.  In fact IFTA took great pains to avoid using those terms.

Regarding you dismissal of The Toxic Avenger, I really wonder if you have seen the film. In every respect, The Toxic Avenger is worthy of receiving an honorable mention as one the “Most Significant Independent Films” of the past 30 years.  Toxie is responsible for Troma Entertainment which, at 35, is the longest-surviving independent film company.  The Toxic Avenger launched Troma, like Disney and Miramax, one of the few consumer film brands.  Consider its signficiance: three sequels and a new $80 million re-do in the works by an Oscar-winning producer, according to, er, Mike Fleming.  Top directors across the globe, including Quentin Tarantino, have written and spoken about the heavy influence it had on their work.  Numerous films, including the Scream series and Robocop, have been clearly influenced by it. Toxie brought enviornmental issues to consumers long before Al Gore did.  There have been Saturday morning cartoon shows, Marvel comics, books, a hit off Broadway musical (featuring songs specifically written by Bon Jovi’s David Brian), action figures and 200 other pieces of merchandise based on Toxi.  And that’s just to name a few.

I mean, how significant does an independent film have to be to receive an honorable mention in your eyes?  Contrary to the title of your story (IFTA’s “Toxic” 30 Best Indie Film List) and in spite of everything above, sadly The Toxic Avenger DID NOT make the list of 30.  It was just an honorable mention. Best regards, Lloyd Kaufman

EARLIER: The Independent Film & Television Alliance marks its 30th anniversary by selecting what it considers the “30 Most Significant Independent Films” of the past three decades. The choices were made by IFTA’s 27-member board of directors. But they take on a toxic sheen in my opinion with the inclusion of an honorable mention for The Toxic Avenger, which was directed by IFTA head Lloyd Kaufman (and Troma Films impresario) under the pseudonym Samuel Weill.  American Cinematheque and IFTA are scheduling screenings of the top indie films, beginning September 29th with My Left Foot, followed with a Q&A featuring the film’s director, Jim Sheridan.

Now, My Left Foot was certainly a milestone game-changing indie and a tour de force by Daniel Day-Lewis. And I was liking some of the choices on the IFTA list, even though films like Braveheart, The Lord of the Rings, and Inglourious Basterds strain the definition of independent. Major studios were backing those releases and Harvey Weinstein spent a lot of Disney burnishing Miramax’s library on other films on the list. I had more of a problem when I got to the end of the 1980s choices and saw that, alongside Gandhi, sex lies and videotape, and Platoon, IFTA gave an honorable mention to The Toxic Avenger. WTF? Was that silly, schlocky film more seminal to the indie film movement than 1980s efforts like Blood Simple, She’s Gotta Have It, A Room With A View, Sid and Nancy, El Mariachi, or My Life As A Dog?  I guess it is if one of the decision-makers directed the movie.

At least Kaufman didn’t try to sneak other Troma epics like Surf Nazis Must Die, Who Flung Poo?, or Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead onto the roster.  And since Toxie only got honorable mention and didn’t actually crack the list, maybe there won’t actually be a screening people feel obliged to attend. But, really, this self-congratulatory gesture undermines the roster. But I’ll play along: here is IFTA’s prestige indie roster:

1980s: Amadeus; Blue Velvet; Dances With Wolves; Das Boot (The Boat); Gandhi; My Left Foot; A Nightmare On Elm Street; Platoon; Sex, Lies and Videotape; The Terminator. (Honorary mentions: The Killing Fields; The Last Emperor; The Toxic Avenger.)

1990s: Braveheart; Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Fargo; Four Weddings and a Funeral; Life Is Beautiful; Pulp Fiction; Reservoir Dogs; The Silence of the Lambs; The Usual Suspects; Where the Day Takes You (Honorary mentions: Basic Instinct, Good Will Hunting; Trainspotting.)

2000s: Brokeback Mountain; Crash; The Hurt Locker; Inglourious Basterds; Juno; Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring; Million Dollar Baby; Monster; The Pianist; Slumdog Millionaire; (Honorary mentions: Bowling for Columbine; Memento; Twilight.)

What else is missing? How about Boogie Nights, Seven, Sling Blade, The Crying Game, The Passion of the Christ, Drugstore Cowboy, In the Bedroom?