If you are looking for fresh perspective on independent film, try watching Laurent Cantet's Palme d'Or-winning The Class with a group of teachers and students. In a classroom, away from the reverence that often accompanies screenings, you get a different sense of how funny, engaging and moving the film is.

The discussion after one such screening turned into a debate that went off in extraordinary directions: from the professional (smarter ways to control a room) to the political (the nature of cultural identity).

No one seemed to be interested in whether the film met some imaginary quality threshold - the aesthetic quality is an essential enabler of the message rather than an end itself. The 'arthouse' label was irrelevant.

Now The Class has a big advantage reaching audiences after winning the Palme d'Or. The deserved Cannes honour gives it a different trajectory.

Yet what Cantet has created is a challenging, complex, honest film that twists the documentary format. It is - God help it - an 'important' film. Bung that in the press pack of most films, and you've got a one-way ticket to the box office margins.

The Cannes profile may allow it to escape the cruel fate of many who shared its ambitions. Yet how many films that can and should touch the people they portray - young or working class, or from ethnic minorities - end up being in the limbo of being watched only by a few cinephiles in upmarket city suburbs'

Is there anything more depressing than movies adored by the critics but seen by next to no one and never given the chance to reach the people whose lives they portray.

The situation is about to get worse. The current financial climate means finding money for a film of any sort is going to get harder. And the climate has already set in that is channeling finance towards chirpy escapism (rare though it is to find a film that knows how to do that). The truth underpinning the supposedly recession-proof nature of cinema is that it relates only to the number of visits that an individual will make to the theatre. There is only a marginal trickle-down effect and it doesn't cut much ice with the bank manager.

So what hope is there if you're not sitting on some happy-clappy, candyfloss idea'

Well, maybe more than you think. Actually, there's never been a time when it was easy to get a bleak or challenging film on to the screens without bagging a festival honour. Only a small percentage of those that were made ever came into contact with anyone beyond an identifiable arthouse crowd.

Distribution now, however, has opportunities to spread its reach to markets not previously available to film. Marketing has new tools to reach audiences. Most obviously, that means focus on where the audience congregates. (If the film has been made for and about inner-city teenagers, then the first stop is probably online communities not the arty magazine.)

In other words it can begin to test assumptions about who will want to watch a movie. But that takes time, effort and a desire to embrace new ideas. If lucky, it might mean working with one of those exhibitors that have the passion and dedication to help engage with audiences.

Certainly, marketing can go beyond the film pages of the quality newspapers which, while valuable, can be the worst kind of good friend. How many times has the waxing lyrical of a critic made the film sound so worthy that audiences didn't turn up'

The trick now is to mobilise audiences, market and increasingly distribute to the places they want to watch the film. And, of course, set the budget accordingly.

But it's also vital to ignore the orthodox - surely the mission of independent film. It is, for example, snobbish and self-defeating to suggest that no one outside an educated elite wants film that challenges. If that's true, then why make films' Music and books don't seem to share that view. And the big film franchises from Batman to Bond have done their very best to apply as much shade as possible.

The indie film-maker needs to take on the fight. This is the time for a little less 'we're doomed' and a little more 'yes we can'.