The State of Independents: Defining Contemporary American Independent Cinema

An eight-week beginners’ level course exploring the ways in which American independent cinema has been defined over recent years. Tracing its history and development from the heydays of Sundance to the present, this course will examine the uneasy relationship between indies and the major studios, assess the changing definitions of independent cinema and explore the diversity of independent film practices in the US.

Led by Kirsty Fairclough, lecturer in Media and Performance at the University of Salford.

Beginners’ Level – no prior knowledge necessary

£60 full / £45 concessions

  • Monday 12 May: Defining Independence

This session will explain the parameters of the course and provide an introduction and overview of the course. We will examine the difficulties in defining independent cinema and will explore the possible meanings of the term developed over recent years.

  • Monday 19 May: The Heydays of Sundance

Following our discussions of the problems in defining an American independent film, we will look at the creation and development of Robert Redford’s Sundance Institute in 1981, the associated Sundance Film Festival and evaluate their impact upon the public perception and profile of independent cinema in the 1980s.

  • Monday 2 June: Screening: Do The Right Thing

Spike Lee’s powerful portrait of urban racial tensions sparked controversy while earning him popular and critical praise.

  • Monday 9 June: Cinema of Outsiders

This week we will examine the issues and debates that arise from a close analysis of Do The Right Thing, paying particular attention to the short-lived period of freedom for filmmakers like Spike Lee to explore issues of race, gender, sexuality in the heydays of the “indie” scene in the late 1980s and early 1990s. We will examine movements within this period including New Queer Cinema and Generation X.

  • Monday 16 June: Mini-Majors, Miramax and Marketing

This session will focus on the creation of the mini-major and the development of marketing techniques for the independent film using Sex, Lies, Videotape and Pulp Fiction as key examples and will consider to what extent Miramax and the widespread marketing of indie films changed the industry for better or worse.

  • Monday 23 June: Screening: Palindromes (2005, Todd Solondz)

An often disturbing look at identity, growth and the possibility of change, Solondz’s film is focussed on 13-year-old Aviva who desperately wants to be a mother, but whose horrified parents thwart their daughter’s dream by demanding she has an abortion.

  • Monday 30 June: Indiewood: Friend or Foe?

Following our discussion of Solondz’s Palindromes we will continue to discuss whether the term ‘independent’ has become just another form of branding or product differentiation given that so many major film companies have independent subsidiaries. Or are the circumstances of independent production, distribution, and exhibition more varied and complex?

  • Monday 7 July: Possible Futures

The course will conclude with a discussion of the potential future for independent cinema in the US focussing on new technological developments, media conglomeration and will pose questions about its continuing social and aesthetic vitality.

There is no prior reading required for this course but course participants may be interested in the following books.

Allen, M (2002) Contemporary US Cinema, Pearson

Allon Y, Patterson, H (eds.), (2002) Contemporary North American Film Directors London: Wallflower Press

Andrew, G (1998) Stranger Than Paradise: Maverick Filmmakers in Recent American Cinema, London: Prion

Hillier, J (ed.) (2001) American Independent Cinema: A Sight & Sound Reader. London: BFI Publishing,

Holmlund, C and Wyatt, J (2005) Contemporary American Independent Film, London: Routledge

King, G (2005) American Independent Cinema, London: I.B. Tauris

Levy, E (1999) Cinema of Outsiders, New York: New York University Press,

Merritt, G (2000) Celluloid Mavericks: A History of American Independent Film, New York: Thunders Mouth Press.

Pierson, J (2003) Spike, Mike, Slackers & Dykes Reloaded, London: Faber and Faber

Tzioumakis, Y (2006) American Independent Cinema An Introduction, Edinburgh University Press

Williams, L.R and Hammond, M (2006) Contemporary American Cinema. McGraw Hill

Wood, J (2004) 100 American Independent Films, London: BFI Publishing