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American Independent Film - ENG00044H

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  • Department: English and Related Literature
  • Module co-ordinator: Prof. Erica Sheen
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: H
  • Academic year of delivery: 2023-24
    • See module specification for other years: 2021-22

Module summary

‘If you don’t have time to see it, don’t. If you don’t like it, don’t. If it doesn’t give you an answer, fuck you. I didn’t make it for you, anyway’. (John Cassavetes on Love Streams, 1984) John Cassavetes’ uncompromising critical stance on his last film suggests the ethos of assertive, even aggressive non-conformism that has underpinned the emergence of American independent film from mainstream cinema since the heyday of the Hollywood studio in the early 40s.

‘Indie’ filmmaking ranges from no- or low-budget productions by experimental and avant-garde artists, like Maya Deren or the young Orson Welles, to the technically and formal virtuosity of Hollywood ‘outsiders’ like Martin Scorsese or David Lynch. What is ‘independent’ film? Its critics have defined it in terms both of its distinctive industrial niche, and of its challenging aesthetic and political strategies. In this module we will watch outstanding examples of the genre from the 1940s to the 1990s, and try to come to an understanding of both aspects of this distinctive strand of contemporary cinema.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 2 2023-24

Module aims

The aims of this module are:

  • to introduce important films from the ‘American Independent’ tradition of filmmaking from the 1940s to today
  • to achieve an understanding of the aesthetic characteristics of American Independent filmmaking and of their relation to the stylistic conventions of mainstream (‘Hollywood’) cinema ( ‘the classical style’)
  • to understand the historical relations between American Independent filmmaking and events and issues in contemporary American culture (e.g. the civil rights movements of the 50s and 60s; Vietnam; 1960s counterculture)
  • to engage in an imaginative interpretation of the American Independent film image and narrative to explore critical and theoretical approaches to this challenging mode of filmmaking in private study and in class discussions

Module learning outcomes

By the end of this module you should be able to demonstrate:

  • A good knowledge of American independent filmmaking from the early 1940s to the today
  • An understanding of its historical, cultural and aesthetic relation to mainstream (ie ‘Hollywood’) cinema and to the so-called ‘classical style’
  • A developed sense of its defining aesthetic and political values and of their contextual relation to contemporary events and issues in post-war American culture
  • A capacity to close-read film and the film image
  • An understanding of relevant critical, technical and theoretical approaches
  • An ability to discuss this material in seminars and to present your ideas about it in writing


Task Length % of module mark
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

You will be given the opportunity to submit a 1000-word formative essay for the module, which can feed into the 3000-word summative essay submitted at the end of the module.

Your essay will be annotated and returned to you by your tutor within two weeks.

You will submit your summative essay via the VLE during the revision and assessment weeks at the end of the teaching semester (weeks 13-15). Feedback on your summative essay will be uploaded to e:Vision to meet the University’s marking deadlines.


Task Length % of module mark
N/A 100

Module feedback

You will receive feedback on all assessed work within the University deadline, and will often receive it more quickly. The purpose of feedback is to inform your future work; it is designed to help you to improve your work, and the Department also offers you help in learning from your feedback. If you do not understand your feedback or want to talk about your ideas further you can discuss it with your tutor or your supervisor, during their Open Office Hours

For more information about the feedback you will receive for your work, see the department's Guide to Assessment

Indicative reading

Key Texts for this module may include the following. Current students should consult the module VLE site for the reading list:

Emanuel Levy, Cinema of Outsiders: The Rise of American Independent Film (NYU 1999);

Geoff King, American Independent Cinema (Tauris 2005);

Geoff King, Indiewood, USA: Where Hollywood Meets Independent Cinema (Tauris 2009);

Yannis Tzioumakis, American Independent Cinema: An Introduction (EUP 2006);Christine Holmlund and Justin Wyatt eds., Contemporary American Independent Film: From the Margins to the Mainstream (NY Routledge 2004);

David Bordwell, Kristin Thompson and Janet Staiger,The Classical Hollywood Cinema: Film Style and Mode of Production to 1960 (New York: Columbia University Press 1985);

Bordwell and Thompson, Film History: An Introduction. (New York: McGraw-Hill 1994/2002).

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.