One of the most famous and acclaimed films of all-time, Charles Burnett’s Killer of Sheep was one of the first 50 films to be selected for the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry and was chosen by the National Society of Film Critics as one of the 100 Essential Films.
“Killer of Sheep is one of the most striking debuts in movie history and an acknowledged landmark in African-American film.” – Terrence Rafferty, GQ
Completed in 1977 but difficult to see for decades due to soundtrack licensing issues, Burnett’s landmark UCLA thesis film is a haunting, almost documentary-like chronicle of 1970s black life in Los Angeles’ Watts neighborhood. A series of nonlinear episodes form a portrait of slaughterhouse worker Stan, struggling to provide for his family and resist the corrupting influences that surround him. Amidst urban blight, Burnett finds indelible, magic images—a young girl wearing a hound-dog mask, boys leaping from rooftop to rooftop, a couple slow dancing to Dinah Washington’s “This Bitter Earth”—captured in evocatively grainy black-and-white and set to music that moves from Paul Robeson to Rachmaninoff. Combining incredibly lyrical elements with a starkly neo-realist approach, Burnett chronicles the unfolding story with emotional depth, riveting simplicity and richly-detailed realism. This special screening celebrates the 40th anniversary of the theatrical release of this American classic. (Dir. by Charles Burnett, 1977, USA, 80 mins., Not Rated)
Born in Mississippi and raised in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles, Charles Burnett is an independent filmmaker whose work has been widely-praised for its portrayal of the African-American experience. He wrote, directed, produced, photographed and edited his first feature film, Killer of Sheep, in 1977. This was one of the first 50 films to be selected for the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry. His other features include My Brother’s Wedding, To Sleep with Anger, The Glass Shield and Namibia: The Struggle for Liberation. Burnett has also made several documentaries, including America Becoming and Nat Turner: A Troublesome Property, and numerous short films. In 2017, Burnett was awarded an Honorary Oscar by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for his outstanding contributions to cinema.
Alex Cox is a British filmmaker, screenwriter, actor, and nonfiction author praised for his idiosyncratic style and approach to scripts. His long list of credits, ranging from major studio films to cult classics to what he terms “micro cinema,” include Repo Man (1984), Sid and Nancy (1986), Straight to Hell (1986), Walker (1987), Highway Patrolman (1991), Revengers Tragedy (2002) and Searchers 2.0 (2007). He is the author of three film-related books, X Films: True Confessions of a Radical Filmmaker, Ten Thousand Ways to Die: A Director’s Take on the Spaghetti Western, and Alex Cox’s Introduction to Film: A Director’s Perspective. He also writes regularly for The Guardian, Film Comment and Sight and Sound. One of his most recent projects was the 2016 Western drama, Tombstone Rashomon, filmed at Old Tucson Studios.