American Independent Film (EAF3501)

StaffDr James Lyons - Lecturer
Credit Value30
ECTS Value15
NQF Level6
Duration of Module Term 2: 11 weeks;

Module aims

This module aims to engage students in the wide-ranging analysis of the contemporary American independent film sector, understanding the developments in infrastructure that set the coordinates for the production boom over the last two decades, and recognizing the aesthetic, economic and political challenges offered by independent filmmaking.  By examining topics such as the rise of the Sundance film festival, the ascendancy of the major independent studios, the impact of digital technologies on the sector, but also looking closely at the formal characteristics of independent films, the module aims to provide students with extensive knowledge of this vital area of American cinema, and the methods used to define its artistic, commercial and ideological co-ordinates

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. demonstrate an informed appreciation of specific American independent films, including an understanding of some of their key aesthetic and narrative attributes;
  • 2. demonstrate an awareness of many of the key aesthetic, institutional, and political influences on the production of American independent film;
  • 3. demonstrate knowledge of the methodological and theoretical issues involved in the categorisation of independence as a mode of filmmaking practice;
  • 4. demonstrate an understanding of independent films as sites for the articulation and contestation of gender, race, sex, and class identities;

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 5. demonstrate advanced skills in the close formal, thematic, generic and authorial analysis of different kinds of films;
  • 6. demonstrate advanced skills in the research and evaluation of relevant critical and historical materials for the study of film;
  • 7. demonstrate an advanced ability to analyse films of different periods and to relate their concerns and modes of expression to their historical contexts;
  • 8. demonstrate an advanced ability to understand and analyse relevant theoretical ideas, and to apply these ideas to films;

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 9. through seminar work and presentations, demonstrate advanced communication skills, and an ability to work both individually and in groups;
  • 10. through essay-writing, demonstrate appropriate research and bibliographic skills, an advanced capacity to construct a coherent, substantiated argument, and a capacity to write clear and correct prose;
  • 11. through research for seminars, essays, and presentations demonstrate advanced proficiency in information retrieval and analysis.

Syllabus plan

1.    Industry I

2.    Industry II

3.    Narrative I

4.    Narrative II

5.    Form I

6.    Form II

7.    Genre I

8.    Genre II

9.    Politics I

10.  Politics II

11. Future trends

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled44film screenings
Guided independent33study group preparation and meetings
Guided independent70seminar preparation (individual)
Guided independent120reading, research and essay preparation

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay503000 words1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11feedback sheet with opportunity for tutor follow up
Group project503000 words1, 2, 5, 6, 7, 9, 10, 11feedback sheet with opportunity for tutor follow up

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Group projectProject essay1, 2, 5, 6, 7, 9, 10, 11Referral/deferral period
EssayEssay1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11Referral/deferral period

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Core Viewing:

Sex, Lies and Videotape (Dir. Steven Soderbergh, 1989)

Pulp Fiction (Dir. Quentin Tarantino, 1994)

Welcome to the Dollhouse (Todd Solondz, 1995)

Little Miss Sunshine (Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, 2006)

Stranger than Paradise (Dir. Jim Jarmusch, 1984)

Wendy and Lucy (Dir. Kelly Reichardt, 2008)

Slacker (Dir. Richard Linklater, 1991)

Quiet City (Dir. Aaron Katz, 2007)

Clean, Shaven (Dir. Lodge Kerrigan, 1993)

Julian Donkey-Boy (Dir. Harmony Korine, 1999)

Gerry (Dir. Gus Van Sant, 2002)

A Scanner Darkly (Dir. Richard Linklater, 2006)

Habit (Dir. Larry Fessenden, 1997)

Primer (Dir. Shane Carruth, 2004)

Lone Star (Dir. John Sayles, 1996)

Frozen River (Dir. Courtney Hunt, 2007)

She's Gotta Have It (Dir. Spike Lee, 1986)

Precious (Dir. Lee Daniels, 2009)

High Art (Dir. Lisa Cholodenko, 1998)

The Kids are All Right (Dir. Lisa Cholodenko, 2010)


Secondary Reading:

Chris Holmlund & Justin Wyatt (eds.), Contemporary American Independent Film (Routledge, 2005)

Geoff King, Indiewood USA (I.B. Tauris, 2009)

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

Greg Merritt, Celluloid Mavericks: A History of American Independent Film (Thunder’s Mouth Press, 2000)

John Pierson, Spike, Mike, Slackers & Dykes (Faber and Faber, 1996)


Module has an active ELE page?


Indicative learning resources - Other resources

Reading for week 1

Geoff King, 'Introduction', and ‘Industry’ in American Independent Cinema

Chuck Kleinhans, 'Independent Features: Hopes and Dreams', in The New American Cinema (ed.) Jon

Lewis (Durham NC: Duke UP, 1998), pp.307-327

Alisa Perren, 'sex, lies and marketing: Miramax and the Development of the Quality Indie Blockbuster', Film

Quarterly (Winter 2001), Vol. 55, Issue No.2, pp.30-39

Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date


Key words search

film, American, independent