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Study information

American Independent Film

Module titleAmerican Independent Film
Module codeEAF3501
Academic year2024/5
Module staff

Professor James Lyons (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

This module offers you the opportunity to look in depth at the contemporary American independent film sector, tracing recent major developments, and studying some of the key films to have emerged over the last couple of decades. You’ll look at the rise of the Sundance film festival, study Hollywood’s recent investment in ‘specialty’ or ‘indiewood’ productions, examine key directors and genres, and develop an understanding of the different artistic and political approaches employed by filmmakers working in the field. You’ll also think about how the emergence of digital production, distribution and exhibition has affected the independent film sector, and the challenge to create new modes of storytelling in this era.

Module aims - intentions of the module

  • To examine the practice of American independent filmmaking as it has developed in recent decades. In particular, you will: interrogate the meaning of independence as an aesthetic, institutional, and political category of filmmaking practice; analyse some of the key films that have influenced the aesthetic development and critical reception of independent filmmaking; and explore the range of aesthetic and narrative possibilities offered by the commercial and cultural parameters of independent filmmaking practice.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 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

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 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

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 9. Through seminar work and project work 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 project work demonstrate advanced proficiency in information retrieval and analysis

Syllabus plan

Whilst the content may vary from year to year, it is envisioned that it will cover some or all of the following topics:

The module begins by examining the major industrial transformations that have set the context for the American independent film boom since the 1980s, before moving on to consider the key formal/aesthetic strategies that films may adopt. It ends with a consideration of recent trends digital production, distribution and exhibition, and the challenges and opportunities they offer. Exemplary films are studied in depth.

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
Scheduled learning and teaching22Seminars
Scheduled learning and teaching66Film screenings
Scheduled learning and teaching11Lectures
Guided independent study80Study group preparation and meetings
Guided independent study60Seminar preparation (individual)
Guided independent study105Reading, 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 words1-11Feedback sheet with opportunity for tutor follow up
Group project503000 words1-2, 5-7, 9-11Feedback 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
EssayEssay1-11Referral/deferral period
Group projectProject essay1-2, 5-7, 9-11Referral/deferral period

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to submit a further assessment as necessary. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 40%.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Indicative Primary texts:

  • Geoff King, American Independent Cinema (I.B Tauris, 2005).

Selected secondary texts:

  • Linda Badley, Claire Perkins and Michele Schreiber (eds.), Indie Re-Framed, ed., (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2016)
  • Geoff King, Indiewood USA (I.B. Tauris, 2009)
  • Geoff King, Indie 2.0 (I.B.Tauris, 2013)
  • Geoff King, Claire Malloy and Yannis Tzioumakis (eds)   American Independent Cinema: indie, indiewood, and beyond, (London: Routledge, 2013),
  • Alisa Perren, Indie, Inc., Miramax and the Transformation of Hollywood in the 1990s, (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2012).
  • Yannis Tzioumakis, American Independent Cinema: An Introduction (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2006).

Indicative films:

  • Stranger than Paradise (Jim Jarmusch, 1984)
  • She's Gotta Have It (Spike Lee, 1986)
  • sex, lies, and videotape (Steven Soderbergh, 1989)
  • Slacker (Richard Linklater, 1991)
  • Welcome to the Dollhouse (Todd Solondz, 1995)
  • Pulp Fiction (Dir. Quentin Tarantino, 1994)
  • Lone Star (John Sayles, 1996)
  • Gerry (Gus Van Sant, 2002)
  • Little Miss Sunshine (Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Farris, 2006)
  • Wendy and Lucy (Kelly Reichardt, 2008)
  • Frozen River (Courtney Hunt, 2008)
  • The Kids are All Right (Dir. Lisa Cholodenko, 2010)
  • Your Sister’s Sister (Dir. Lynn Shelton, 2011)
  • Pariah (Dir. Dee Rees, 2011)
  • A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (Dir. Ana Lily Amirpour, 2014)
  • Dear White People (Dir. Justin Simien, 2014)
  • Sorry to Bother You (Dir. Boots Riley, 2018)
  • The Forty-Year-Old Version (Dir. Radha Blank, 2020)

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Indicative learning resources - Other resources

Reading for week 1:

  • Mark Gallagher, ‘Sex, Lies, and Independent Film’, in Another Steven Soderbergh experience: authorship and contemporary Hollywood(Austin: University of Texas Press, 2013), pp.19-44
  • Geoff King ‘Introduction: What Indie Isn’t… Mapping the Indie Field’ in A Companion to American Indie Film, ed. Geoff King (Chichester, West Sussex; Malden, MA: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, 2017), pp.25-41.
  • 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.
  • Yannis Tzioumakis, ‘‘Independent’, ‘Indie’ and ‘Indiewood’: Towards a periodisation of (post-1980) American independent cinema,’ in American Independent Cinema: indie, indiewood, and beyond, ed. Geoff King, Claire Malloy and Yannis Tzioumakis (London: Routledge, 2013), pp.28-40.
Credit value30
Module ECTS


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