What constitutes “independent film” in an era where both filmmakers who distribute their work online and boutique divisions within Hollywood studios lay claim to the term? Our course addresses this question by examining the narrative, stylistic, industrial and cultural aspects of contemporary U.S. independent film. We will begin by examining the early work of John Cassavetes, the “father” of American independent film before turning to the burgeoning of independent cinema that began in the late 1980s. Along the way, we will discuss movements like New Queer Cinema, mumblecore, and Black surrealism. In addition to viewing films in class, students will attend selected screenings at the Seattle International Film Festival. The first seven weeks of the course will take place on campus; the final three weeks will blend online and face-to-face instruction to accommodate SIFF screening times.
Cinema and Media Studies 397/English 345 fulfills the University’s VLPA requirement and counts toward English or Cinema Studies major requirements.
Course Goals and Methodology
Students in the course work toward several goals: learning how to read film formally, theoretically, and contextually and developing as critical thinkers and writers. By the end of the course, students should be able to:
- Identify films’ narrative, visual, and sound techniques, using vocabulary specific to cinema studies.
- Analyze how independent films use artistic strategies to achieve a range of effects.
- Evaluate how independent films respond to and shape cultural, historical, and industrial contexts; circumstances of production; genres; and film movements.
- Develop complex written arguments and support those arguments with sufficient and appropriate evidence.
- Engage the work of film scholars, critically responding to their ideas in discussion and writing.
Course activities promote active learning, with most class sessions including a mix of mini-lectures, discussion, and group work. My role is to provide the tools and resources; you will need to advance your own thinking and writing. I will pose questions, design activities to help you think through these questions, and respond to your ideas. Your role is to do the hard work—the critical reading, discussion, and writing. You will analyze films, generate ideas in electronic and face-to-face discussions, verbally analyze film clips, and construct written arguments.