Lessons from America

launch-murray-martin.jpgLaunch, Murray Martin, 1973

We want to signal E. Deidre Pribram’s important work on independent film in America where home-produced and imported films have “emerged as a distinct system of representation” formulated between “Hollywood popular film and alternative cinema practices”. Her forthcoming book, which is comprehensively researched, considers independent film “as an industry, a set of institutions, a discursive formation, and a specific series of texts”. One chapter engages with the distribution history of three films by and about African Americans: Julie Dash’s Daughters of the Dust (1991, the first feature by an African American woman to receive theatrical distribution); Charles Burnett’s To Sleep with Anger (1990, with Danny Glover); Leslie Harris’s Just Another Girl on the IRT (1993, misleadingly presented in the USA, and when shown on terrestrial television in the UK, as the first feature directed by an African American woman). Despite unsympathetic reviews, and the support given to the Harris film by the independent film community on account of its engagement with what is conceived to be “black subject matter”, Dash’s film succeeded in reaching its primary audience, black women viewers. Thence its reputation spread by word of mouth to the other components of her target audience: “black community second, white women third.” At effectively focused campaign by the newly formed African American public relations firm, KGM3 Entertainment group, hired by distributors Kino, played a major role in this success. Conversely To Sleep with Anger failed at the box office, partly because the marketing of distributors, Goldwyn, lacked a comparably accurate focus.

In the European context this account prompts several interrelated questions: 1) Does the existence of this independent industry indicate that what Philippe Carcassonne describes as “an American patter” is designed for export by the Motion Picture Association of America, and is irrelevant in a vast and wealthy country like the United States? 2) How far has the increasing conformity of Film Four features resulted from a lack of comprehension of aesthetically distinctive projects on the part of the overpaid, underbrained PR consultants hired to market them? 3) How far does the success of an independent film depend on the budget available to market it? 4) Who among British commentators is likely to recognise a Danny Glover film as independent rather than Hollywood? Unless, of course, the star is dubbed into French and the film comes from West Africa, in which case it is likely to be totally ignored!


Africa at the Pictures, London’s festival of African Cinema, will be at the Lux and the Rio cinemas from 8-20 June. It will feature a programme of shorts by African women, a selection of films by the late Djibril Diop Mambety, and a Sembene Ousmane retrospective. Contact 020-7690-0116.

A specially prepared seven-minute, web-friendly, digital version of Yossi Balanescu-Bal’s short feature The Overcoat was used by Mondial Online to launch their new AVXchange channel. Alexander Balanescu composed the music and plays the main character.

Free download of an excerpt can be obtained from www.mondial.com/members/wordsearch, and the film is available for distribution and exhibition from Mondial Online or YB AV Productions at yossibal@aol.com

Advance notice, forthcoming event, 2002 – Trading Culture. The Indigenous and the Exportable in Film & TV Culture. Contact Sylvia Harvey, Professor of Broadcasting Policy, Sheffield Hallam University, e-mail: s.m.harvey@shu.ac.uk

David’s Movie, a film on the late David Monro, one of Britain’s most distinguished international investigative journalists, by Rodrigo Vazquez. To purchase copies contact: rodrigo@onetel.net.uk