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Independent Film

1980s to the Present

4. 1976 to the Present

1. Setting the Stage

  1. Geoff King

Published Online: 13 NOV 2011

DOI: 10.1002/9780470671153.wbhaf070

The Wiley-Blackwell History of American Film

The Wiley-Blackwell History of American Film

How to Cite

King, G. 2011. Independent Film. The Wiley-Blackwell History of American Film. 4:1:68.

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 13 NOV 2011


They were often grainy, sometimes monochrome; they tended to be talky rather than full of movement or action, and they frequently betrayed their low-budget origins. But they were also marked as “new,” fresh, and inspiring to others. There had always been independent features, of one kind or another, as long as there had been a Hollywood or any other establishment against which such distinctions could be made. During the 1980s and into the early 1990s, however, the notion of American independent cinema gained a new currency. Rather than being a catch-all term, taken more or less literally to describe a range of very different types of nonstudio filmmaking, ranging from the avant-garde to exploitation-oriented genre cinema (including, at one extreme, pornography), “independent” came primarily to signify a particular type of lower-budget feature production. This was something akin to an American “art” cinema in certain respects: Although blended in many cases with more popular generic components, often characterized as “quirky” or “off-beat,” it became widely celebrated as an accessible alternative to the Hollywood mainstream. It also gained a new label of its own: “indie,” not just “independent,” which suggested something of the particular territory that was involved (a term that brought resonances from some similar developments in the same period in the field of popular music), as opposed to wider and less specific connotations of independence. Work of this type had its own earlier history in American cinema, not least in the films of John Cassavetes in the preceding two decades. What marked the period from the 1980s onward as different and gave it a more established identity was a gathering momentum. Rather than being perceived as occasional one-off occurrences, or the persistent work of isolated individuals such as Cassavetes, independent films began to gain a sustained presence that had the appearance of a distinct movement in both the cinematic and the wider cultural discourses of the time.


  • independent film;
  • independence;
  • American film