In honor of Black History Month, The Frida Cinema dedicates our monthly series The Directors, in which we traditionally program four films by one acclaimed director, to four extraordinary, groundbreaking films which marked the feature film debuts of some of cinema’s most celebrated, visionary, and uncompromising African American voices. Join us as we present our February edition of The Directors: Jordan Peele’s Get Out, John Singleton’s Boyz n the Hood, Charles Burnett’s Killer of Sheep, and Dee Rees’ Pariah.
No roster of acclaimed debuts by black filmmakers – or any filmmakers – would be complete without Charles Burnett’s landmark 1978 masterpiece Killer of Sheep. Though the film won the Critics’ Award at the Berlin International Film Festival, was acclaimed at the Toronto International Film Festival, was one of the first 50 films to be selected for the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry, and was chosen by the National Society of Film Critics as one of the 100 Essential Films, it never saw wide release due to complications in securing the music rights for the 22 songs on the soundtrack, which included such big names as Dinah Washington, Paul Robeson, Louis Armstrong, and Earth, Wind and Fire. It remained in obscurity for nearly thirty years, garnering much critical and academic praise and earning a reputation as a lost classic. Thanks to Milestone Films, director Steven Soderbergh, and Turner Classic Movies, Killer of Sheep has been given a dazzling restoration so that new generations of filmgoers can experience this powerful, unforgettable work of art.
As with the rest of Burnett’s impeccable roster of films, including To Sleep with Anger and My Brother’s Wedding, Killer of Sheep focuses on everyday life in a black community in a manner unseen in American cinema, combining incredibly lyrical elements with a starkly neo-realist, documentary-style approach that chronicles the unfolding story with depth and riveting simplicity. Stan (Henry Gayle Sanders) spends his days toiling away at a local slaughterhouse, a macabre profession with emotional side effects that start to affect his personal life as he struggles to keep his family afloat and content. His stress is compounded by his more affluent friends and acquaintances, with whom his relationship is tenuous at best, and other individuals he encounters who seem to have questionable and self-serving interests. Overwhelmed by his state in life, Stan begins to wonder if the better life he dares to dream of is even possible – or as Burnett said of his film, “You don’t necessarily win battles; you survive.” Frustrated by money problems, he finds respite in moments of simple beauty: the warmth of a coffee cup against his cheek, slow dancing with his wife in the living room, holding his daughter. The film offers no solutions; it merely presents life — sometimes hauntingly bleak, sometimes filled with transcendent joy and gentle humor.
We are so very pleased to present Killer of Sheep, uncut and remastered, as an essential part of this series honoring the debut feature films of four visionary African American filmmakers. We thank Milestone Films for sharing their restoration with us.
Saturday, February 17 – 11:30am ($7 Matinee)
Sunday, February 18 – 11:30am ($7 Matinee)
Monday, February 19 – 12pm ($7 Matinee), 8pm, 9:45pm
Tuesday, February 20 – 12pm ($7 Matinee), 8pm, 9:45pm
“It’s hard to overemphasize how strange and ambitious and completely out of context it was for a black urban filmmaker with no money and no reputation to make that kind of movie in 1977.” – Andrew O’Hehir, Salon
“Rating: 4/4. Burnett’s documentarian empathy, coupled with his easygoing skill as a dramatic essayist, result in a film that doesn’t look, feel or breathe like any American work of its generation.” – Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune
“Rating: 6/6. A perfect film.” – Melissa Anderson, Time Out
“Killer of Sheep is unlike any other American film of its time – – or any other.” – Ann Hornaday, Washington Post
“Killer of Sheep can be seen (and reseen) as a great — the greatest — cinematic tone poem of American urban life.” – David Edelstein, New York Magazine/Vulture