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Stranger Than Paradise

American Independent – April & May 2023

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April kicks off American Independent, a new series featuring films from the new wave of American indie cinema! Covering a wide range of genres and periods, these movies are united by their relatively modest production values and lack of major studio involvement. As such, you can expect to see 70s crime dramas, LGBTQ-related documentaries, and countless others as the series continues into next month. To be sure, we don’t turn our nose up at blockbusters: we love Marvel, Star Wars, and all the other big-budget favorites as much as the next guy, but sometimes all you need is a small, self-contained story like any of the ones here.

Wanda – Apr 10 & 11
Directed by Barbara Loden | 1970

Wanda Goronski (Loden) finds herself immensely disillusioned with her position as a Pennsylvania housewife, taking initiative by leaving her husband and staying on her sister’s couch. But her journey only begins, as Wanda simply hitches ride after ride in a gradual effort to escape the confines of her middle-class life. Soon, she finds herself within the company of Norman (Michael Higgins), a full-time crook who spins Wanda into further, and subsequently dangerous territory.

Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song – Apr 12 & 13
Directed by Melvin van Peebles | 1971

A young Black orphan (Peebles) is sheltered by a Los Angeles brothel, eventually earning the title ‘Sweet Sweetback’ and growing into one of the brothel’s most renowned acts. After the murder of another Black man in the area, corrupt cops plan to fuel their own regime by blaming the murder on Sweetback. War ensues on the streets of LA, as Sweetback dons brass knuckles and anti-authority attitude to fend himself against the bigoted agenda of the police state tracking him down at every cost.

A Woman Under the Influence – Apr 17 & 18
Directed by John Cassavetes | 1974

Mabel Longhetti (Rowlands) is the domestic partner of Nick (Peter Falk), leaving her and their three children in isolation as he works full-time in construction. One night, Mabel becomes gradually overwhelmed by Nick’s emotional volatility and is forced into a mental hospital following a severe episode. Months later, Mabel returns home, but Nick finds himself unable to reckon with Mabel’s desire to change for the better.

Paris is Burning – Apr 19 & 20
Directed by Jennie Livingston | 1990

It is 1980s New York City and the drag-ball scene thrives like the sun shines. Offering an astoundingly of-the-moment portrait, the film covers the voguing, celebration, and microcosm of queer Black and Latinx communities that were both unified and separated into “houses” through the drag-ball scene. From parading the runway, to merely escaping the AIDS-induced homophobia of the Reagan era, we are given a fiery and eloquently-told snapshot of people allowing themselves and others to feel seen and celebrated.

Stranger than Paradise – Apr 25 & 26
Directed by Jim Jarmusch | 1977

The film recounts the nonchalant adventures of three individuals — a Brooklynite named Willie (John Lurie), his friend Eddie (Sonic Youth’s Richard Edson), and his Hungarian cousin Eva (Eszter Balint). After Eva makes an unexpected arrival to his home, Willie struggles to acclimate to this new, yet distant, addition to his home. After Eddie convinces Willie to bring Eva along on their latest hustle, the three become subject to a series of trials that may bring them closer if they don’t pull them apart.

Blood Simple – May 1 & 2
Directed by Joel & Ethan Coen | 1984

When a bartender named Ray (John Getz) has an unexpected romantic rendezvous with a waitress named Abby (a debuting Frances McDormand), a private detective (M. Emmet Walsh) takes photos to send back to Julian (Dan Hedaya) — Ray’s boss and Abby’s husband. When he fails to bring a resistant Abby back home, Julian pays the detective a hefty fee for both Ray and Abby’s deaths. What follows is a calamitous series of events, all informed by betrayal and a twisted sense of humor.

Desert Hearts – May 3 & 4
Directed by Donna Deitch | 1985

In 1959, a professor named Vivian Bell (Helen Shaver) travels to Nevada in order to gain residency that will enable a divorce. Staying at a guest house ranch for women only, Vivian meets a young sculptor named Cay Rivers (Patricia Charbonneau), who had been raised by the owner of the ranch. Slowly but surely, Vivian and Cay develop a connection that promises to bring them closer, if not threatening to pull away the people around them.

Working Girls – May 8 & 9
Directed by Lizzie Borden | 1986

Twenty-something Yale graduate Molly (Louise Smith) gets by through her job at a Manhattan brothel and a romantic relationship with a woman named Diane (Deborah Banks). Working under brothel madam Lucy (Ellen McElduff), Molly finds herself taking independence in her position when she starts to misrepresent her sessions with clients to secure more money. This becomes one of many occurences that threaten to spark a rift between Molly, Lucy, and everyone in between.

Hoop Dreams – May 10 & 11
Directed by Steve James | 1994

In 1987, William Gates and Arthur Agee, two Black teenagers, are recruited by a basketball talent scout from Illinois’ St. Joseph High School, a predominantly white institution. Subjected to long commutes and expensive tuition fees, Gates, Agee and their mutual families struggle to keep their dreams afloat. Through five years and over 250 hours of footage, director Steve James captures an astounding growth and progression as two kids transform into adulthood.

George Washington – May 15 & 16
Directed by David Gordon Green | 2000

Within North Carolina is an economically depressed town, seemingly occupied by kids attempting to take leisure in the town’s remains. Twelve-year-old Nasia (Candace Evanofski) takes a liking to a boy named George Richardson (Donald Holden), who struggles with his skull having never hardened since birth. When accidental tragedy strikes, George is given the title of town hero, which becomes the latest in his series of reckonings.


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