New This Weekend Must-See: 'Killer of Sheep' 40th Anniversary, First Time on DCP

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May 4th 2017

From Charles Burnett’s “Killer of Sheep” - a landmark of the L.A. Rebellion shot in and around Watts in the early ’70s. (UCLA Film & Television Archive) From Charles Burnett’s “Killer of Sheep” (UCLA Film & Television Archive)

Celebrating it's 40th anniversary, Charles Burnett’s "Killer of Sheep" - a landmark of American independent cinema - opened Wednesday, May 17, for an exclusive theatrical engagement at IFC Center in New York City, and will likely travel afterward.

"Killer of Sheep" examines black life in Watts in the mid-1970s through the eyes of Stan, a sensitive dreamer who is growing detached and numb from the psychic toll of working at a slaughterhouse.

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, or holding his daughter. The film offers no solutions; it merely presents life — sometimes hauntingly bleak, sometimes filled with transcendent joy and gentle humor.

"Killer of Sheep" was shot on location in Watts in a series of weekends on a budget of less than $10,000, most of which was grant money. Finished in 1977 and shown sporadically, its reputation grew until it won a prize at the 1981 Berlin International Film Festival.

Since then, the Library of Congress has declared it a national treasure as one of the first fifty on the National Film Registry; and the National Society of Film Critics selected it as one of the "100 Essential Films" of all time. However, due to the expense of the music rights, the film was never shown theatrically or made available on video for years. It was only been seen on poor quality 16mm prints at few and far between museum and festival showings.

Thirty years after its debut, the film was restored and transferred from a 16mm to a 35mm print by the UCLA Film and Television Archive and Milestone Films, thanks in part to a donation from filmmaker Steven Soderbergh. It then received a limited release, with a DVD release in late 2007.

And now, for the first time on DCP, Milestone is celebrating the 40th anniversary of the film - still timeless, relevant and beautifully stark - opening it on Wednesday, May 17, for an exclusive theatrical engagement at IFC Center in New York City. No word at this time on whether it'll travel to other cities, but it's very likely.

by Tambay Obenson on May 4th 2017
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