Killer of Sheep

Director: Charles Burnett

Institute History

  • 2000 Sundance Film Festival


Charles Burnett’s Killer of Sheep first screened at the 1982 film festival, where it shared the Grand Jury Prize. Even then it was clear it was a groundbreaking film. Not only was Burnett the first visible African American independent filmmaker, but Killer of Sheep attempted to depict the everyday lives of average blue-collar black Americans in south-central Los Angeles, subject matter unexplored in independent film until then.

Stan, the central character of Killer of Sheep, works in a slaughterhouse. It is work that is alienating him from his family and desensitizing him to relationships in the wider world. Yet he continues to get up each day and go to work because he can’t see any other alternatives. As festival programmer Lawrence Smith said in his 1982 program notes, “He is a man in search of moral order and social values in an environment full of complexity and contradiction. He is a man in search of personal dignity in the face of despondent helplessness and dehumanization.” Burnett’s camera is an unobtrusive presence in Stan’s daily routine, and its black-and-white images are alternately starkly realistic and hauntingly poetic.

Killer of Sheep is the first of several classic independent films being restored through an Ahmanson grant by Sundance and the UCLA Film and Television Archive. The original, badly deteriorated negative and sound track are the basis for a re-mastered 35-mm print of the film, which originally existed only in 16 mm. The sound especially will be enhanced because the original mix was done in 35 mm. This is the inaugural screening of the newly struck print.

— Barbara Bannon

Screening Details

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