Completed in 1977, Charles Burnett's fictional portrait of a working-class black family living in a broken-down home in a bombed-out stretch of Los Angeles is a lost American neorealist masterpiece.
Screened as part of NZIFF 2007
“For three long decades, Charles Burnett’s Killer of Sheep, a fictional portrait of a working-class black family living in a broken-down home in a bombed-out stretch of Los Angeles, has been largely hidden from view. Shot in Watts in the early 70s… the film was Mr Burnett’s MFA thesis project and never meant for a commercial release. He operated the 16‑millimeter camera himself, edited the black-and-white images into a visual poem and added the ballads, the jazz and the moody blues that seep into your head like smoke. The result is an American masterpiece, independent to the bone… At once plot-free and carefully shaped, the film unfolds as a series of interludes involving the family’s children, the mother and father and the friends and strangers who pass through their lives… Killer of Sheep has often been compared to the classics of Italian neo-realism, a comparison born out in the documentary-like authenticity of its milieu, Mr Burnett’s use of nonprofessional actors and commitment to the representation of unadorned life.” — Manohla Dargis, NY Times