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Year: 1977
UK: BFI Distribution (UK Wide)
Cast: Henry Gayle Sanders, Kaycee Moore, Charles Bracy, Angela Burnett, Eugene Cherry, Jack Drummond
Director: Charles Burnett
Country: USA
UK: 80 mins
UK Certificate: 12A contains strong language
UK Release Date: 20 June 2008 (Limited Release)

UK Distributor


Writer/director Charles Burnett submitted his first feature, KILLER OF SHEEP, as his thesis for his MFA in film at UCLA. The film was shot on location near his family's home in Watts in a series of weekends on a shoestring budget of less than $10 000, most of which was grant money.

With a mostly amateur cast (consisting of Burnett's friends and acquaintances), much handheld camera work, episodic narrative and gritty documentary-style cinematography, KILLER OF SHEEP has been compared by film critics and scholars to Italian neorealist films like Vittorio De Sica's THE BICYCLE THIEF and Roberto Rossellini's PAISAN. However, Burnett cites Basil Wright's SONG OF CEYLON and NIGHT MAIL and Jean Renoir's THE SOUTHERNER as his main influences.

In 1981, KILLER OF SHEEP received the Critic's Award at the Berlin International Film Festival. In 1990, the Library of Congress declared it a national treasure and placed it among the first 50 films entered in the National Film Registry for its historical significance. In 2002, the National Society of Film Critics selected the film as one of the 100 Essential Films of all time.

Despite these accolades, the film never saw popular distribution due to the expense and complication of the music rights (including songs by Etta James, Dinah Washington, Gershwin, Rachmaninov, Paul Robeson and Earth, Wind & Fire on the soundtrack) and in its rare viewings at festivals and museums it was shown on ragged 16mm prints. Now, thirty years later, the new 35mm print, restored by UCLA Film & Television Archive, is ready for its long-awaited theatrical release.

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