American Indies, 1980–1989

Jan 23–Feb 2, 2020


Polyester. 1981. USA. Directed by John Waters. Courtesy Photofest
  • MoMA, Floor T2/T1 The Debra and Leon Black Family Film Center

The end of New Hollywood’s film studio experimentation in the early 1980s ushered in a new era—and an urgent need—for the free expression of independent film. As the studios moved toward franchises and more commercial fare, this new generation of filmmakers made their movies outside of the system, where they were free to create more nuanced, risk-taking work. While working with often minuscule and sometimes self-financed budgets, these filmmakers dealt deftly with genre tropes and social issues, and their avant-garde and underground roots shone through in their films’ visual language. Though still largely white and male, the 1980s indie scene nonetheless saw breakthrough films from a number of women (Bette Gordon, Susan Seidelman) and nonwhite directors (Wayne Wang, Billy Woodberry).

This series, drawn from MoMA’s collection, explores American independent cinema during a brief era marked by the growth of small distributors and a number of independently financed box office successes and home video hits—the years directly before the Sundance Film Festival launched indie films into the American mainstream and Harvey Weinstein began his decades of systematic abuse.

Organized by Sean Egan, Senior Producer, Film Exhibitions and Projects, and Brittany Shaw, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Film.


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