Low-budget, Experimental and Independent Cinemas

The details
Literature, Film, and Theatre Studies
Colchester Campus
Undergraduate: Level 5
Monday 13 January 2020
Friday 20 March 2020
14 March 2019


Requisites for this module



Key module for

BA PQ32 Film Studies and Literature (Including Year Abroad),
BA PQ38 Film Studies and Literature (Including Foundation Year),
BA QW26 Film Studies and Literature,
BA QW27 Film Studies and Literature (Including Placement Year)

Module description

This module takes as its starting point a diversity of modes of film production, and will go on to address such key questions as: to what extent do modes of production and personal choices determine a film's form and meaning? How have different filmmakers negotiated with limited budgets, ideological scrutiny, and desires for personal expression over the course of cinema history? How are the form and style of a film born out of its relationship with ideology and history? Why are lower budget and 'alternative' cinemas almost always conceptually to opposed to the 'mainstream' - thereby presuming a status of alterity and marginality? What constitutes an 'avant-garde' or experimental practice, and how have 'alternatives' found themselves absorbed into and influencing popular cinema?

All the films we study have something to say - they are social documents, personal stories, and/or aesthetic experiments that have intervened in the conventions of cinematic storytelling in various ways. We will explore by what means or strategies, and to what ends, these films have responded in different ways to the specific conditions and contexts within which they were created. An while contexts and histories of these films are important, the primary focus will be on film analysis and a careful focus on the impressions, messages, meanings, and affects that these films engender.

Module aims

1. To familiarise students with the diverse and changing modes of film production.
2. To facilitate a critical and reflective approach to a variety of film texts, and to explore the representational strategies put into practice by a range of lower budget and independent cinemas.
3. To engage with different formal dimensions of cinema such as narrative strategy and style.

Module learning outcomes

By the end of the module, students will have:

1. engaged critically with different formal dimensions of cinema such as narrative strategy and style

2. critically examined a range of films in their social and political contexts

3. improved and further developed their skills of communication, problem-solving, text analysis and teamwork.

4. advanced their skills of film analysis and performing scholarly research.

Module information

Module Supervisor's Research into Subject Area
Professor Geiger has done extensive research into low-budget, amateur, and alternative cinemas, with a particular focus on non-fiction and documentary film. Recent lectures and publications have focused on amateur film before the Second World War and the development of Kodachrome colour. He is author and editor of numerous books and articles relating to film history, theory, and analysis, including Facing the Pacific (2007) and American Documentary Film: Projecting the Nation (2011).

Learning and teaching methods

This course is run without lectures – there are weekly film screenings, and attendance should be considered compulsory. If you have a timetable clash, and cannot make it to the screenings, it is up to you to get the film(s) for each week (most of them are available from the Albert Sloman Library) and watch them in your own time. The principal learning environment for this course is the weekly seminar, during which you will be expected to make constructive contributions to class discussion, airing your ideas and responding respectfully to those of others. The role of the course tutor is to guide the discussion and keep it productive, summarising where appropriate, and indicating how the debates taking place in the seminar room fit in with the broader academic debates on these films and their place in their respective societies. You are unlikely to maximise the potential of this learning environment if you come along to classes unprepared – for this reason, it is vital that you familiarise yourselves with at least the compulsory weekly readings before each seminar, and are prepared to discuss the week's topic. You will be expected to make one presentation either as individual or as part of a small group. This should last no longer than 10-15 minutes, and will be reflected upon by the whole group as a regular part of class discussion. Guidance on topics and delivery will be provided in the first weeks of the course, before any presentations take place. The Department dedicates 5% of the overall coursework mark for each module to class participation. Attendance at classes and seminars is not optional and we expect excellent attendance from all our students. The participation mark awarded is not solely based on the number of classes/seminars you have attended but also appropriate contribution to class discussion. The class participation mark for this module is based on three main criteria: attendance; preparation; contribution.


  • Rosenbaum, Jonathan. (c1997) ''Say the Right Thing'', in Movies as politics, Berkeley, Calif: University of California Press., pp.13-21
  • Green, J. Ronald. (c2000) Straight lick: the cinema of Oscar Micheaux, Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
  • Tarantino, Quentin; Avary, Roger; Bender, Lawrence; Travolta, John; Jackson, Samuel L. (2002) Pulp fiction, Burbank, CA: Miramax Home Entertainment.
  • Livingston, Jennie; Corey, Dorian; Labeija, Pepper; Xtravaganza, Venus. (2005) Paris is burning, Burbank, CA: Miramax Home Entertainment.
  • McCain, Carmen. (no date) Nollywood and Its Terminology Migraines.
  • Dyer, Richard; dawsonera. (2002) The matter of images: essays on representations, London: Routledge.
  • Baker, Houston. (1993) 'Spike Lee and the Commerce of Culture', in Black American cinema, New York: Routledge. vol. AFI film readers, pp.154-176
  • Wyatt, Justin. (1998) 'The Formation of the “Major Independent”: Miramax, New Line and the New Hollywood', in Contemporary Hollywood cinema, London: Routledge.
  • Rosenbaum, Jonathan; EBSCOhost ebook collection. (c1997) Movies as politics, Berkeley, Calif: University of California Press.
  • Grant, Barry Keith; Sloniowski, Jeannette; Nichols, Bill. (1998) Documenting the Documentary, Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press.
  • (Monday, 31 Mar 2008) Happiness (1998): BBC2 England.
  • Baraka, Amiri. (1993) 'Spike Lee at the Movies', in Black American cinema, New York: Routledge. vol. AFI film readers, pp.145-153
  • Bowser, Pearl; Spence, Louise; Davis, Thulani. (2000) Writing Himself into History, New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.
  • Corner, John. (1996) The art of record: a critical introduction to documentary, Manchester: Manchester University Press.
  • Dean MacCannell. (1973) 'Staged Authenticity: Arrangements of Social Space in Tourist Settings', in American Journal of Sociology. vol. 79 (3) , pp.589-603
  • Hynes, Eric. (2004) 'Where are the youth gone mild', in Reverse Shot. vol. June
  • Cook, Pam. (2007) The cinema book, London: BFI.
  • Reid, Mark. (c1993) 'Black Comedy on the Verge of a Genre Breakdown', in Redefining Black film, Berkeley: University of California Press., pp.100-109
  • McCall, John C. (no date) The Pan-Africanism We Have: Nollywood’s Invention of Africa.
  • Haynes, John. (2013) 'Pulp Fiction: Miramax, “Mainstreaming”, and the State of “Independents”', in Film analysis: a Norton reader, New York: W. W. Norton & Company., pp.924-946
  • Staiger, Janet. (2013) 'Independent of what? Sorting out differences from Hollywood', in American independent cinema: indie, indiewood and beyond, London: Routledge.
  • Schamus, James. (c2001) 'A Rant', in The end of cinema as we know it: American film in the nineties, New York: New York University Press., pp.253-260
  • Makhmalbaf, Samira; Makhmalbaf, Mu?sin. (2005) The apple, London: Artificial Eye.
  • Rombes, Nicholas. (2003) 'Blue Velvet Underground: David Lynch’s Post-Punk Poetics', in The cinema of David Lynch: American dreams, nightmare visions, London: Wallflower., pp.61-76
  • Vuorinen, Mira. (no date) Auditory Spaces and Sonic Narratives of Gender: The Queer Phenomenology of Sound in Girls Lost and Tangerine.
  • Rony, Fatimah Tobing. (1996) '"Taxidermy and Romantic Ethnography: Nanook of the North"', in The third eye: race, cinema, and ethnographic spectacle, Durham, NC: Duke University Press., pp.99-128
  • Sconce, J. (2002-12-01) 'Irony, nihilism and the new American 'smart' film', in Screen. vol. 43 (4) , pp.349-369
  • Solondz, Todd; Adams, Jane. (1998) Happiness, [United States]: Good Machine Releasing.
  • Elsaesser, Thomas; Barker, Adam. (1990) Early Cinema: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC.
  • Gunning, Tom. (2006) 'The Whole World Within Reach : Travel Images Without Borders', in Virtual voyages: cinema and travel, Durham: Duke University Press., pp.25-41
  • MacCannell, Dean; Lippard, Lucy R. (1999) Tourist, Berkerley: University of California Press.
  • Wallenberg, Louise. (c2004) 'New black queer cinema', in New queer cinema: a critical reader, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press., pp.128-143
  • Haynes, Todd. (2004) Safe, [S.l.]: Prism Leisure.
  • Sconce, Jeffrey. (1973-) 'Irony, Nihilism, and the New American “Smart Film”', in Screen, London: Society for Education in Film and Television. vol. 43 (4) , pp.349-369
  • Akudinobi, Jude. (no date) Nollywood: Prisms and Paradigms.
  • Okome, Onookome. (no date) Nollywood: Spectatorship, Audience, and the Sites of Consumption.
  • Roth, Elaine. (c2009) '”You Just Hate Men!”: Maternal Sexuality and the Nuclear Family in Gas, Food, Lodging’', in Motherhood misconceived: representing the maternal in U.S. films, Albany: State University of New York Press., pp.111-124
  • Gunning, Tom. (1990) 'The Cinema of Attractions : Early Film, Its Spectator, and the Avant-Garde', in Early cinema: space frame narrative, London: BFI., pp.56-62
  • Flaherty, Robert Joseph. (c1998) Nanook of the North, Claremont, Calif: Criterion Collection. vol. Criterion collection
  • Newman, Michael Z.; ebrary, Inc. (2011) Indie: an American film culture, New York: Columbia University Press. vol. Film and culture
  • Dyer, Richard. (2002) The matter of images: essays on representations, London: Routledge.
  • Staiger, Janet. (2013) 'Independent of what? Sorting out differences from Hollywood', in American independent cinema: indie, indiewood and beyond, Abingdon: Routledge., pp.15-27
  • Kuhn, Annette. (1994) Women's pictures: feminism and cinema, London: Verso.
  • Lane, Christina. (2005) 'Just Another Girl Outside the Neo-Indie', in Contemporary American independent film: from the margins to the mainstream, London: Routledge., pp.193-209
  • Rosenbaum, Jonathan. (2002) Movie wars: how Hollywood and the media limit what films we can see, London: Wallflower Press.
  • Diawara, Manthia. (1993) Black American cinema, New York: Routledge.
  • Diawara, Manthia. (1993) ''Black American Cinema: The New Realism'', in Black American cinema, New York: Routledge. vol. AFI film readers, pp.3-25
  • iPhone to IMAX,
  • Diawara, Manthia. (1993) ''Black American cinema: the new realism'', in Black American cinema, London: Routledge. vol. AFI film readers, pp.3-25
  • Rosenbaum, Jonathan. (c1997) ''Allusion Profusion'', in Movies as politics, Berkeley, Calif: University of California Press.
  • Livingston, Jennie. (1990) Paris is Burning, United States.
  • Chion, Michel. (2006) David Lynch, London: BFI.
  • Perez, Gilberto. (1998) 'The Documentary Image', in The material ghost: films and their medium, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press., pp.29-49
  • EBSCOhost ebook collection. (©2009) '”You Just Hate Men!”: Maternal Sexuality and the Nuclear Family in Gas, Food, Lodging', in Motherhood misconceived: representing the maternal in U.S. films, Albany: State University of New York Press.
  • Perez, Gilberto. (2000) Material Ghost, Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.
  • (1987) She's Gotta Have It.

The above list is indicative of the essential reading for the course. The library makes provision for all reading list items, with digital provision where possible, and these resources are shared between students. Further reading can be obtained from this module's reading list.

Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Weighting
Coursework   Presentation Slides with Written Explication (1000 words)     30% 
Coursework   Essay (2,500 words)    65% 
Practical   Participation     5% 

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
100% 0%


Coursework Exam
100% 0%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Prof Jeffrey Geiger, email:
Professor Jeffrey Geiger
LiFTS General Office - email Telephone 01206 872626



External examiner

Dr Mikel Koven
University of Worcester
Senior Lecturer - Film Studies
Available via Moodle
Of 88 hours, 20 (22.7%) hours available to students:
68 hours not recorded due to service coverage or fault;
0 hours not recorded due to opt-out by lecturer(s).


Further information

Disclaimer: The University makes every effort to ensure that this information on its Module Directory is accurate and up-to-date. Exceptionally it can be necessary to make changes, for example to programmes, modules, facilities or fees. Examples of such reasons might include a change of law or regulatory requirements, industrial action, lack of demand, departure of key personnel, change in government policy, or withdrawal/reduction of funding. Changes to modules may for example consist of variations to the content and method of delivery or assessment of modules and other services, to discontinue modules and other services and to merge or combine modules. The University will endeavour to keep such changes to a minimum, and will also keep students informed appropriately by updating our programme specifications and module directory.

The full Procedures, Rules and Regulations of the University governing how it operates are set out in the Charter, Statutes and Ordinances and in the University Regulations, Policy and Procedures.