50 Indie Movies You Need to See Before You Die

Killer of Sheep (1977)

Director: Charles Burnett
Stars: Henry G. Sanders, Kaycee Moore, Charles Bracy, Angela Burnett

For 30 years, Charles Burnett's debut was a ghost. Though the first-time director shot Killer of Sheepin his childhood home of Watts in the '70s, finally finishing in 1977, it went unreleased because Burnett didn't have the rights to the music used. In 2007, the rights were finally purchased for $150,000, roughly 15 times the film's budget.  For the first time, Burnett's masterpiece received a proper release.

Killer of Sheep's center is Watts; the plot is barely there, with little narrative connecting the haunting black-and-white images of the Los Angeles neighborhood. Stan (Henry Gayle Sanders), the titular character, works at a slaughterhouse. The money supports his family, his wife (Kaycee Moore) and their two children. The monotonous hours of slaughter are killing him. There's little life left in his eyes.

And yet life doesn't stop. Burnett captures that life, making for unforgettable shot after unforgettable shot (Mos Def used one for the cover of his album The Ecstatic). That the film went unseen by so many for so long is a bitter shame. —RS

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