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The Quintessence of Independent Films – Daughters of the Dust and Lone Star Essay

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Updated: Mar 24th, 2019

Cinema/film industry has become a very conspicuous and phenomenal form of mass entertainment with the extent of its popularity, influence, and proliferation having a global impact.

Artistic expression and development via technological expediency has made it an unequaled facet of visual/fine arts since the inception of the 20th century.

The American (United States) film industry has been a major impetus behind the extent of cinema’s phenomenal popularity, influence, and proliferation.

The industry’s relevance is divided into four epochs – silent era, classical Hollywood cinema, New Hollywood, and contemporary (after 1980).

Coinciding with the Hollywood studio system development/history was and has been the development of American independent cinema which is reflective of the industry’s diversity.

Independent films (slang term – indie film) differ drastically from mass marketed films in that they are not the product of major film studios (20th Century Fox, Warner Brothers, Paramount, etc.) but rather subsidiary studios (Lionsgate, Summit Entertainment, etc.) and are made with lower budgets. Content, style, and the filmmaker’s artistic style as well as thematic message distinguish independent cinema.

Daughters of the Dust by Julie Dash (1991) and Lone Star by John Sayles (1996) are two very different films that exemplify the diversity of American independent cinema.

They are representative of this space where filmmakers depart from the mainstream Hollywood way of filming to develop different narratives, address diverse issues, experiment with the medium, and represent different facets of the American experience. Released in 1991, Daughters of the Dust is an independent film written and directed by African American filmmaker/screenwriter Julie Dash.

Set at the turn of century in the legendary Sea Islands located off the coast of South Carolina, Daughters of the Dust follows the Peazants – a Gullah family, as certain family members prepare to migrate to the mainland and eventually head north.

Daughters of the Dust is a testimony to the power and quintessence of African/African-American womanhood in that the female characters exude inner strength, perseverance, physical as well inner beauty.

The film is a unique departure from films directed by white as well as black filmmakers in terms of portrayal African/African-American women.

Socially relevant, Daughters of the Dust is equally an aesthetic masterpiece. The film’s rich language, imagery, and use of African folkloric song make it an atypical Hollywood film in presentation, tone, and mood which is greatly accentuated or brought to the surface by the cinematography (Arthur Jafa Director of Photography).

A cinematographer’s job is to create the ambiance and look of the film that correlates with and interprets the director’s idea. The director may have decisive control over the visual image, but it is the cinematographer’s job to actually record and create image. Accomplished cinematographers usually give a film a visual style that is uniquely their own.

The film opening scene with the slow camera moving across the front to the bedroom of the unborn narrator’s parents is simplistic but immediately introduces the clear and vibrant color of the film, emanating a clean and polished look.

Whether it is the family meeting and playing along the vibrant seashore or traveling thru the marsh, to choose a particular scene is honestly hard because the rich color cinematography makes the entire film visually mesmerizing.

Another unique element is the uncharacteristic narrative devise – the story relayed by an unborn child – which is introduced in the first scene as well. The film is truly a mesmerizing sound and sight experience.

An ensemble cast featuring Chris Cooper, Elizabeth Peña, Kris Kristofferson, Joe Morton, Ron Canada, Matthew McConaughey, and Miriam Colon, Lone Star (1996) was written and directed by prolific independent filmmaker, John Sayles. A complex murder mystery, the film’s backdrop is a fictional small border town called Frontera, Texas.

The film chronicles the unfolding murder investigation headed by Sheriff Sam Deeds, (Cooper) of Rio County involving the death of his predecessor, the vicious and bigoted, Charlie Wade (Kristofferson) forty years prior, with a possible connection/involvement of his late father Buddy Deeds (McConaughey), a deputy to Wade and successor.

Like Robert Altman’s Nashville (1975) and more contemporary films – Crash, Syriana, Traffic, and Babel, to name a few – Lone Star is exemplary of hyperlink cinema, a film style which uses multiple inter-connected story lines and characters.

These multiple characters and storylines intersect directly and/or indirectly and subtly – affecting one another in such a way that the characters do not fully understand and are often unaware, maybe until the end.

The hyperlink devise contributes to the allure and suspense of the Lone Star, magnifying its captivating element. Flashbacks explain and mold present situations and its characters.

Ostensibly a murder mystery, the ancillary stories reveal the complexities of familial relationships, cultural heritage as well as ethnic and racial relations in Frontera, past and present.

Some examples to name a few – father and son reconciliation as evidenced by Colonel Delmore Payne and his father, Otis (Morgan, Canada), ethnic/racial denial and suppression exemplified by Mercedes Cruz (Colon) and the ethnic/racial relationship between Deeds Sr. and Cruz as well as Deeds Jr. and Pilar Cruz (Pena).

The cinematography makes the film aesthetically appealing as well along with the use of certain editing techniques (dissolve, fade in/fade out, continuity of motion, etc.).

Most importantly, the various storylines along with the complexities and psychological dimensions of the characters give Lone Star a cutting edge. Sayles illustrates well rounded, rich character development can take place in a limited amount of time and that all can converge, despite diversity, to convey a particular message.

Daughters of the Dust and Lone Star are exceptional examples of independent films. They are true to the nature and objective of the industry and genre. Their impact is indelible in the independent as well as film industry as a whole.

Bibliography

Scott, Allen J. Hollywood: the Place, the Industry. Princeton University Press: 2005.

Merritt, Greg. Celluloid Mavericks: The History of American Independent Film: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 2000.

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IvyPanda. "The Quintessence of Independent Films – Daughters of the Dust and Lone Star." March 24, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-quintessence-of-independent-films-daughters-of-the-dust-and-lone-star/.

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IvyPanda. 2019. "The Quintessence of Independent Films – Daughters of the Dust and Lone Star." March 24, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-quintessence-of-independent-films-daughters-of-the-dust-and-lone-star/.

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IvyPanda. (2019) 'The Quintessence of Independent Films – Daughters of the Dust and Lone Star'. 24 March.

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