John Sayles b Schenectady New York September

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John Sayles is one of the most important [of] contemporary independent filmmakers. Because his loyal fan base shares his politics, Sayles has consistently been able to provide an alternative to the big bang of the often politically conservative Hollywood blockbuster. Making movies that depend on meaningful conversation and tackle significant moral issues, Sayles has produced films of ideas at a time when they seem sadly lacking in mainstream cinema.

Like his fellow cineastes Francis Coppola and Martin Scorsese, John Sayles got his first big break from exploitation impresario Roger Corman, for whom he wrote a screenplay for the tongue-in-cheek gore-fest Piranha (1978). A year later, Sayles earned legitimate success, winning a Los Angeles Film Critics Award for his more personal screenplay, The Return of the Secaucas Seven (1980), his debut as a writer-director. The Return of the Secaucas Seven, the story of a handful of twentysomethings trying to make sense of contemporary America, established something of a template for Sayles with its emphasis on dialogue and multiple intersecting narratives.

With the money earned for his screenplays for the Corman-produced sci-fi quickie Battle Beyond the Stars

(1980) and the excellent werewolf film The Howling

(1981), Sayles wrote and directed Lianna (1983), a film about a young woman struggling with her sexual preference. At a time when Hollywood dealt with lesbianism as either kinky or aberrant, Sayles handled the issue with an admirable matter-of-fact realism.

Sayles took on another hot-button issue, labor relations, with his subsequent film Matewan (1987), a historical reconstruction of an ill-fated West Virginia coalminers' strike in the 1920s. And in his next film Eight Men Out (1988), about the infamous ''Black Sox Scandal'' of the 1919 World Series, Sayles delivered a similarly heartfelt pro-union message—noteworthy because at the time the anti-union sentiments of Reaganomics held sway in America. While the story pivots on a moral transgression, Sayles focused instead on the exploitation of the players by team owner Charles Comiskey. Though what the players do is wrong, Sayles renders the story in terms that make one crime an inevitable response to another.

Sayles cemented his reputation as a political filmmaker by focusing his attention on race issues. The Brother from Another Planet (1984) told the story of a black alien who lands in the inner city and gets hooked on drugs. The ironically titled City ofHope (1991) focused on the thorny issue of affirmative action in a small metropolis. Lone Star (1996), for which Sayles received an Academy Award® nomination for Best Screenplay, examined Mexican-American relations in a border town and Sunshine State (2002) took a long look at the human cost of gentrification at an old Florida beachfront town abutting the one beach where African Americans could swim during segregation.

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