The Rise of Ruin Cinema: Working-Class Filmmaking in the US Rust Belt


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships


History of Art


In the 1970s and 1980s, many independent filmmakers based in US Rust Belt cities such as Pittsburgh, Detroit, and Buffalo developed new practices of making and exhibiting film. A short-lived movement of “ruin cinema” rose up, with a boom of films and videos that interrogated the widespread sense of loss, temporal stasis, and spatial decay affecting the country’s former industrial centers. Through a case study of the regional cinema of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, this project recovers the range of poetic practices and social impacts that emerged from working-class films responding to global deindustrialization. The investigation highlights an overlooked generation of blue-collar filmmakers, many of whom were women, minorities, and former steelworkers. It also clarifies the role played by independent cinema in defining deindustrialization as an economic phenomenon, an epoch of time, and a cultural dimension of American identity.