Killer of Sheep is a 1970s American drama film written, directed, produced, and shot by Charles Burnett. The drama depicts the culture of urban African-Americans in Los Angeles' Watts district.
Killer of Sheep was shot on a budget of less than $10,000 over roughly a year's worth of weekends in 1972 and 1973, with additional shooting in 1975. In 1977, Burnett submitted the film as his Master of Fine Arts thesis at the School of Film at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Burnett stated that he also intended to make the film a history of African-American music and filled it with music from a variety of genres and different eras. Unfortunately, for this reason, the film could not be released because he had not secured rights to the music used in the film.
Shown sporadically after it's completion in the late 1970s, its reputation grew until it won a prize at the 1981 Berlin International Film Festival.
Since then, the Library of Congress has declared it a national treasure as one of the first fifty on the National Film Registry and the National Society of Film Critics selected it as one of the “100 Essential Films” of all time. Even with these enormous accolades, due to the expense of the music rights the film was never shown theatrically or made available on video. It was only seen on poor quality 16mm prints at few and far between museum and festival showings.
In 2007, three decades after it's completion, the music rights were finally purchased at a cost of US $150,000. The film was restored and transferred from a 16mm to a 35mm print and given a limited theatre release.