John Sayles and James Cameron: Mastering Autonomy in Mainstream and Independent American Cinema

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D)


Literature and Languages

Date of Award

Spring 2018


The objective of the present work is to show that directors James Cameron and John Sayles have in common the same approach to filmmaking in terms of control over the production processes, and by doing so, I show that they create overlapping areas between mainstream and independent cinema. Cameron works within the studio system, while Sayles self-produces his works. Their films are very different in audience size, budget, and aesthetics. These differences ascribe Cameron to mainstream cinema and Sayles to independent cinema. In this dissertation, I determine that they have some original traits in common that may be overlooked at first glance: on one side, their stubborn demand for creative independence; on the other, their attention toward contemporary cultural, social, and political instances. In order to reach these conclusions, I delve into two pairs of films by Cameron and Sayles that were produced approximately in the same time span, Cameron's The Terminator (1984) and Sayles's The Brother from Another Planet (1984), and Cameron's Avatar (2009) and Sayles's Amigo (2010).


Gerald Duchovnay

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities | Film and Media Studies