Amid barbecues and fireworks, the Fourth of July honors the day the Second Continental Congress voted to approve the Declaration of Independence—and launch a new nation. It also allows us to salute that unique blend of individualism and optimism, doggedness and compassion, which made America great in the first place.
Over the years, Focus Features has brought a range of powerful American stories to the screen, real-life tales about people whose love of freedom was matched only by their courage and individuality. As we toast our own 15th anniversary this year, here are five films about true American independents.
A couple’s love makes history in Loving.
Jeff Nichols’ Loving recounts the saga of Richard (Joel Edgerton) and Mildred (Ruth Negga) Loving, the flesh-and-blood couple whose names are immortalized on the Supreme Court case, Loving v. Virginia. Their court case permanently invalidated laws prohibiting interracial marriage. But Nichols wanted to go beyond the political to find the man and woman who simply wanted the freedom to love and raise their family in peace. “Before it's a story about racial equality or marriage equality—which it is—it's a love story,” says Nichols.
Jesse Owens defeats Nazi racism in Race.
Stephen Hopkins’ Race dramatizes the remarkable career of Jesse Owens (Stephan James), going from a promising college runner at Ohio State University to an icon of American liberty. With Adolf Hitler looking on from the stands, Owens single-handedly dismantled the Nazi’s racist ideology by taking home four gold medals during the 1936 Berlin Olympics. But going beyond the headlines to the realities of Owens’ life as an African-American man, the film reminds us, as Parade magazine points out, “there was—and remains still—a much longer race to be run.”
Ron Woodroof bucks the system in Dallas Buyers Club.
Jean-Marc Vallée’s Dallas Buyers Club recreates a story of fierce independence during the AIDS crisis. Ron Woodroof––played by Matthew McConaughey in an Oscar-winning turn--was a real-life rodeo-riding heterosexual electrician who tested positive for HIV in 1985. Rather than accept his doctor’s diagnosis as a death sentence, Woodroof fought back with tenacity and grit by smuggling in unapproved drugs for himself and others dealing with AIDS. An ode to the American outlaw spirit, Dallas Buyers Club, writes Salon, “is a fierce celebration of the unpredictable power that belongs to the outcast.”
FDR shows the King of England a good time in Hyde Park on Hudson.
As President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Bill Murray takes on “the most formidable character I’ve ever been asked to play” in Roger Michell’s Hyde Park On Hudson. In 1939, the King and Queen of England (Samuel West and Olivia Colman) visit FDR’s country home to drum up support in advance of a feared upcoming war with Germany. At Hyde Park, among a picnic of hot dogs and Native American dances, Roosevelt and King George VI find common ground. In showcasing the personal side of one of our great presidents, Bill Murray, as Roger Ebert writes, “finds the human core of...FDR and presents it tenderly.”
Elliot Teichberg lives his own summer of love in Taking Woodstock.
In Taking Woodstock, Ang Lee views the generation-defining three-day celebration of peace and music through the eyes of one man, Elliot Teichberg (Demetri Martin). Based on Elliot Tiber’s memoir, the film comically recounts how a closeted gay man managing a run-down motel for his family became essential to making Woodstock happen. Elliot’s personal adventure reflects the spirit of discovery and love that event would come to symbolize. Lee, who was a teenager in Taiwan during the '60s, tells The Telegraph, “It’s the last page of our collective memory of the age of innocence.”