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The making of John Cassavetes' Shadows was the culmination of an almost three-year filmmaking process as unorthodox and full of surprises as the film itself. Begun in early 1957, Cassavetes' feature directorial debut was a 16mm (later blown up to 35mm) experiment executed by a crew of mainly novice technicians and unknown actors. The plot focuses on Ben (Ben Carruthers) and Lelia (Lelia Goldoni), light-skinned African-American siblings passing for white in 1950s New York. Cassavetes' style, distinguished by personal expression and character study and devoid of rigid structure, was already apparent in this early work that poetically treats race and identity not as sociological discourse but as a sort of free jazz.
In 1960, Shadows won the Critics Award at the Venice Film Festival. The film was added to the National Film Registry in 1993.
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