Shirley Clarke (1919-1997) was a key player in the campaign to develop an alternative, avant-garde approach to film-making in the 1950s and 1960s. Starting out as a dancer and choreographer, Clarke began her directing career in 1953 and became the only female member of a group established to advance the cause of independent films. This group rejected the commercial cinema of the day, believing it to be corrupt, morally questionable and astistically weak. When she released The Connection in 1962, it won a special award at the Cannes Film Festival. It was also banned by the New York State Censorship Board and became a test case for the freedom of expression. The Cool World was another tour-de-force, an unflinching and gritty record of life in Harlem. It was the first independent film to play at the Venice Film Festival and helped pioneer the docu-drama genre.