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They're cheap, they're hip and for a while they seemed to be made entirely by Jim Jarmusch and Hal Hartley. They're often black and white, and occasionally shot in fashionably grainy pixelvision (with a Fisher Price camera). Wobbly, hand-held sequences are de rigeur. They can be set in a low-life bar, a low-life trailer park or the fashionably distressed apartments of the fashionably distressed residents of Greenwich Village.

A likeable anti-hero like Martin Donovan or Steve Buscemi (the bug-eyed, bad-teeth "funny looking" assassin of Fargo) plays the lead, and Tom Waits usually pops up in a cameo. The number of celebrity bit-parts tends to rise in direct proportion to the success of the director's first movie, although the presence of Madonna and/or Julia Roberts can skew the equation, signalling an early decline in film-making credibility.

Characters tend towards the poetically dispossessed, hanging out talking. Few are happily married with kids in the suburbs. Instead they manifest symptoms of millennial angst and obsess wittily over trivia while fuelling up on coffee. They may do this in a brightly lit shopping mall or diner as they summon the energy to shoot somebody. However, it is important to remember that if there is a heist, it must be bungled.

Woody Allen was once the king of directors, but unsightly, self-scripted scenes of the director in bed with Mira Sorvino in the recent Mighty Aphrodite suggest he is now more like it's sugar granddaddy.

If you haven't guessed after that giveaway clue then you never will. It's American Independent film, celebrated this week at the `Mavericks in Manchester' film festival. On Friday, Mary Harron's much talked about first feature I Shot Andy Warhol opens the week- long fest. The story of Valerie Solanas, author of the Scum manifesto and would-be Warhol killer, the film is a paen to the Pop Art world of the 1960s. Other movies well worth seeing are Box of Moonlight, Tom Di Cillo's follow-up to Living in Oblivion, Sundance smash The Spitfire Grill and Robert Altman's period flick Kansas City. David O Russell's family road movie Flirting with Disaster (above), and the terrific girl-bonding movie Walking and Talking. Oh, and Trees Lounge, the directorial debut of rat-faced indy icon Steve Buscemi.

In short, a week of the kind of brilliantly low-key films that make you believe that even your inconsequential life would look wry and significant if only someone would put it on screen...