In 1983, after Sayles' film Lianna, a sympathetic story in which a married woman becomes discontent with her marriage after falling in love with another woman, Sayles received a MacArthur Fellowship for $30,000 a year for a five year term. Sayles used the money to fund The Brother From Another Planet, a film about a black four-toed slave who escapes from another planet and finds himself at home among the people of New York City, largely because he is incapable of speaking.
Sayles has funded most of his films by writing genre scripts such as The Howling and The Challenge; in deciding whether to take the job, Sayles reports that he concerns himself mostly with whether there is the germ of an idea for a movie that he would want to watch. Sayles gets the rest of his funding by working as a script doctor; he has done rewrites for Apollo 13 and Mimic, among others, and finds the job rewarding since he gets to help other writers tell their stories and also meet other directors and watch how they work. Some of his more well-known films include Lone Star, Passion Fish, The Secret of Roan Inish, and Matewan. His films tend to be politically aware; social concerns are a theme running through most of his work.
In November 1997, the United States' National Film Preservation Foundation announced that Return of the Secaucus 7 would be one of the 25 films selected that year for preservation in the National Film Registry at the Library of Congress, bringing the total at the time to 225. At the end of 2001, the total number of films preserved was only 325.
John Sayles interview by Leonard Maltin
The John Sayles Border Stop Biography
The Onion interviews John Sayles