The Independent Cinema, Avant-Garde Films, Underground Movies, there are just about as many names for it as there are films. To anyone who was at all conscious during the late 1960s the phrase “underground movie” is probably the easiest starting point for this review.
Any Time Magazine reader knows what an underground movie is. It’s Andy Warhol’s Empire: an eight hour long film showing the Empire State Building from one camera position. Or it’s a “protest film” with rapidly intercut shots of Richard Nixon, a pig, war footage and the film’s director balling his girlfriend.
The apocalypse having at the very least been deferred, the term underground movie is no longer in vogue. Today one speaks of Independent films. But no matter what one calls it, all of the terms used have always carried connotations of being apart from the film scene at large and not being “commercial cinema.” In many cases we are not dealing with self imposed exile. Those who decide what plays on television and in the movie theatres are extremely suspicious of any short film that isn’t a Tom and Jerry cartoon or a travelogue on sunny Nigeria.
The biggest problem facing the independent filmmaker is that of getting his or her work shown. The distribution hassles were remedied years ago by co-operatives like London Filmmakers Co-op or Toronto’s Canadian Filmmakers Distribution Centre, where filmmakers get a fair deal on any profit that their film makes. The only other problem is exhibition; just where can one see and show independent or experimental films? If you work at an ad agency you will probably see a fair number of the flashier works down in the company’s screening room. Otherwise you’ll have to depend on art galleries like A Space or AGO (the latter dealing largely with works that have made it with the critics). At least that’s the way it was until The Funnel opened.
Housed in the basement of the Centre for Experimental Art and Communication (CEAC) at 15 Duncan St (right behind Ed’s Warehouse. That’s right! Where the Crash ‘n’ Burn used to be) is what is hoped will become Toronto’s first permanent exhibition space for independent films. The filmmakers affiliated with CEAC, headed by Ross McLaren, have put in a fair bit of time and effort into turning the old Crash ‘n’ Burn space into a functional, small movie theatre capable of showing works in both 16mm and super 8.
Ross and his co-workers plan to have regular showings every Tuesday night. These shows will be anything from selections from the CFMDC, retrospectives of a particular filmmaker’s work, shows by visiting filmmakers, and of course open screenings where anyone can bring their films, finished or otherwise. It is hoped that this will promote and sustain an audience for experimental film and provide filmmakers with a source of “feedback.”
Last Tuesday was The Funnel’s opening night. On hand was a special presentation by the London Filmmaker’s Co-op, one of the world’s oldest and largest distributors of independent films. The show was hosted by Co-op member filmmaker Tim Bruce who is travelling across North America with a selection of the Co-op’s most recent films. Part of his selection will be shown next Wednesday (Oct. 5, 9:00 pm) at the Art Gallery of Ontario, and although The Funnel screening was made up of a different set of films, having seen last Tuesday’s show, I can safely say that next Wednesday’s should be seen by anyone interested in independent films. If all this is new to you then the AGO show can serve as a good introduction to some aspects of avant-garde cinema.
The Co-op’s recent works are in a style which is currently being called Structuralist. I have no doubt that if you were to approach most of the filmmakers who are being so labeled that they would promptly deny it. Labels aside, it was fairly obvious though that throughout the screening at The Funnel there was a concern for the basics of film.
There was a wide range of style and material from the handmade films. Not every film was an immediate winner but there were very few that I myself wouldn’t mind having a second look at. To anyone who goes to Wednesday’s show at the AGO and is new to this kind of filmmaking my only advice is to bring to that show the same perceptions that you would bring to a piece of poetry or music, and let your sense of humour take care of the rest.
As for The Funnel, next Tuesday (at 8:30 pm) will be a selection of works from Canadian Filmmakers Distribution Centre. Check with CEAC (368-4933) for details or just show up and be surprised.