When the art world of an entire country stretches out for just a few blocks in a handful of cities, perhaps it’s inevitable that do-it-yourself efforts would poke up out of the concrete for a season or three, before giving way to the institutional tidal wave of the 1980s. In the sub-genre of avant movies, this mostly meant smoky living room screenings with friends and enough beer to make even the longest movie in the world feel good. Diane Boadway had warmed up projectors at CEAC (Centre for Experimental Art and Communication)’s John and Duncan Street locations in 1975/76 (pre-Ross McLaren, that is). There were other forays and pop-up shops, as if some nascent appetite had finally been awakened, and media artists might once more roam the streets with portable recorders absorbing unconventional wisdoms.
Just around the corner from CEAC’s new digs, for nearly a year in 1977, Keith Lock and Dave Anderson organized a set of screenings that everybody called Freud Signs, although the posters offered the more sober heading of “New Films.” Keith was a shy film nerd who was so beautiful friends would wear sunglasses when he was around, even indoors, and Dave was the tall, bearded Dutchman who had spent his formative years in a Dutch academy learning proper technique, a schooling he was busy unlearning back in North America. Keith Lock remembers: “David Anderson and I did a series of regular screenings in 1977 in our shared studio space at Adelaide and John Street. It’s an old brick building that was one of the original Upper Canada College classrooms. It’s the only building standing north of the Bell Lightbox. Screenings were held twice a month. The printer downstairs let us use his typesetting machine to make flyers. His name was Lou Freud and the building had the weird name ‘Freud Signs.’”
Anna Gronau, a friend and frequent audience member chimes in: “The name Freud Signs had been painted, it looked like decades ago, on one of the building’s exterior brick walls. It was beautiful – faded and weathered, in an ornate-looking old-fashioned script.”
Dave Anderson: “In the mid-seventies, Keith Lock and I shared the second floor of a building at Adelaide and John. That’s where I made Mr. Signman (Super 8, 23 min. 1978). I shot the whole film from the window or nearby on the street. I would wander down and look at the car wash that the TIFF Lightbox now occupies, or film city crews planting trees and tearing up sidewalks. And of course there were billboards right across the street that became a visual focus for the film, they changed every month.
…Keith was the instigator of a film series called New Films. The CFMDC (Canadian Filmmakers Distribution Centre) had a tiny screening room, but I’m trying to think of where else you could show work in the city. Our studio space was suitable because it was long and wide. People sat on the floor, there were some chairs but not enough. One wall had a mullioned glass partition about shoulder height, separating the large room from the room we used as our kitchen. We put the projector on top of the fridge and projected through the glass. We showed (my brother) Jim’s Gravity, Keith’s Everything Everywhere Alive Again and films by local filmmakers. Many were from the collection of the CFMDC. With filmmakers usually present there was an informal question and answer period afterwards. Sometimes filmmakers like Rick Hancox, who were used to talking about their work, would present, but most of us weren’t very used to talking, so the less Q&A the better. The series (nine screenings) ran from February to June of 1977. We didn’t charge admission and we used Mr. Freud’s sign making equipment to make our posters.
At that point CEAC (Centre for Experimental Art and Communication) started doing open screenings upstairs at 15 Duncan Street. Ross McLaren ran the screenings. Even though he had shown at New Films I didn’t really know Ross.
Keith Lock: “I still have all the programs and flyers and one or two photos. We’d get maybe ten to twenty people. The screen was a large canvas stretcher that Dave supplied. It was covered with smooth white paper and was pretty good. We had it on a hinge so we could swing it down from the ceiling for screenings. There was also a projection booth which doubled as our kitchen. I don’t recall that we charged admission, the filmmakers would be happy just to have a showing. Later, we got a deal from the CFMDC allowing us to screen their experimental films and they paid the rental. At that time there was no other venue showing experimental film. A number of filmmakers showed there including Mike Snow, who lugged in a case of beer. Ross McLaren screened there and started doing screenings up the street at CEAC not too long afterwards. We stopped the screenings because it was getting to be a lot of work. We would have to get a projector from the Public Library or CFMDC. We would type up the programs and print flyers downstairs and paper Kensington, Queen Street and around the art college. Because the screenings were in our own space, we would have to stop whatever work of our own we were doing at the time. We were quite happy when they started up at CEAC, especially since it was only half a block away. I was around the CEAC scene but only as an outsider. They were mostly younger and into super 8.”