The Funnel: An Experiment in Collaboration by Katrina Lagace and Elysse Leonard (2012)

Published on website: Local Film Cultures Toronto, University of Toronto, 2012

This paper, itself a collaborative effort, examines the Funnel Experimental Film Theatre’s distinctive philosophy, one predicated on ideals of inclusivity and self-sufficiency, and the various ways in which this philosophy informed the group’s position within Toronto’s film culture in the late-1970s to mid-1980s and its relation to government funding, public institutions, and the larger arts community. We situate the Funnel within the radical political context of CEAC, the emergent punk scene, and a cooperative tradition that is at once local and global. More specifically, we trace a connection between DIY culture and the Funnel’s organizational structure, its space, and its emphasis on Super 8 filmmaking. In exploring inclusivity as an ideology and practice, our investigation into the Funnel spurs a reflection on the nature of alternative film scenes in general.

From its inception in 1977 to its official closure in 1989, the Funnel Experimental Film Theatre served Toronto as a centre for the production, exhibition, and distribution of experimental film. The Funnel was born out of Ross McLaren’s desire to foster a space and an audience to view the “orphaned film gems” of the challenging cinematic avant-garde (McLaren, “The Funnel and Me”), and was sustained by the commitment of over a hundred artists and volunteers. The centre characterized itself as playing a central role in the promotion of experimental film by showcasing the works of both local and international artists and filmmakers in their theatre, by distributing a catalogue of experimental work, and by holding public events with artists and intellectuals from the community (“Catalogue Supplement” 1987). Many programmed events, including the Funnel’s “Open Screenings,” featured the work of student and un-established filmmakers. As Anna Gronau, director and programmer of the Funnel (1980-1982) states on the Funnel’s founding in 1979, “Bringing experimental filmmakers and the interested public together is a challenge which the Funnel welcomes” (quoted in Douglas 121). Despite its success in creating a forum for alternative film, the Funnel dealt with much external and internal conflict. Throughout the changes to its funding structure and location in downtown Toronto, as well as the evolution in its membership, the Funnel strove to maintain its status as a vertically integrated film cooperative. External conflict arose most prominently after the Ontario Censor Board deemed the Funnel’s “Open Screening” nights illegal; further friction emerged due to political differences within the group around the time of its move from the city’s east end at 507 King Street East to a more central location at 11 Soho Avenue.

This project traces the evolution of the Funnel’s spaces, philosophy, and practice through an amalgam of both primary and secondary research. Specifically, we examine issues pertaining to its ethos of inclusivity in counterpoint with charges of exclusivity; we look at the relationships between the Funnel and the local and international arts community. Given the competing lenses of many previous members of the group, we are not able to uncover any definitive conclusions about many of the debates surrounding the Funnel, including its charges of elitism. These differing accounts come from over a hundred people involved throughout the history of the centre — including those who founded it and worked within it, those who left the group and those who entered the scene later. Additionally, the Funnel’s collection of films and printed ephemera (including posters, newsletters and catalogues) are scattered across Toronto in a few archives and in previous member’s homes, some of whom are no longer in Toronto. These logistical issues made it difficult for us to have a clear picture of many aspects of the group’s history and it speaks to the fracturing that occurred after the centre’s closing. Thus, this paper is not only an exploration of the Funnel’s evolution and legacy, but also a discourse analysis given the murky histories with which we were presented. For these reasons, and because of the collaborative nature of this project, we have written this paper in such a way that allows for numerous voices to be heard. We present our findings in short vignettes on topics that we wished to explore. Although this style of writing may seem disjunctive at times, we feel that it speaks to the equally disconnected archive of Funnel films and texts.

Theorizing Film Networks: The Problems and Possibilities of “Scenes”
Part of the inspiration for the way in which we undertook our research for this project came from recent articles — most found in Public’s 2001 issue titled “Cites/Scenes” — written about the ways in which cultural scenes operate. William Straw writes that the word “scene” is used to describe “highly local clusters of activity” and that scenes “give unity to practices dispersed throughout the world” (248). Alan Blum maintains that while coming to a definition of “the scene” is impossible, scenes make up important parts of our cities and social life (33). He argues that “the presence of scenes, despite their mortality, means that the city continuously breeds the collective desire to represent shared intimacy in ways that are situated as special, particular and exclusive” (26); scenes are evidence of our desire for collectivity and communality (13). Janine Marchessault writes that because scenes are ephemeral and tend to follow fads and fashions, they are difficult to study and track (“Film Scenes” 68). Furthermore, because specific scenes create boundaries that make them unique in relation to others, they can be viewed as responses to globalization, although they are not necessary sites of resistance (“Film Scenes” 68).

Marchessault’s article entitled “Of Bicycles and Films: The Case of CineCycle” argues that material places play an essential role in the creation of film scenes in any given city. She maintains that film is part of a cultural network of spaces that are at once “local and particular” and part of “larger global structures” (91). This is especially true for experimental films, Marchessault writes, as they are “distributed through specialized circuits” (91). A specific scene is fostered in how it is created and collectively enjoyed through its material being, i.e. through its screens, cameras, chairs, and projectors (99). Marchessault thinks of the Funnel as being a part of an alternative film scene in the late 1970s and 80s; although it did not last to create a large body of work, it gave rise to other film groups and centres, such as the Pleasure Dome (“Film Scenes” 71). Indeed, the filmic object may be just as integral to an alternative film scene as the networks of people that come into contact with that film in various ways; as Ross McLaren noted about the films of his cooperative, “the films were not important. The Funnel was about social interaction” (quoted in “Film Scenes” 71).

Other members of the Funnel have commented on the specific types of relationships that were fostered by working, volunteering and being in that scene, including Dot Tuer who maintains that a communal and familial feel made the Funnel what it was (“Visible Cities Interview”). Moreover, a publication accompanying the 1985 screening series “Cache du Cinema: Discovering Toronto Filmmakers,” states that Funnel films screened as part of the series proved that collaboration is crucial to the maintenance and creativity of a local film scene: “For it is through contact, discussion, screenings, and availability of production equipment, that an alternative and local film practice is both sustained and advanced.” Still, others have commented on the ways that the Funnel functioned as part of both a local and global network of artists and spectators; exemplary of this is the group’s mandate to increase interest in local alternative film culture while they also bring international filmmakers to the Funnel. Perhaps a comment made by Anna Gronau in the Funnel’s early years speaks most to the Funnel’s preoccupation with reaching the local as well as a global film network: “[the long-distance exchange of film] encourages the creation of small communities around the globe where people meet to watch the same image, but are left free to react in their own peculiar fashion” (quoted in Hall).

Although scenes may be a part of global networks and foster a strong community for those within the group as the Funnel did, there are problematic ways in which these scenes can operate. First, scenes tend to be difficult entities to enter into and are largely associated with elitism. As Blum maintains, “there is an esoteric aura connected with any scene which often makes knowledge of its whereabouts a problem for outsiders or for those new to the city” (9). Indeed, those new to the scene are required to have specialized knowledge about the places that scene occupies and are often required to have knowledge of the “sacred” practices and interests associated with it (9). Second, Blum posits that a scene’s main preoccupation is the question of its possible corruption as a scene’s energy can so easily be taken away and turned into a commodity (27). Blum’s analysis here proves useful in understanding the scene(s) that the Funnel operated within and fostered, especially given the fact that the centre was criticized for being elitist. Yet, some of this tension arose not only from commentators outside of the Funnel, but also from within; this debate concentrated heavily around the question of feminism and video within the cooperative. The question of whether or not to open up the membership of the group played a hand in ending the Funnel, according to some of the members we interviewed. Additionally, Blum’s characterization of scene sacredness with its accompanying specialized knowledge speaks appropriately of the Funnel’s long-time located in Toronto’s East end, where many members of the public rarely travelled.

A Brief Note on the Funnel’s Origins: CEAC
CEAC was an alternative arts collective that was officially founded in 1976 by the Kensington Art Association, although it had operated since the early 1970s. It is where McLaren originally started screening Super8 and 16mm films under “the Funnel” name with the belief that these films should be accessible to all (Douglas 125). The centre was able to buy a large warehouse space at 15 Duncan Street after winning a Wintario grant. In the basement of this space, McLaren shot his seminal experimental film on the Toronto punk scene called “Crash ‘n’ Burn” (holding the same name as the club in the basement of 15 Duncan Street). Despite the short number of years it operated, the centre was quite prolific: Dot Tuer writes that there was an event at the official CEAC space every night between 1976 and 1977 (57). The CEAC building also held a library, studio, resource centre, publishing house, museum and gallery and the centre held events in the US, South America and Europe (Edwards 9).

In regards to its philosophy and mandate, CEAC pushed a left-wing politics along with its vision for a large, public community of artists. It sought to: “Encourage the graphic and plastic arts and the appreciation of such arts among the general [Toronto] community: to provide a gallery or galleries for the display of artist’s works; to provide studios and workshops for artists; to provide other facilities for publicizing the  works of artists; to offer courses, seminars and workshops for artists; and to encourage creativity among the community at large and to involve much members of the community as wish to do so in developing and creating within the scope of existing new art forms” (Marras, “CEAC Mandate: 1975-76”, quoted in Edwards 7).

Edwards notes that although this statement may have been part of CEAC’s official mandate, the group was much more concerned with radical politics than it would let on here. Because the centre was heavily influenced by one of its directors, Italian emigre Amerigo Marras, many CEAC events were concerned with anti-establishment and non-commercial practices, especially in their approach to language. As just one manifestation of this radical ethos, Tuer writes that many of the performances that took place at CEAC featured socially unacceptable behaviour in the aims of critiquing both media saturation and state funded conformity: “Marras characterized CEAC’s ‘contextual behaviouralism’ as a social practice that refused to cooperate with the capitalist reinforcement of production and consumption” (76).

After CEAC printed a note of support for Italian Red Brigade in its newsletter Strike in 1978, the group’s funding bodies were forced to revoke all future payments. The Red Brigade had just murdered Italian politician Aldo Moro and after the mainstream press found out about CEAC’s words of support for this terrorist organization, The Sun made it clear with a headline on their front page on May 5th, 1978: “Ont. Grant Supports Red Brigades Ideology: Our Taxes and Blood Thirsty Radicals” (quoted in Tuer 85). CEAC then could not afford to pay its mortgage for the space and the centre was forced to close. This meant that the Funnel also had to relocate and that it could no longer rely on CEAC. The relationship between CEAC and the Funnel around the time of CEAC’s closure is unclear because of some conflicting historical details we uncovered in our research. Anna Gronau suggests that the Funnel was already concerned with moving out of the CEAC space before the Strike editorial was printed (Hoolboom, “Anna Gronau”), although other sources maintain that CEAC’s closure more likely forced the Funnel to move (see Andrews 128). Regardless, McLaren states that the Funnel was not approving of CEAC’s essential suicide by printing their radical editorial (personal interview). On this subject Douglas writes that the Funnel, soon after it established itself with its incorporation and new location on King Street East, was certainly aware that it might be associated with CEAC’s dangerous politics; for this reason, Douglas maintains that the Funnel’s 1979 catalogue simply stated that: “The Funnel provides a centre for the exhibition, promotion and discussion of experimental arts, primarily film” (128). Despite this initial difference with the more overt politics of CEAC, the Funnel did not simply move away from all of CEAC’s original philosophy on art, openness and community. We engage this debate in the following section by following Ross McLaren’s call for the Funnel to function as a cooperative without a reliance on government funding.

“Anybody can do a film”: Ross McLaren and the Funnel’s DIY Philosophy
Eldon Garnet’s portrait of Canadian filmmaker and founder of the Funnel Ross McLaren, featured in the 2010 Images Festival Catalogue as an accompaniment to the festival’s Canadian Artist Spotlight on McLaren, evokes the confrontational, self-sufficient ethos of the Funnel: “Awkward, jarring, disjunctive, and, of course, ironic. … It was the late 1970s. It was punk. No one followed, everyone did what they weren’t expected to do. No reverence for commercial film, no desire for distribution. You made films because they needed to be made. Why not try it this way; let’s see what it looks like. A failure in film was a celebrated success” (37; my emphasis). Garnet implicitly situated McLaren, and by extension the Funnel, within the radical politics of CEAC, “a space operating at the edge of the edge,” and locates punk “existentialism” as a predominant concern throughout the artist’s work. McLaren seemingly embraces this anti-establishment persona, citing the found-footage film Summer Camp (1978) as his “way of giving the finger to the CBC” (qtd. in Goddard) and claiming “I know I upset as many boats and apple carts as I could when I was in Toronto. It wasn’t intentional—it was just my nature” (qtd. in Anderson). As Jason Anderson points out, the local permutation of punk in the mid-1970s spoke to an increasing “resistance to new architectural and bureaucratic intrusions into the city’s living spaces.” This emerging scene provided the impetus for McLaren to forge an alternative space devoted to low-budget, experimental film and prefigured the Funnel’s well-documented challenge to provincial censorship practices.

Recalling its birth in the CEAC basement, the Funnel collective aligned itself with the subversive image and ideology of punk culture. “It’s what you might call Baudelairian cinema,” Bruce Elder explains in a 1983 article from The Globe and Mail, “There is an interest in achieving a certain roughness” (qtd. in Fraser). Indicative of this aesthetic, John Porter remarks that his filmmaking became decidedly “more raw” once he became involved with the Funnel, owing to the organization’s “punk influence” (personal interview).[1] Judith Doyle extends this connection to encompass the broad range of cultural production associated with the Funnel, offering the various zines, including queercore zines, edited and distributed from within the space as exemplary in this regard (personal interview). A letter addressing criticisms levelled against the Funnel in its later years by members of “the community,” which Ross McLaren tentatively attributes to Betty Ferguson, frames the Funnel’s “‘punk’ and ‘neo-dada’ imagery” as a testament to the collective’s participation in “a seventy year tradition of media commentary which the experimental practice as it is commonly understood … is engaged in directly.” Punk, the letter argues, is “ideologically linked” with the Funnel’s practice.

An ideal of self-sufficiency underpins and informs the Funnel’s cooperative structure, its funding strategy, and the cultural lineage it claims for itself. “It wasn’t called punk, really,” McLaren stresses, “It was a DIY philosophy” (personal interview). In 1979, McLaren outlines this philosophy as it pertains to the Funnel’s mandate in a Cinema Canada article entitled “A Funnel for Talent.” “Anybody can do a film,” he notes, lamenting expectations of cost and technical expertise that deter “individuals of modest means from realizing the form’s full potential” (18). In addition to self-imposed limitations, McLaren identifies structural obstacles to individual, alternative film production and exhibition in Toronto, namely the gallery system and the Canadian funding structure, both of which privilege established artists. Enter the Funnel: a “testing ground” for new and/or unknown experimental filmmakers to gain exposure within the local arts community — DIY exhibition as an incentive for independent production.

According to Garnet, CEAC’s closure due to loss of public funding, spurred by political controversy, thrust the art community into “a coma of fear” (37). Mindful of CEAC’s fate, and that of other local artist-run centres (e.g., the Toronto Filmmakers Cooperative), McLaren espoused a desire to circumvent government funding and an unwillingness to be dependent on it (Hall 19). He recalls, “I was frustrated with the funding structure (of Canadian mainstream filmmaking), so I made an end run around it, and built a self-sustaining theatre, which connected with an avant-garde practice” (qtd. in Goddard; my emphasis). This aim, alongside that of placing low-budget, experimental film “in a social context” (Mays, “Funnel Celebrates its Fifth Season”) inspired the Funnel’s adoption of a cooperative structure predicated on membership fees, volunteer labour, and self-financing. In 1983, one third of the Funnel’s $100,000 annual budget was self-raised, with the Ontario Arts Council, Canada Council, and Metro Toronto contributing the remaining two thirds (Fraser). The previous year, the Funnel initiated a “no-budget distribution service” utilizing a double-sided, photocopied pamphlet (i.e., a mode of production in line with zine culture) — DIY distribution (super8porter).[2]

The Funnel thus positioned itself within an established North American cooperative tradition and in relation to the Toronto Filmmakers Cooperative, for example. It is notable that, as Anthony Hall observes, “During the death throes of the Toronto Filmmakers Cooperative … six of the nine executive members who attempted to save the debt-ridden organization were committed Funnel associates” (19). The Funnel’s 1984 film series “The New American Cinema (1956-1960)” explicitly acknowledges this tradition. In her introduction to the series’ catalogue, Michaelle McLean writes:“Although not a homogenous group, there was a common recognition among the filmmakers that their goals and ideas were in opposition to Hollywood’s “official” cinema and thus demanded an engagement on all fronts of film practice. Among other things, they advocated the development of institutions operated on a co-operative basis to aid in the production, exhibition and distribution of independent film, and are largely responsible for the growth of a network of such centres in North America over the past 25 years. Artist run centres such as the Funnel can find their roots in this era.”

Like the New American Cinema, the heterogeneous Funnel found self-definition in the negative, in active opposition to dominant Canadian film practices. It self-consciously occupied a space on the margins, championing a punk/DIY-inspired ethos of self-reliance and accessibility.

Super-8: Accommodation, Accessibility, and Autonomy
The introduction to the Funnel’s Catalogue (1984/1987) states, “Accommodation of the diverse existing and possible future formats is a policy of the Collection, and a reflection of an historical and contemporary practice of artists’ film.” It indicates that half the artists represented in the Funnel’s permanent, juried collection have produced in 8mm, and that this inclusion of multiple formats makes the collection distinct. John Porter likewise identifies inclusivity as a distinguishing feature of the Funnel’s philosophy: “The Funnel became known as the ‘Super-8 place,’ … but really, it was about all formats including Super-8, which no other organization did” (personal interview). At that time, for example, the CFMDC was only distributing 16mm films. As Hall notes, the “accessibility” of the Super-8 format, predominant throughout the Funnel’s screenings, corresponded to the Funnel’s “democratic philosophy of film” (18). The catalogue introduction alludes to this philosophy: “From the range of concerns and tendencies [and formats] found in the Collection, … a sense emerges of the perspective the Funnel has on contemporary film practice and its position within the arts discourse. It is not a single aesthetic or style, rather it is an approach that does not delimit.” Super-8, as several critics acknowledge, affords a degree of economic autonomy in keeping with the Funnel’s DIY ethos. It permits those of modest means and/or marginalized perspectives the opportunity to permeate an active local and global film culture, to enter filmic discourse. “The cheaper it is,” Porter explains, “the more accessible it is” (personal interview). Super-8 film was often reversal stock, enabling one to screen an original film without the added expense of making a print (a practice, Porter tells us, known as “shoot and show”). The ephemeral, immediate quality of such screenings echoes the “punk” energy of the cultural scene in which the Funnel participated. As Richard Hill tells The Toronto Star, “It’s a grass roots thing; … Super 8 is very much a folk art. These things are happening regardless of the film market. There is a lot of raw or semi-raw material you might not otherwise see” (qtd. in Edwards 33).

The Toronto Super 8 Film Festival, founded by McLaren in 1976, serves as a precursor to the Funnel in its initial inclusive orientation. In a Cinema Canada article announcing the Festival’s inception, the organizers express their desire “to receive any and all work in S8 format from any and all filmmakers, whether they be kindergarten students or television professionals” (“Toronto Super 8 Film Festival”). McLaren conceived the festival, much like the Funnel, in an effort to redress a perceived lack of community among experimental filmmakers, a lack of “social context.” He explains, “Now we are in a similar situation to the 16mm ‘independent filmmakers’ of the late 1950s or the videotape makers of a few years ago. We are isolated from each other and not able to share experience with or see the work of other filmmakers; we have no organized distribution methods for our work and virtually no public showings at all.” Both the festival and the Funnel aimed to provide Super 8 filmmakers with a chance “to finally see their work portrayed on the big silver screen after years of being played on the basement wall” (“Toronto Super 8 Film Festival”). As the Festival evolved, however, it became increasingly selective, competitive, and commercially oriented, extending itself antithetically from its community ideals. Ian Birnie, head of the submissions jury in 1978, expresses a tension between the Festival’s founding ideal of inclusivity and the desire to maintain a certain standard of programming. He concludes that the Festival “ mustn’t become too elitist, but it does need standards” (qtd. in Edwards 33), presaging a conflict between the Funnel’s open ideal and charges of exclusivity that ruptured the collective, contributing to its eventual demise. Members of the Funnel, including Ross McLaren, openly opposed the festival’s new direction, reinforcing their outsider, DIY stance. In its fourth year, the festival featured a panel discussion entitled “Grants for S8: Funding the Independent,” taken as representative of its increasing monetary emphasis (Dowler 21). As a panelist, Funnel filmmaker Eldon Garnet cautioned the audience against public funding, which runs the risk of influencing the decision of his/her work and urged them to “pay for keeping S8 filmmaking wholly independent” (Dowler 23). As a counterpoint to Garnet, Gunther Hoos criticized the defensive “ghetto mentality” of the Super 8 community (qtd. in Dowler 22). The Funnel’s insularity, its self-positioning at the margins of the burgeoning Toronto art scene, provides a lens through which to interpret its physical space.

“At the edge of the edge”: 507 King Street East
Following the collapse of CEAC in 1978, the Funnel incorporated as a non-profit centre and moved independently to a “dim, dilapidated, three-story warehouse” at 507 King Street East (Fraser). Situated beneath a Don Valley Parkway overpass and in proximity to the pre-renewal Gooderham & Worts space, petrochemical storage facilities, and the heavily polluted Don River, “the Funnel had all the credentials of the reclaimed artist’s space” (Douglas 129). “It looks more like a garment district sweatshop than an avant-garde film venue,” Globe and Mail writer Matthew Fraser notes of the exterior. “The only hint to the passerby that inside there might be something beyond the ordinary, are the words ‘The Funnel’ scrawled in punk-style lettering to one side of the uninviting front door.” Several former members characterize the location in terms of its isolation from the mainstream of artistic activity in Toronto’s west end. “By sheer geography we were cut off from the larger arts community,” Midi Onodera recalls (personal interview). Napoleon Brousseau of Fastwurms contextualizes this East/West divide: “There was this stigma in Toronto about the East Side. … The West Side artists seldom traveled to the East side. … Across the street from the Funnel, we [Fastwurms] were at the bottom of the Esplanade and Berkeley, and people used to dump cars there. … People didn’t go to the East side whatsoever; they avoided it as much as possible. … It was deserted; everything was closed. … I think that’s why the scene was so alive.”

Only the dedicated, Brousseau explains, would make the “pilgrimage” to 507 King. Within the building, the screening space was equally off the beaten track, a reward for the committed: “There is no sign for The Funnel. It can be found by walking up one flight of stairs and following noodles of paint splashed haphazardly along the walls and on the buckled floorboards of a narrow hallway. It is uncertain whether this is a Jackson Pollock touch or just part of the general messiness of the building” (Fraser). The “uninviting” exterior translated into a general sense of discomfort inside: the toilets were barely functional; there was little to no heating in the winter (Doyle claims she had to wear fingerless gloves in the editing room), and no air conditioning in the summer (Onodera).[3] Peripheral and inconspicuous in locale, disjunctive, dynamic, and jarring in ambiance, the spatial experience at 507 King gave concrete form to the Funnel’s oppositional ideology and “punk” roots.

Coda: The Funnel’s Collapse and Legacy
The reasons for the Funnel’s collapse at the end of the 1980s are still unclear due to the heterogeneous histories we were presented with as we completed our research. Most of the primary research we completed as part of this project centred around those who were not involved in the Funnel at the time of its closing. Some previous members of the cooperative are sure that their version of history is the correct one, while others are less certain about what happened. Here it is worthwhile to note Blum’s thoughts on the problems of cultural scenes: because scenes are constantly erasing and covering up others, there always exists competing histories within them. On this, he notes: “If cities tell their stories through their scenes in part, the accomplishments of scenes are often hard won and hard fought: there is perhaps an official history of scenes […] and a darker, secret, covert history that is deposited in the fragmentary remains of witness testimony, or that awaits recovery” (11-12). McLaren argues that soon after the Funnel moved to 11 Soho Street, government funding juries decided not to grant them money, and that this was the Toronto art community’s deliberate attempt at closing the Funnel (personal interview). Others, including Judith Doyle and Dot Tuer suggest that there was indeed a split that occurred due to the new influence of video art and feminism within the Funnel collective (see personal interview with Doyle and Tuer quoted in “Visible Cities Interview”). John Porter also argues that around 1986 there was a strong divide between those who wanted to open up the membership of the Funnel and those who wanted to keep it closed: “After 10 years, we felt that people knew what we were about and that we could afford to open up the membership a little bit more, but some of the ‘old guard’ members didn’t want to do that, so people who did want to join left, so they lost a lot of their spirit” (personal interview). He maintains that by the time the centre decided to move to the bigger space at Soho Avenue, a large part of its membership was gone. In our interview with him, Porter also suggests that he, like us, is interested in understanding exactly what occurred around the time of the Funnel’s closing. Midi Onodera’s response to our question about the centre’s lasting impact proves thoughtful in this regard: “There is no singular history on the Funnel. Everyone has their own perspectives and memories and I suppose this is how it should be” (personal email interview).

The legacy of the Funnel brings in a more homogenous response amongst those we interviewed. Many note the unique place that the Funnel held in Toronto, in Canada and along the experimental film circuit. Porter highlights the ways in which the Funnel advocated for the most affordable and accessible type of film—Super8; since the Funnel’s closing in Toronto, there has not been much interest in this type of filmmaking. On the void left in Toronto since the centre’s closure he states: “The community feeling, the energy, the type of work being shown that was associated with the Funnel hasn’t existed since. […] It’s like we’re in the 70s again” (personal interview). Doyle notes the ways in which many of those involved in the Funnel went on to have successful filmmaking careers, while others have been extremely influential in terms of academic scholarship (personal interview). However, McLaren states that the Funnel was, in a sense, always bound to close. He argues that “If it’s going to be on the edge and radical, and it’s not going to become an institution, then it probably shouldn’t last too long anyway. […] I moved on, and I think that’s good, because otherwise you just get entrenched, institutionalized, and then you get tenured, and it’s over” (personal interview).

McLaren’s statement captures an essential issue with cultural scenes as it is difficult for these sites to last, especially with funding problems and changes in membership. Yet, we are not convinced that this is the only way we can think about the ephemerality of alternative film scenes. As Marchessault highlights in her article on CineCycle, Martin Heath’s theatre has existed for twenty years in downtown Toronto; as of today, shows no signs that it will soon be closing its doors. We do not mean to compare CineCycle to the Funnel in the ways they operate (as the two entities are indeed different); rather, we mention Health’s theatre here as it allows for a more optimistic reading on the nature of alternative film scenes in Toronto.

A Note on the Funnel’s Archive
One of the main methodological problems with researching the collapse of the Funnel is that we did not have access to a range of documents included in the Funnel’s historical archive. Of course, John Porter’s photo archive and Mike Hoolboom’s collection of articles and interviews is no doubt essential to the preservation of the Funnel’s history. In our interview with McLaren, he noted that he is currently in possession of an archive that includes posters, letters of support (some of which appear on this site) and films from the days of the Funnel’s operations. In our interview with Doyle, she calls for the relocation of many lost Funnel films and for the founding of an official Funnel film archive. We are glad to note that McLaren wanted us to publish some parts of this archive as part of our project on this website (, and that he also wanted us to upload our interview with him unedited. Napolean Brousseau further stated that he is very interested in digitally archiving the films he made as part of the Funnel, as he was inspired by a sense of renewed interested in the centre. We hope that with this start, the Funnel’s contribution to both local and global film culture will not be easily forgotten.

[1] Porter’s website details his longtime collaboration with Canadian post-punk band Fifth Column, who allegedly described his Super 8 films as “short and punchy like Ramones songs” (super8porter).

[2] Due to a perceived similarity with the publicly funded Canadian Filmmakers Distribution Centre (CFMDC), the Funnel had not received funding for its distribution efforts by this point (super8porter).

[3] It should be noted, however, that the screening facility itself is consistently cited as exceptional in terms of the quality of projection, the comfort of the inherited Imperial Theatre seats, the cleanliness of the space, etc.

Works Cited
“A Brief Commentary Upon the Films.” Cache Du Cinema: Discovering Toronto Filmmakers. Toronto: Funnel, 1985. Print.
Anderson, Jason. “Ross McLaren: Filmic Reducer.” Eye Weekly [Toronto] 31 Mar. 2010. Print.
“Anna Gronau: The Dead Are Not Powerless (an Interview).” Interview by Mike Hoolboom. Mike Hoolboom: Writings on Artists. Web. 14 Dec. 2011. <>.
Blum, Alan. “Scenes.” Public 22-23 (2001): 7-35. Print.
Brousseau, Napolean. Personal email correspondence. 5 Dec. 2011.
Douglas, David Andrew. The Toronto Avant-garde at Twilight: Avant-garde Cinema in Toronto, 1975-1985. Diss. Northwestern University, 2000. Print.
Dowler, Andrew. “Increasingly Professional: Toronto’s Super8 Festival.” Cinema Canada Aug. 1979: 21-24. Print.
Doyle, Judith. Personal interview. 1 Dec. 2011.
Edwards, Barbara C. “Toronto Art: A History of Interconnectedness 1970-1988.” Thesis. University of Western Ontario, 1999.
Edwards, Natalie. “Super 8 Festival: “Coming Out.”” Cinema Canada Aug. 1978: 32-33. Print.
Fraser, Matthew. “Scenes from the Avant-garde: Funnel.” Globe and Mail [Toronto] 2 July 1983: F2. Print.
Garnet, Eldon. “Canadian Artist Spotlight: Ross McLaren.” Images Festival Catalogue. Toronto, 2010. 37-39. Print.
Goddard, Peter. “Art Born of Frustration.” Toronto Star 28 Mar. 2010: E4. Print.
Hall, Anthony. “A Funnel For Talent.” Cinema Canada 52 (1979): 17-19. Print.
Introduction. The Funnel Film Collection Catalogue Supplement 1987. Toronto: Funnel, 1986. Print.
Marchessault, Janine. “Film Scenes: Paris, New York, Toronto.” Public 22-23 (2001): 59-75. Print.
Marchessault, Janine. “Of Bicycles and Films: The Case of CineCycle.” Public 40 (2009): 90-100. Print.
Mays, John B. “Funnel Celebrates Its Fifth Season.” Globe and Mail [Toronto] 5 Nov. 1982: E6. Print.
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