Canyon Cinemazine #8: Cine-Espacios
Purchase a print copy
Years in the making, the latest bilingual (!) issue of the Canyon Cinemazine compiles cinematic artifacts and ephemera, newly-translated reprints of previously-buried historical texts, and has commissioned a dozen new first-person testimonials about Mexican microcinemas, independent experimental film spaces, cinephilia, and cinema-going. The 200+ page volume concludes with a landmark mediagraphy inventory and accounting of films made by current and former Canyon filmmakers which were shot and/or completed in Mexico!
Expanded editions include stickers, a dossier on Gelsen Gas’s 1968 experimental feature film ANTICLÍMAX, and an audio cassette reissue of the ANTICLÍMAX soundtrack.
Editado por Walter Forsberg y Tzutzu Matzin en la Ciudad de México, 2021-2023. Edited by Walter Forsberg and Tzutzu Matzin in Mexico City, 2021-2023.
With contributions from: José de la Colina, Ximena Cuevas, Annalisa D. Quagliata Blanco, Walter Forsberg, Viviana García Besné, Rita González, Emmanuel Guerrero Ramírez, Brett Kashmere, Betty Kirk, Jesse Lerner, Jorge Laso de la Vega, Azucena Losana, Tzutzu Matzin, Seth Mitter, Salvador Novo, Elena Pardo, Tomás Pérez Turrent, Gregorio Rocha, Emiliano Rocha Minter, Isabel Rojas, Francisco Jose Serrano, Aisel Wicab, Federico Windhausen.
Layout and co-design by Denia Nieto García and Amanda García Martín. Illustrations of covers and replicas of articles by Tzutzu Matzin. Translations by Francisco Carillo Martín, Byron Davies, Walter Forsberg, Tzutzu Matzin, and Paulina Suárez.
Los editores y Canyon Cinema Foundation agradecen el apoyo financiero de Owsley Brown III Philanthropic Foundation y The Friends of Canyon Cinema para la publicación de Canyon Cinemazine. The editors and Canyon Cinema Foundation gratefully recognize financial support from the Owsley Brown III Philanthropic Foundation and The Friends of Canyon Cinema for the publication of Canyon Cinemazine.
Format: Print ISSN 2837-214X
Format: Online ISSN 2837-2158
Edition of 1000
Full color, perfect bound
8.5 x 11 inches
By Greg Youmans
About a quarter of the way into Malic Amalya’s ten-minute film RUN!: A Mythography, which premiered in 2020 and is newly available for distribution through Canyon Cinema, a figure in leather bondage gear is seen from behind as it crawls up a dune of white sand. When we later see the figure from the front, we discover it is wearing a WWII-era gas mask, with big glass-circle eyes and a long proboscis-like tube that dangles free, connected to nothing. The figure’s association with a fly is reinforced by other footage in the film, in particular the faded imagery and warped soundtrack of a midcentury 16mm educational film about the insect.
Still other footage, shot in the present, suggests that the figure is at White Sands National Monument in New Mexico, somewhere near the Trinity Site where the first nuclear bomb was exploded on July 16, 1945. Watching the figure, who is played by Amalya, move through the desert conjures associations with the Mad Max franchise and other films set in post-apocalyptic wastelands. Is this a survivor of nuclear war, a hanger-on after radioactive fallout? Or is it an embodied memory of the devastation at Hiroshima and Nagasaki? The bomb sites are little mentioned in the memorials at the Trinity Site and Los Alamos, where the atomic bomb is commemorated mainly as a feat of military-engineering ingenuity that made possible “a quick end to the war.” But at the start of Amalya’s film we see projected footage of the aftermath of the one of the bombings over captions that read, “The only things that moved in Hiroshima were the flies circling the dead.” Perhaps the central figure of RUN! then is one of those flies, buzzed back across the Pacific to remind Americans of what we did. Military equipment seems to track the figure as it moves across the sand, indicating that it is in danger of being found out and exterminated.
As an experimental filmmaker, Amalya has long favored analog technologies. Although he has made work in digital formats, RUN! is one of a number of films that he has shot and screened in 16mm celluloid. Among other things, he appreciates that the technology slows him down and compels him to approach every shot and step of the process with greater attention and intention. In the case of RUN! there’s an additional reason for the choice. Amalya began working on the project in the summer of 2017, in year one of the Trump Presidency when the threat of nuclear war resurged with a vengeance. In this light it’s not surprising that his engagement with U.S. militarism would turn not to the digital, video-game logics of drone warfare, but to the medium and gauge associated with an earlier era of analog Geiger counters, sonorous male voiceovers, and mushroom clouds viewed from 10,000 yards away through dark field glasses.
RUN! is an essay film with a collage aesthetic, and its subtitle references Roland Barthes’s analysis of mass-cultural objects and hegemonic values in Mythologies. Part of what makes Amalya’s film so powerful is the way it freights the figure of the fly with so many associations (or exposes the way it’s already so freighted) and then asks us to think critically about how those associations intersect. When I spoke with the filmmaker, he told me that he was struck by how explicit the ideologies of war and genocide are in the 16mm educational film about the insect. As the male narrator intones, “Scientists have found that when we know the life history of a pest we are better able to control it and prevent it from spreading disease. Scientists use natural enemies and poison sprays to destroy these pests.” RUN! invites us to consider what and who else are targeted by the ongoing state-sponsored ideology of “natural enemies” and the continued military-scientific production of “poison sprays.” The figure crossing the desert could easily be an undocumented immigrant trying to get into the United States, or else a climate refugee fleeing, or trying to flee, ecological disaster. While Amalya was making the film, and well before the COVID-19 pandemic, he already had to put on an N95 mask at times just to leave his apartment in Oakland because of the new reality of unending wildfires in California. (After spending more than a decade in the Bay Area, he moved to Boston in the fall of 2020 to take a tenure-track job teaching experimental media at Emerson College.)
The fly takes on other associations as well. Early in RUN!, we encounter a brightly colored set in which two people, one in a powerchair and dressed all in red and the other in a close-fitting black leather outfit that is similar to the one worn by the figure in the desert, stand in front of a large American flag as we hear a scratchy recording of Kate Smith singing “God Bless America.” The two performers are strangely affectless as they carry out a series of actions that are both mundane and odd. The person in the powerchairholds at various moments a heart-shaped box of chocolates, an enema bag, a red scrapbook, and a blue plastic football. The other person sprays roses that are attached to the powerchair with a white aerosol can and at another moment removes the first person’s rose-tinted glasses.
This material is a restaging of Jack Smith’s 1969 film and performance Song for Rent, a newly restored print of which is also distributed through Canyon. In Song for Rent, Smith appears in drag as Rose Courtyard, a wheelchair-using matron based on Rose Kennedy, and performs parallel actions with similar props in front of the same flag and with the same recording playing in the background. In Amalya’s reworked version, disabled performance artist and comedian Jade Theriault takes on the role of Rose Courtyard, and they are assisted in their Smithian actions by activist Rae Raucci in the role of Barbarella Bush. Amalya’s recreation became a standalone film, Song for Rent, After Jack Smith, with a festival run in 2019, but he made it from the start with the intention of incorporating it into RUN! He was drawn to the ambiguity of Smith’s camp take on American patriotism, with its tension between critique and indulgence, and he felt it would provide a useful counterpoint to the otherwise serious imagery in RUN!
In more than one way, RUN! links Theriault’s character to the fly. A fly brooch is seen on their lapel in an early shot that pans down their body. It is a “fly in the ointment,” a small defect that disrupts and disturbs the overblown and oversaturated image of patriotism that surrounds it. The intercut educational-film footage of fly eggs and larvae—pale and limbless—also charges the proximate shots of Theriault gazing out at us through the camera. In these ways, the film exposes how disability is caught in the web of cultural myths about “pests,” “parasites,” and “enemies.”
Interestingly, the one association of the fly that viewers may not realize unless they are familiar with Amalya’s earlier films, or unless a festival blurb or this essay tips them off, is its association for him with being transgender. Insects, and especially flies, crop up in a number of his earlier works, perhaps most notably FlyHole, a digital video from 2017 that he developed from a dual 35mm slide projection. Together, Flyhole, Song for Rent, and RUN! comprise an informal fly trilogy of sorts within Amalya’s work.
FlyHole reworks an erotic story that Amalya found in a 1985 issue of the gay adult magazine Manscape in which a woman disguises herself as a man in order to cruise for sex at a gay bar. Despite the cissexist language and framing of the story, Amalya identified and responded to its depiction of the fear, excitement, and desire of a trans man engaging with cisnormative gay male sex culture. FlyHole integrates excerpts from the magazine’s printed text into a rich collage, in which images and sounds of flies threaten to overtake the story at the moments when the main character is most at risk of exposure. Nouns and pronouns for female gender never appear, and in the one quoted line from the story where they would, “If only he knew I was a ____”, a fly interrupts the text, obscuring the final word.
Amalya told me that he is attracted to the figure of the fly because he connects it to a personal memory that goes back to his early awareness of being trans. In early middle school he began shaving his legs to try to fit in, but he stopped in eighth grade. When his mother noticed that he had stopped shaving, she compulsively reached out and ran her hand across his leg, shivered, and recoiled. Having seen his mother happily scratching her boyfriend’s hairy back, Amalya understood that she was repulsed not by body hair but by his gender transgression: his transness had evoked a visceral disgust in her that seemed to run deeper than language and logic. As an adult, he keeps returning to the notion of trans abjection in his films not so much in order to reject or exorcise that abjection, but rather to reclaim it and build solidarity through it with other people who have been cast out and denied their humanity.
Another of the motivations in making RUN! was Trump’s ban on transgender people serving in the military. Amalya’s engagement came not from a liberal desire to end the ban, but from a queer radical position that was critical of military participation as a movement goal—in other words, from the conviction that there are some things trans people have been excluded from that they should not want to be a part of. But even as RUN! uses the multivalent figure of the fly to build solidarity among a host of marginalized people who have been harmed by U.S. patriotism, xenophobia, and war, the film refuses to lean on or perpetuate any tidy, self-satisfied distinction between center and margin or perpetrator and victim. When in 2021 Biden repealed Trump’s ban through an executive order, any sense of a clear divide between trans people and state power broke down. But Amalya had already cast doubt on that divide at the end of his film two years earlier.
In one of the final shots, a radioactive piece of trinitite, residue from the atomic blast, is placed gently and almost ritualistically into Amalya’s sand-filled mouth. Following Mary Douglas’s classic theory of abjection, this act and image break down the symbolic boundary between ingestion and expulsion, between what is deemed clean and permitted entry into the physical/social body and what is deemed unclean and expelled. RUN! is not simply a critique of warmongering patriots by a pacifist leftist. It is a complex film by a white, American, queer, trans, and antiracist filmmaker who grapples at once with both his complicity and vulnerability.
Greg Youmans is a writer and scholar based in Washington state, where he is an associate professor of English and film studies at Western Washington University. He is the recipient of an Arts Writers Grant from the Andy Warhol Foundation, and his essays on queer and trans experimental film have appeared in e-flux, The Los Angeles Review of Books, The Oxford Handbook of Queer Cinema, and numerous other publications.
By Lynne Sachs
My engagement with Canyon Cinema started when I was a young filmmaker living in San Francisco in the mid 1980s. Three decades older and thousands of miles away, I am not a bit surprised that this intertwined relationship between a filmmaker and her beloved distributor continues to this day. Between 2020 and 2022, I had the honor to participate as an advisor in the Canyon Cinema Discovered Curatorial Fellowship. Here I offer a few thoughts that came to my mind as I was reading the recently published Canyon Cinema Discovered catalog (Canyon Cinemazine #9, 2022) containing the four extraordinary curatorial essays that came out of this highly generative and ambitious endeavor. What a treat it was to read all four of these essays in a book that was so brilliantly and beautifully designed by Helen Shewolfe Tseng. So too must I express my enthusiasm for the editing guidance provided by S. Topiary Landberg and Brett Kashmere.
Image: Robert Fenz, Duet for Trumpet and Camera
In his essay “Trajectories of Self-Determination: Experimental Cinema’s Embrace of Jazz,” Juan Carlos Kase begins his text on experimental cinema with a reference to a short list of narrative films. Noting the scarcity of “meaningful collaborations” between feature film directors and jazz musicians or composers, he pays homage to a few exceptions by alluding to two of my personal favorites Elevator to the Gallows (1958) by Louis Malle and Shadows (1959) by John Cassavetes. Kase then asserts his belief that it is avant-garde filmmakers who have “embraced jazz and drawn formal and political inspiration from the ways in which it models alternative, spontaneous conceptions of art.” It is Kase’s distinction between the formal and political approaches to both the moving image and to music itself that makes his argument such a helpful framework by which we as readers can recognize and celebrate the intricate dynamic between these two expressive modalities. In reading his lucid, persuasive essay, I was struck by the way that he was able to build a concise critique of art history’s Eurocentric genealogy of Modernism through his acknowledgment of the widespread but underappreciated influences of Black jazz and improvisation.
I was particularly moved by Kase’s close, passionate analysis of Christopher Harris’s 28.IV.81 (Bedouin Spark) (2009). Just as he does throughout this beautifully precise collection of visual and aural observations, Kase draws our attention to the way that Harris embraces “the musical vocabulary of jazz itself [with his] handheld glissandi and staccato in-camera edits,” ultimately “transfiguring the spirit of music into the material registers of graphic art” through a non-audible “music for the eyes.” Here, Kase elucidates his own theory of a “gestural cinema,” one in which the spirit of jazz is integrated into the very fiber of the image. Towards the end of Kase’s curatorial exploration, he talks about one of Canyon Cinema’s founders Bruce Baillie’s mid 1960s short films, All My Life (1966), a three-minute pan of a white picket fence on a hill in the glorious sunlight of Northern California. As we watch this image, we hear Ella Fitzgerald singing the eponymous song of the film’s title. It’s simple, yes, but it works, making this film a classic of the American avant-garde. Perhaps it is the fact that we don’t really know why it makes our eyes and ears feel truly ecstatic that Kase contends that this movie epitomizes renowned NYC jazz D.J. Phil Schaap’s notion of the “magical rhythm float,” the perfect Apollonian ideal, what Roland Barthes so succinctly coined “the text of bliss.”
Image: Ja’Tovia Gary, Giverny I (Négresse Impériale)
I was immediately drawn into Chrystel Oloukoï’s curatorial essay “Playing in the Dark: Watery Experiments” in her evocative opening where she reminds us of her gratitude to Toni Morrison and Édouard Glissant for their highly influential thinking on literature, Blackness, and opacity. Oloukoï then introduces us to her exploration of water as a visual motif that touches on the films that comprise her Canyon program. Sadly, the only films I had seen in her collection were David Gatten’s What the Water Said Nos. 1-3 (1998) and Nos. 4-6 (2006-2007) and Ja’Tovia Gary’s Giverny I (Négresse Impériale) (2017). I was so taken with Oloukoï’s notion of the non-human agency that is part of Gatten’s engagement with what she calls an ecocinema, celebrating the on-screen gestural presence or writing, you might say, of ocean crabs in the context of a film exploring the epistolary dynamics found in the exchange of letters. Her explanation of the way that Gary uses a manual brushing of the filmic surface as a way to disrupt and fragment the serenity of Impressionist painter Claude Monet’s Giverny garden gave me the tools to better examine the filmmaker’s conceptual journey, as well as the problematic legacy that is part and parcel of the European art historical canon. Inserted just after this essay were a series of distinctly formed and labeled maps which Oloukoï asserts “testify to the extent to which no body of water has been left untouched by interconnected histories of slavery, colonialism, and immigration.” Together, these maps, Oloukoï’s collection of films, and the accompanying essay force us as readers and spectators to complicate the dynamic between sublime and haunting images that are so much a part of an experimental cinema practice.
In my reading of Oloukoï’s concept of “residence time” as it explains the lasting presence of a substance in the water, I was reminded of poet Marlene NourbeSe Philip’s long-format poem “Zong!” which analyzes and abstracts a harrowing 18th century story of a nautical murder of enslaved people on a ship where the captain and his crew threw 40 human beings into the Atlantic Ocean in order to collect insurance money. So writes Oloukoï, “If the waters do speak, they do so in excess of narrative threads, in an alchemy full of beauty but also full of terror.”
Image: Rhea Storr, A Protest, A Celebration, A Mixed Message
Ekin Pinar begins her essay for “Insurgent Articulations” with a reference to cultural thinker Hal Foster, asking us as viewers of politically-engaged films to make a distinction between work that “describes” social upheaval and protest and work that constructs its own critical and interpretive visual modality. With a nod to the tools of semiotics, Pinar ponders the meaning and influence of “non-indexical” imagery as it stretches, disrupts, and breaks the more obvious connections between actions and meanings. In this way, she begins simply by challenging the binary between radical form and radical content which she believes has contributed to the broad thinking that experimental film cannot claim to change the world, or at the least change the thinking of its audience. Moving from Foster’s questioning to the more contemporary analyses of artist Hito Steyerl, Pinar articulates her own two-layered paradigm for conceptualizing an “aesthetics of protest.” Through this structural formation, Pinar asks us to contemplate how we watch a political action, either from within. as a demonstrator ourselves. or from without, as bystanders and later as members of a film audience. Later in her essay, Pinar introduces the writing of Judith Butler as a way to think about political acts – as non-confrontational members of demonstrations or as intentional disruptors through acts of civil disobedience. In both situations, participants become self-aware performers whose gestures and words can be deconstructed.
I was familiar with the work of Dominic Angerame, Rhea Storr, Toney Merritt, Joyce Wieland, Sharon Hayes, and Kate Millett but had only seen three of the films in this collection: New Left Note (1968-1982) by Saul Levine, Sisters! (1973) by Barbara Hammer, and my own film Investigation of a Flame (2001). By interweaving theory with astute visual analysis, Pinar gives us the tools to take our appreciation for everything filmic – including animation, archival material, and collage-style editing – and apply these visual tropes to our understanding of a filmmaker’s political intentions. Through it all, Pinar attempts to prove the commitment of the avant-garde filmmaker to providing a social or political critique while continuing to invent new forms of visual and aural expression.
Image: Emily Chao, No Land
Aaditya Aggarwal’s “Prime Time Reverie” taunts us to think about and reject TV’s historical “hyper-visibilty” of women’s bodies. I have seen the films in the program by Cauleen Smith, Barbara Hammer, Naomi Uman and, of course, myself. I am also quite familiar with the work of artists Nam June Paik and Jud Yalkut, Emily Chao, Sandra Davis, and Paige Taul.
In academic settings, television is most often discussed using a sociological or media studies framework for analysis, so it was refreshing to discover Aggarwal’s blending of the popular culture and avant-garde without judgment of either. I was completely captivated by Aggarwal’s own fascination with the appliance itself, an object of transmission found in the home, historically viewed, at least during the day, almost exclusively by women who are “nudged and mirrored in intimate and discerning ways.” Honestly, I learned an enormous amount about my very early film Still Life with Woman and Four Objects (1986) as well as Cauleen Smith’s Chronicles of a Lying Spirit (by Kelly Gabron) (1992) through Aggarwal’s suggestion that they both can be read as “artistic variations on and intentional detours from the soap format.” I doubt that Aggarwal knows that Cauleen and I were student peers in the Cinema Department at San Francisco State University in the late 1980s, producing these two short riffs on “slice-of-life profiles” that have so often been exploited and deformed by broadcast TV.
Aggarwal’s essay and the accompanying program wrap themselves up with a thoughtful study of Emily Chao’s film No Land (2019), allowing us to think more deeply about the essay’s earlier reference to Genevieve Yue’s text “The China Girl on the Margins of Film.” Here, both an experimental film and a critical article force us to ponder the box, the frame, and the cell itself as deleterious formations that construct, constrain, and imprison at the same time that they work so hard to accomplish only one simple task – entertain.
An exquisitely conceived program of short films pushes viewers toward new ways of thinking not only about the films themselves, but also about how those cinematic experiences can illuminate the world beyond the walls of the theater or the frame of the screen. Just as the great montage filmmakers developed and practiced their dialectical theories on the relationship between shots, so too does a film curator spark a unique awareness for each and every member of an audience. What an honor it was for me to be so deeply involved in the Canyon Cinema Discovered project, as an advisor, an artist, and now as a reader of this marvelous catalog of film programs and essays.
Audio recording of Bruce Baillie narrating stories about his experience in the U.S. Navy in the Korean War.
Digitization courtesy of California Revealed.
Video recording made by Bruce Baillie to accompany public presentations and classroom screenings of his work.
Digitization courtesy of California Revealed.
Dominic Angerame is an American experimental filmmaker whose prolific output displays a particular interest in urban architectures and landscapes. Angerame has taught filmmaking at several North American universities and he was the executive director of Canyon Cinema between 1980 and 2012.
Ephraim Asili is a filmmaker, DJ, and traveler whose work focuses on the African diaspora as a cultural force. Asili currently resides in Hudson, NY, and is a Professor in the Film and Electronic Arts Department at Bard College.
Bruce Baillie (1931-2020) was an American experimental filmmaker based in the San Francisco Bay Area. He was the co-founder of Canyon Cinema and San Francisco Cinematheque and a guiding member of the New American Cinema.
Dara Birnbaum is an American video and installation artist. Birnbaum entered the nascent field of video art in the mid-to-late 1970s challenging the gendered biases of the period and television’s ever-growing presence within the American household.
Donna Cameron is an internationally-exhibited and collected multimedia artist whose films and videos are in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Cameron’s photography and films use a unique cinematic paper emulsion process (CPE) for which she was issued a US Patent in 2001.
Emily Chao is a filmmaker and independent curator based in San Francisco. Her ongoing series of diverse, short-form nonfiction films focus on identity, diaspora, history, and the interaction between space and memory. She is a co-programmer of Light Field and a founding member of Black Hole Collective Film Lab in Oakland.
Miryam Charles is a Canadian-Haitian filmmaker and cinematographer and a graduate of Concordia University’s Film MFA. Her brief experimental fictions and essay films, primarily shot in Super 8 and 16mm, explore diasporic longing, the uncanny, and the psychic and embodied weight of histories of dispossession.
Julie Dash is an American film director, writer, and producer. Dash received her MFA from the UCLA Film School in 1985 and is one of the graduates and filmmakers known as the L.A. Rebellion. Her film Daughters of the Dust (1991) was the first full-length film directed by an African American woman to obtain general theatrical release in the US. Dash has also written two books and directed movies for television.
Sandra Davis is a San Francisco-based experimental filmmaker and curator whose work has been exhibited at film showcases and festivals worldwide, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York and the Pompidou Center, Paris. She has taught at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, the University of South Florida, and the San Francisco Art Institute, and lectured widely in the US and Europe on experimental cinema.
Robert Fenz (1969-2020) made black-and-white films that reflected both the jazz-inspired imagery of New York School photographers such as Roy DeCarava and Aaron Siskin and the landscape films of Fenz’s former teacher, Peter Hutton. An inveterate traveler, Fenz made films in Cuba, Mexico, Brazil, India, and France. He also worked as a cinematographer on several films including Chantal Akerman’s From the Other Side (2003) and Là-bas (2006).
Ja’Tovia Gary is an African American multidisciplinary artist working across documentary, avant-garde video art, sculpture, and installation. Her work, collaging voices, chants, analog animation, digital and archival film embraces the reparative ethics of quilting as a longstanding tradition of Black women’s fugitive arts.
David Gatten is an American experimental filmmaker exploring the intersections of the printed word and the moving image. His extensive filmography, primarily in 16mm but also more recently digital format, is a tapestry of conceptual, lyrical, and material engagements with 18th and 19th century textual archives of the Western world.
Barbara Hammer (1939-2019) was a feminist filmmaker and pioneer of queer cinema, who made over 90 moving image works as well as performances, installations, photographs, collages, and drawings.
Christopher Harris has won numerous awards for his 16mm experimental films and moving image installations, which have screened at the Locarno Film Festival, the International Film Festival Rotterdam, the Whitney Museum of American Art, Arsenal Berlin, and many other festivals and exhibition venues. He is a 2020-2021 Radcliffe-Film Study Center Fellow/David and Roberta Logie Fellow at Harvard University’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study and a 2015 Creative Capital grant awardee.
Sharon Hayes is an American artist whose output engages with different media ranging from performance and language-based art to video installation. Fusing fact and fiction, narrative and documentary modes in a reflexive manner, Hayes’s artworks focus on politics, queer and feminist histories, and questions of mediation.
Mike Henderson is a painter, professor, and blues musician who set out from Marshall, Missouri in 1965 to study at the San Francisco Art Institute. After graduating with a BFA in painting and a MFA in filmmaking in 1970, he joined the faculty at University of California-Davis as a professor of art, where he taught painting, drawing, and filmmaking until his retirement in 2012.
Saul Levine is an American experimental filmmaker. His output brings together personal and politically-engaged documentary modes in a reflexive manner. Levine was a professor at Massachusetts College of Art and Design and established its MassArt Film Society.
Toney W. Merritt is a California-based African American filmmaker playfully subverting experimental, narrative, and documentary strategies and techniques in an extensive body of work, including over 30 personal films and videos. He was part of a group of artists who founded San Francisco’s No Nothing Cinema, an independent venue for irreverent, underground cinema during the 1980s. He has taught at City College San Francisco and San Francisco State University.
Kate Millett (1934-2017) was an American feminist writer, educator, artist, and activist. In 1971, Millett formed Women’s Liberation Cinema and produced the feminist classic, Three Lives. Between 1963 and 2009, she had several international solo art exhibitions and installations in sculpture, drawing, serigraphs, and photography.
Everlane Moraes is a Brazilian filmmaker, visual artist, and activist in the Black movement. She graduated from the Cuban International Film and TV School (EICTV). Her hybrid conceptual and documentary short films shot and co-produced across Brazil, Cuba, Mozambique, and Portugal, explore the fractured condition of lives in diaspora.
Samba Félix N’diaye (1945-2009) was a pioneer Senegalese documentary filmmaker trained at the Louis Lumière Institute. His unique body of work in 16mm explores different facets of postcolonial Senegal, with an emphasis on practices of bricolage and recuperation. Before his death in 2009, he was working on a project of experimental film school in Dakar.
Korean-born artist Nam June Paik’s (1932-2006) video sculptures, installations, performances, and single-channel videos encompassed one of the most influential bodies of work in electronic media art. Merging global communications theories with an irreverent Fluxus sensibility, his work in music, performance, and video explored the juncture of art, technology, and popular culture.
Elena Pardo is an experimental filmmaker based in Mexico City. Her filmmaking practice partakes in expanded cinema, animation, and documentary modes. She is the co-founder of Laboratorio Experimental de Cine (LEC) dedicated to experimental and expanded cinema production.
Lynne Sachs is an American experimental filmmaker, performance and installation artist, and poet. Her approach blends documentary, essayistic, and diaristic strategies to explore the intricate relationship between personal observations and historical experience. Her work weaves together poetry, collage, painting, politics, and layered sound design, searching for a rigorous play between image and sound and pushing the visual and aural textures.
Hussein Shariffe (1934-2005) was a Sudanese filmmaker, abstract painter, poet, and university lecturer at the University of Khartoum. His films often crossed boundaries between genres, exploring questions of memory and exile—particularly in the aftermath of the 1989 military coup —through symbolism, insurgent tableaux, and nonlinear narrative techniques.
Emerging from the San Francisco-based social justice film distribution and production company California Newsreel, Single Spark Films was the film unit of the Revolutionary Communist Party (formerly the Revolutionary Union).
Cauleen Smith is an interdisciplinary artist whose work reflects upon the everyday possibilities of the imagination. Her films, objects, and installations have been featured in exhibitions at the Studio Museum of Harlem, Whitney Museum of American Art, Houston Contemporary Art Museum, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, SFMOMA, the New Museum, and Decad, Berlin.
Harry Smith (1923-1991) was a visual artist, experimental filmmaker, record collector, bohemian, mystic, largely self-taught student of anthropology, and Neo-Gnostic bishop. Besides his films, Smith is also widely known for his influential Anthology of American Folk Music, drawn from his extensive collection of rare 78-rpm recordings.
Rhea Storr is a Caribbean-British experimental filmmaker and video artist. Using essayistic modes, her work especially explores issues of masquerade, translation, Black and Mixed-Race representation, performance, and carnival culture.
Paige Taul is an Oakland, California native who received her BA in Studio Art from the University of Virginia and her MFA in Moving Image from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her work engages with and challenges assumptions of Black cultural expression and notions of belonging through experimental cinematography.
Naomi Uman is a filmmaker whose work is marked by a signature handmade aesthetic, often shooting, hand-processing, and editing her films with the most rudimentary of practices. Uman’s films have been exhibited widely at the Sundance, Rotterdam, and San Francisco International Film Festivals, New York Film Festival, Guggenheim Museum, Whitney Museum of American Art, The Smithsonian, and Mexico City’s Museo de Arte Moderno.
Doug Wendt has been working in the arts, radio, and music business since co-hosting “Bison Review” on KUDI in Montana in the mid 1960s. Wendt received a Master’s degree in Filmmaking from the San Francisco Art Institute in 1972.
Joyce Wieland (1930-1998) was a Canadian artist whose work ranged from mixed-media collages and assemblages to experimental filmmaking. Describing herself as a “cultural activist,” Wieland engaged with issues of gender, labor, ecology, and disaster in her artworks.
Jud Yalkut (1938-2013) was a pioneering intermedia artist and filmmaker. His remarkable body of moving image work, which spanned 50 years, ranged from early performance renderings and poetic filmic experiments to a series of groundbreaking hybrid video-film collaborations with Nam June Paik.
About the Maps
Cartography is an operation of power and at the core of the colonial remaking of the world. Mapping bodies of water, in particular, remains a fraught and contested exercise. For Playing in the Dark: Watery Experiments, Léopold Lambert creates maps that borrow from the unruliness of waves to destabilize ingrained ways of seeing.
Toney Merritt’s “ship feared lost in wild atlantic sea,” in By the Sea (1982) very much informs the spirit of these maps, via unfamiliar projections, indigenous place names when known and a deliberate irreverence for the usual orientation, coordinates and landmass-based place names that suffuse our understanding of space.
While a world map puts in a singular analytic frame the places evoked in the films—SUAKIN, DAKAR, GIVERNY, AYITI/PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAVANA, SEABROOK ISLAND, SAN FRANCISCO—a series of zooms depart from these interconnected currents to embed them in regional contexts. Taken together, these maps insist on the vastness of the Black aquatic, the multiple bodies of water that striate landmasses, and the hubris of any pretense of solid ground.
In the maps of Ayiti/Port-au-Prince/Havana, Dakar and Seabrook Island, water engulfs most of the frame, presencing the aquatic graveyards that bridge these sites. Some of the maps conjure bottomless seas, while others trace elusive submarine reliefs.
In all three, proliferating rivers and lakes sink deep into the landmass, characteristic of swampy coastal ecologies. They contrast with the more desertic terrains that surround the Red sea, an interface between the Arabian peninsula and the African continent, which connects through a series of highly politicized gulfs to the Indian ocean and the Mediterranean. As a major stop point on the road to Mecca, drawing movement from places as distant as the opposite Atlantic coast, Suakin, as many of the other places previously mentioned, epitomizes the pull and magnetic confluences of waters.
— Chrystel Oloukoï
Essays by Aaditya Aggarwal, Juan Carlos Kase, Chrystel Oloukoï, Ekin Pinar
Edited by Topiary Landberg and Brett Kashmere
Designed by Helen Shewolfe Tseng
Additional artwork by Léopold Lambert
116 pages, full color, perfect bound
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Canyon Cinema 50 Film Tour
Beginning in November 2017 and continuing through 2018, the Canyon Cinema 50 Tour included four film programs and two digital packages, which traveled across the United States and beyond; reaching audiences in more than 25 cities, at venues ranging from universities to restaurants, major museums to microcinemas.
These four 16mm programs, composed of 43 films drawn from Canyon’s circulating collection of more than 3400 titles, provided an opportunity for audiences to encounter some of the defining works of American avant-garde cinema as they were meant to be seen, while also recuperating forgotten voices and casting a contemporary eye on Canyon’s collection. Many of the films in the tour were recent restorations and new prints. Two digital programs built from new HD transfers are also available, allowing participation from a wide variety of venues and organizations.
As part of Canyon’s effort to renew its longtime commitment to sustaining a grassroots distribution network for alternative cinema, the touring programs were designed to be adaptable. In addition to the four set programs, area curators, teachers, and artists were encouraged to organize special programs oriented toward regional accounts of Canyon’s legacy. We were especially interested in supporting programs that featured local Canyon filmmakers in order to provide a platform for these artists to reflect on their work in relation to Canyon’s collection, history, and culture.
As a component of the Canyon Cinema 50 project, the touring program was meant not only to celebrate Canyon’s history but also to point the way towards the organization’s continued relevance as both a purveyor of and advocate for artist-made cinema, seeding the next generation of what founding filmmaker Bruce Baillie described as “a federation of willing devotees of the magic lantern muse.”
Canyon Cinemazine #7: Dear Folks: Notes and Letters from Bruce Baillie
This issue of Canyon Cinemazine is dedicated to Canyon’s founding filmmaker, Bruce Baillie, who died in April 2020 at his home on Camano Island; nearly 60 years after first welcoming friends and neighbors to a night of backyard cinema in Canyon, California.
Editors: Courtney Fellion, Max Goldberg, Brett Kashmere, and Seth Mitter
Design: Helen Tseng
This publication was generously supported by the Hobson/Lucas Family Foundation and The Friends of Canyon Cinema.
Printed by Newspaper Club
64 pages, tabloid newspaper
11.25 x 14.75 inches
Edition of 400
“In an era when it seems like most every piece of recorded media is available online, Canyon Cinema at 50 reminds us that there are still reels of film accessible only in the dark confines of a communal screening room.” (Matt Stromberg, Hyperallergic, July 10, 2018)
“Spread across four programs, this all-16mm showcase — curated from a larger touring retrospective — brings together a half-century of noncommercial moving image work by a variety of artists both recognizable and less heralded.” (Jordan Cronk, Hollywood Reporter, June 28, 2018)
“Rather than dwell nostalgically on the usual avant-garde tropes and traditions—or focus solely on the work of the distributor’s undisputedly illustrious founders—the programs here give a sense of Canyon’s capacious, ‘non-discriminatory’ character.” (Leo Goldsmith, 4columns, April 27, 2018)
“The San Francisco-based cooperative Canyon Cinema is one of the essential institutions of American experimental film. The names in this 50th-anniversary retrospective — which is divided into four programs of shorts — read like a roll call of filmmakers any moviegoer interested in the avant-garde should know.” (Ben Kenigsberg, New York Times, April 26, 2018)
“Canyon 50 is a retrospective that is sprawling and alive, forward-looking and forward-thinking. It seems like every couple of years, someone declares the avant-garde (or film in general) ‘dead.’ And yes, it’s not as easy to work in celluloid as it used to be, although it was never exactly easy. But Canyon 50 is a perfect example of old and new, tradition and innovation, mutually informing one another.” (Michael Sicinski, March 22, 2018)
“My favorite blast from the past, however, is Love It/Leave It (1973), Tom Palazzolo’s 15-minute satire of knee-jerk patriotism and a choice example of good old Chicago lefty troublemaking…” (J.R. Jones, Chicago Reader, January 26, 2018)
“Canyon Cinema will be presenting a unique evening of avant-garde cinema organized around Robert Nelson and William T. Wiley’s 42-minute The Great Blondino (1967), an anarchic ’60s experiment in freeform filmmaking…” (Jesse Ficks, 48hills, April 11, 2017)
“Canyon Cinema proves the avant-garde, underground and experimental can and will survive despite political climates that would rather see such artistic practices discredited, defunded and dissolved. Long may it survive as well.” (Sarah Hotchkiss, KQED, February 15, 2017)