(On Education in Film Production and Film Theory - Vancouver 1970's to 2000)
by Al Razutis
Updated December 25, 2003

I'd rather learn from one bird how to sing
than teach ten thousand stars how not to dance

--e. e. cummings

American expatriate poet
dissed by the 30's leftists (as being 'too sentimental')
and author of:
'kumrads die because they're told'
and other poems

spiders in the web
Disclaimer to all the spiders on the web:

These commentaries are placed on the web to corroborate historical events, persons and circumstances as described elsewhere on this web site and in other chronologies. Any resemblance to events or persons, living or dead, is certainly a matter of intent, however perfect or imperfect the recollection of these events or persons may be. Let history be the judge of truth and consequences.

And no, I'm not getting paid to write this for future tenure and promotion.

Background - Chronology

Film Education, something I was involved in since 1972, is at best an agreement between student (who pays the fees in the form of tuition, lab fees, parking fees) and faculty (who financially are rewarded in exchange for their imparting of useful information and experience as described in the course outines or program mission statements.)

Pretty simple, right? Simple, if you have students and faculty of equally honest intentions. Complicated, if students are dishonest, or are mislead, hi-jacked into required 'theory' course taking; complicated. if faculty are dishonest, sexually predatory towards their students, lazy, or seeking to promote a self-serving agenda.

Film education underwent significant shifts from the non-credit college 'workshops' (of the 60's and 70's) to the 'academic programs' contained within departments of art or communications.

The beginning to my 'professional' carreer was in 1972 at Evergreen State College (Olympia, Washington) when I joined the faculty as a 'Visiting Faculty' appointment in the multi-disciplinary department of arts which included film, photography, and other fields of focus. Previous film faculty had made a 'feature film' using students as labor, and crediting themselves (the faculty) as the directors, producers, authors. This type of 'education' I was determined to change and did, by engaging with a number of students (under 'contract' - no grades) on a variety of film and video projects that would continue (after my departure) on the basis of repeating visits back to Olympia, Washington (and Portland, Oregon).

Throughout the mid 70's I taught film and holography at various school institutions (Vanvouver School of Art, Banff Center for the Arts) and conducted my own film-video-holography work in my studio, Visual Alchemy, Vancouver.

In 1978, I was appointed Visiting Associate Professor in Film Production at Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada. The status of the Film Minor program (which was contained within the Center for the Arts interdisciplinary Major programs) was bordering on chaos. The teaching facilities were run down (a basement in the Theater building served as our primary teaching classroom, video studio, projection area), we were understaffed (two full-time appointments, one lab instructor, some sessional instructors, and a joint-appointment with Geography, Dr. Michael Eliot-Hurst, was what we had in 1978). The previous faculty, with film production backgrounds at the National Film Board of Canada, had done little to legitimize the learning experience and curriculum. With the support of the Director of the Center for the Arts, Dr. Evan Alderson, I proceeded to reorganize the curriculum, expand our course offerings, improve our budget and class rooms, and expanded our instructor numbers.

Nexus of Community Interactions

As a filmmaker and full-time Associate Professor I was committed to making sure that the filmmakers, the university, and the students who would make up the future film communities had a strong connection and that this nexus of interacting groups could benefit from university funding and support. And I supported the anarchist principles of freedom of thought.

Emma Goldman - Anarchist and Humanist

"The charge that Anarchism is destructive, rather than constructive, and that, therefore, Anarchism is opposed to organization, is one of the many falsehoods spread by our opponents. They confound our present social institutions with organization; hence they fail to understand how we can oppose the former, and yet favor the latter. The fact, however, is that the two are not identical.

The State is commonly regarded as the highest form of organization. But is it in reality a true organization? Is it not rather an arbitrary institution, cunningly imposed upon the masses?

Industry, too, is called an organization; yet nothing is farther from the truth. Industry is the ceaseless piracy of the rich against the poor.

We are asked to believe that the Army is an organization, but a close investigation will show that it is nothing else than a cruel instrument of blind force.

The Public School! The colleges and other institutions of learning, are they not models of organization, offering the people fine opportunities for instruction? Far from it. The school, more than any other institution, is a veritable barrack, where the human mind is drilled and manipulated into submission to various social and moral spooks, and thus fitted to continue our system of exploitation and oppression.

Organization, as we understand it, however, is a different thing. It is based, primarily, on freedom. It is a natural and voluntary grouping of energies to secure results beneficial to humanity.

It is the harmony of organic growth which produces variety of color and form, the complete whole we admire in the flower. Analogously will the organized activity of free human beings, imbued with the spirit of solidarity, result in the perfection of social harmony, which we call Anarchism. In fact, Anarchism alone makes non-authoritarian organization of common interests possible, since it abolishes the existing antagonism between individuals and classes.

Under present conditions the antagonism of economic and social interests results in relentless war among the social units, and creates an insurmountable obstacle in the way of a co-operative common wealth.

There is a mistaken notion that organization does not foster individual freedom; that, on the contrary, it means the decay of individuality. In reality, however, the true function of organization is to aid the development and growth of personality.

Just as the animal cells, by mutual co-operation, express their latent powers in formation of the complete organism, so does the individual, by co-operative effort with other individuals, attain his highest form of development.

An organization, in the true sense, cannot result from the combination of mere nonentities. It must be composed of self-conscious, intelligent individualities. Indeed, the total of the possibilities and activities of an organization is represented in the expression of individual energies.

It therefore logically follows that the greater the number of strong, self-conscious personalities in an organization, the less danger of stagnation, and the more intense its life element.

Anarchism asserts the possibility of an organization without discipline, fear, or punishment, and without the pressure of poverty: a new social organism which will make an end to the terrible struggle for the means of existence,--the savage struggle which undermines the finest qualities in man, and ever widens the social abyss. In short, Anarchism strives towards a social organization which will establish well-being for all."

(Extracted - from full Text)

Emma Goldman, anarchist
Addressing the Second Anarchist Congress, 1907

Social organization by anarchist principles (freedom, personal responsibility, obligation) has been misinterpreted as Goldman commented (and predicted). The film organization based on integration of opposing views may have sounded 'Marxist' to some, and certainly it was consistent with my interpretation of 'Anarchism' (Bakunin, Kropotkin, Berkman, Goldman, etc.), and it was certainly 'socialist' (without the central committee), perhaps even 'situationist' (but allowing for personal intellectual-property ownerwhip), but this collaboration felt intuitively right, and it worked for a while.

Vancouver's old-guard institutions (CBC, NBF, CFMDC) had become ineffective, propped up only by generous government subsidies, whose workers (especially in the NFB) spent their most productive times at Friday coctail hour shmoozing sessions. The city needed something more. The city needed a nexus of production, distribution, and exhibition centers (corresponding somewhat to the marxian ideals for the 'means of production and consumption', a nexus free from homo-sexist media politics (The Western Front, Video In) and free of corporate or political sponsorship. This nexus would become 'whatever it chose to become'.

So, as a filmmaker and Associate Professor, I participated in initiating and implementing the

  • co-creation of Canadian Filmmakers Distribution West (CFDW), (now 'Moving Images') a locally administered independent film distribution co-op which broke away from its parent Toronto organization (and removed their west-coast administrator);

  • co-creation of Cineworks, a independent film production coop, initially stocked with my donated editing equipment, and later the recipient of ongoing Canada Council funding;
    - Other principals in forming the co-op included Gordon Kidd, Peg Campbell, Madeline Duff - see Peg Campbell's Cineworks Beginnings for annectdotal essay on the history of this organization.
    - See also Al Razutis' Manifesto: Cinema Art (1980) for historical backgrounds to some politicial disputes referred to in the Campbell history.

  • co-creation of the Association of Canadian Film Artists (ACFA), a national union of experimental - indepenent filmmakers, whose mandate was to set minimum honorarium fees for exhibiting filmmakers, represent filmmakers in negotiations with galleries, and disseminate (publish) a newsletter;
    - Other founding participants included Anna Gronau, Peter Chapman, and others. (See sample document - minutes of 1980 Toronto meeting)

  • overthrow of oppressive censorship. Along with three other cultural activists (McLachlan, Ditta, Bierk), I co-fought a anti-censorship battle against the Ontario Board of Censors, and we ultimately prevailed. The 'Peterborough Four' trial and the uncompromising position of the defendants was the spark for the re-vampling of the Ontario censor laws, as other claimants came on the bandwagon after the fact;

  • community film presentations. As a head of the SFU Film Program, I implemented downtown screenings by students at year-end, guest filmmakers, and these screenings were often held in conjunction with the Pacific Cinematheque Pacifique and the Vancouver Art Gallery;

  • community education. I participated in the design and creation of downtown university extension courses which were presented by our faculty, myself included;

  • extended film libraries. I created a 16 mm Film Studies Library and Student Film Library at SFU to house film studies and historical resource materials crucial to an emerging film studies program. This Film Studies library was initially stocked with historical and experimental works from my personal collection, then grew rapidly with an aquisitions fund.

  • visits of guest filmmakers. I obtained a budget and arranged guest residencies for filmmakers Yvonne Rainer, James Benning, Peter Rose, and other film professionals

  • holographic exhibits and resources. I co-created (with Bernd Simson) the Northwest Holographic Society and presented exhibitions and workshop facilities for SFU students;

  • holography magazine. I co-created and co-edited Wavefront, the Journal of Holography (with colleague Bernd Simson), which featured interviews, reviews, critical and historical, technical articles on the art, technology, and business of holography world-wide;

  • avant-garde film and political cinema magazine. and I co-created, co-edited and published Opsis, the Journal of Avant-Garde and Political Cinema (with colleagues Michael Eliot-Hurst and Tony Reif, a magazine dedicated to enhancing the dialogue on avant-garde, experimental, independent, gay, political, and oppositional cinemas with a focus on Canadian cinema.

It was a busy time between 1980 and 1984, where 'teaching' and community activism were interconnected and open to forming alliances with diverse interests and ideologies. I always felt that the role of film teachers was to 'give back to the community' (from which we came) and not isolate ourselves in priveledged positions.

Some of these successes would become undone (by the mid 80's) by academics bent on staking out territories, and disputes of ideological nature. Territories were being 'staked out' in academic deparments in response to provincial government funding cuts.

In response to the Canada Council's (Francoyse Picard - Film Officer) program to set up a subsidized national network of 'independent film co-ops' I wrote and distributed a Manifesto: Cinema Arts (1980) denouncing the shift in Canada Council mandate toward supporting experimental film.

In retrospect, some of the issues that contributed to the loss of network and support:

  • My sabbatical leave in 1985 during a time of departmental turmoil and Machiavellian academic politics;

  • A transformation of Vancouver cultural institutions (Art Gallery, Art School (ECIAD) to more centralized and more conservative forces in 1985-6 (in preparation for Vancouver's World Expo '86);

  • The election of a right-wing Social Credit Government which hijacked the budgets and curriculums of universities and colleges in 1984-7;

  • Forces of rear-guard reaction in academia (Minister of Education) and municipal arts curating (Luke Rombout, VAG) coming to the fore.

These academic and cultural moves to the conservative 'Right' would serve to set the stage for the demise of progressive media networkings; they would be the 'kiss of death' for socialist, liberal, marxist, anarchist, feminist, individualist group efforts to influence the public Vancouver commuinity. (Details of these events and personalities are covered in the following pages.)

Our 1978-82 students were taught cinematography, editing, directing, writing, producing and innovation in film, including 3D (Razutis) and experimental film (Razutis, Rimmer); they were taught history and aesthetics theory, first only from a marxian perspective (Michael Eliot-Hurst), then joined with a experimental - film art perspective (Tony Reif), and a structural - semiotics film analysis course (Al Razutis).

Our visiting production faculty changed year to year and the students were given a wide range of perspectives on production and interpretation (beginnings of film study). No singular aesthetic, political, cultural, ideological view was permitted to dominate. Our general Center for the Arts faculty was energetic and opinionated (under the enlightened dialectical approaches of Evan Alderson, Director).

The student films won awards, and their studies and work led to a number of post-grad areas such as independent filmmaking, Cineworks co-op expansion, teaching, cultural activism, and commercial careers in cinematography, editing, directing, producing, and even 3D Imax cinematography. Most are still active, successfully working on their chosen careers, and these students were the testimonial to the success of this committed diversity on the part of their mentors (teachers, filmmakers).

Michael Eliot-Hurst, an awoved gay Marxist and film historian, taught the 'History and Aesthetics of Cinema' courses which were a required component in our Film Minor curriculum. My early frictions with his overtly gay, leftist political views changed into a carreer-long friendship and mutual respect, which included the co-creation of the short-lived Opsis, the Journal of Avant-Garde and Political Cinema (1984 / 5), and this friendship continued until my resignation and departure from Simon Fraser University (SFU) in 1987.

Reference docs: Beyond Intermedia - Early Vancouver Organizations

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