Let's set the record straight.
We challenge the official History promoted by the International Experimental Film
Congress to be held in Toronto this Spring. The time is long overdue to unwrite the
Institutional Canon of Master Works of the Avant-Garde. It is time to shift focus
from the History of Film to the position of film within the construction of history.
The narratives which take up this new task must respect the complexity of relations
among the many competing and overlapping histories which make up the activity
within the field.
We are concerned by the tone which pervades the announcements for the Congress.
The recognition belatedly accorded to "the founding women of the avant-garde," the
ceremonious embalming of lively, refractory work, the minimal attention given new
work, the organization of screenings along nationalistic lines, and the "open" -- read
"unpaid" -- screenings for those willing to pay $100 for the privilege, all betray a
tokenism blind to any activities outside the officially sanctioned margins. And if our
analytic concerns seem to prejudge the event, they are borne out with desolate clarity
by the record of the Congress organizers in attempting to suppress dissent within
their own community. Their efforts in Toronto against the Funnel Experimental Film
Centre and against feminist film theory speak for themselves.
And while the putatively timeless Internationalism of the Congress should make it all
things to all people, the overwhelming majority of the announced participants consists
of representatives of the 6O's Avant-Garde and its decaying power base. Only one or
two younger filmmakers have been made part of the official program, though some of
us will at least be discussed in our absence. Workshops are dominated by
technological values and are lead exclusively by older men. In this context, the organization of screenings along nationalistic lines promises a replay of the results
with which we have become all too familiar over the past decade: a government-
subsidized inventory of products suitable for export. Work is chosen to minimize
linguistic, sexual, and cultural difference, typically to conform to the model of the
"universal language of form" so dear to institutional esperantists.
recognized only where it can be recuperated and diluted to a tepid pluralism.
The "open screenings" at best provide an image of damage control. These screenings,
as the de facto venue for new and unrecognized work, have been scheduled mostly for
late in the evening at the end of full days of featured panels, workshops and
screenings. Even without average festival delays, this scheduling usually bodes poorly
for attendance. The priorities of the Congress organizers are clear: those without
established institutional credentials are to be marginalized within the consolidation of
the official margins, to be presented as Film Historical leftovers.
There is a spirit of mind which continues to challenge the hegemony of industry, of
government, of bureaucracy. The revolutionary frame of mind pervading activity in
film in the Teens and Twenties and again in the Fifties and Sixties -- which seemed to
die in the Seventies -- continues to thrive, but only where it has shifted and migrated
according to changing historical conditions. The issues which galvanized the Cinema
Avant-Gardes of earlier decades arose from different conditions than those which
confront us today. An event which promotes itself as of major importance to
Experimental Film and fails to reflect the vitality and breadth, the vulnerability and
urgency of current oppositional practice in the media renders nothing but obeisance to
a moribund officialdom. It risks nothing but its own historical relevance.
The Avant-Garde is dead; long live the avant-garde.
Signed by 76 film-makers (U.S. and Canada):
Timothy S. Allen
John J. Gallagher
Peter M. Hargrove
M. M. Serra
Philip S. Solomon
Luis E. Vera
Sarah E. Wright