February 23. 2009.
Dear Kate D. Levin and Mayor Michael Bloomberg,
I am writing on behalf of the Film-Makers' Cooperative, which is being forced out of its affordable city-owned space.
I find this situation so incredible that words nearly fail. That a new and unproven organization could manage to, in addition to its vast new space, claim a little more by evicting one of the world's few pillars of genuine film art in the half century is absolutely mind boggling. Perhaps the importance of the Film-Makers' Cooperative is not well enough understood by the government of the City of New York.
I understand that the city's position is that it won't get involved because there is no lease violation. But the loss of the Film-Makers' Cooperative would be so disastrous, and reflect so poorly on your city, that I hope you will get involved.
Though commercial filmmaking tends to get the most attention, so-called "avant-garde" or "experimental" filmmaking is at the core of film as an art. Try asking a New York filmmaker such as Martin Scorsese about the importance of a filmmaker such as Stan Brakhage, if you don't believe me! (And I don't know Scorsese personally at all.) Since the early 1960s, the Cooperative has been a utopian organization that on the one hand accepts all films for distribution, but on the other has been, and in most cases still is, the principal distributor of some of the greatest films in the history of the medium. The films it distributes have had vast impact on the world of cinema, and also on the city and its economy. For example, for years, advertising agencies rented its films, looking for new techniques to use. The only organization that is at all like it in the U.S., Canyon Cinema in San Francisco, became a distributor some years later. New York and San Francisco have long been the principal centers of avant-garde/experimental filmmaking in our country. Does New York wish to cede its status to that much smaller city in the West?
In 1965, still in my teens, I co-founded the MIT Film Society. The Film-Makers' Coop was the main distributor we rented films from. I have been renting films from them regularly in the four decades since, for classes I have taught, for lecture-screenings I have given in various parts of the world, and for my own study purposes. In the last few years, they have, rented me films that I took to a class I was teaching in Milwaukee, as well as to lecture-screenings in Spain, Poland, Croatia, and elsewhere. At the moment, I am in the process of arranging a large rental of films from them for a ten-program series of films by Stan Brakhage that I am curating, and speaking on, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in April. But will they even be able to handle the order?
At the same time that they are already negatively affected due to the rise of video, with some professors showing films on video rather than renting more expensive prints, more and more people understand that works of film art made to be seen on film should be seen on film, because they lose a great deal in the (mis) translation to video. In particular, the kinds of films the Coop distributes tend to base their art the particular properties of celluloid, rather than simply as a conveyor of pictures, and thus must be seen on film.
It is organizations like the Film-Makers' Cooperative, fully as much as large institutions such as the Museum of Modern Art, that make New York the world's art capital. Please help them stay in their present space, or, if that is truly impossible, find for them the best possible space at the most affordable possible rent.
Artist, teacher, lecturer, critic