2016 marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of The London Filmmakers Co-op (LFMC). This month Tate Britain has been exhibiting archive material in their exhibition Shoot Shoot Shoot, telling the story of the LFMC's journey and I've been giving tours of the exhibition.
The LFMC were a ground-breaking organisation which inaugurated a tradition for the production, distribution and exhibition of independent filmmaking in the UK. Their films were non-narrative, non-commercial and in complete opposition to Hollywood style filmmaking.
Instead they focussed on the material of the film itself, colours, sound/image interplay and the poetry in their imagery. In the early 60s they also worked from the legendary Arts Lab space in London, a multi-arts venue set up by Jim Haynes. The image below right shows their cinema at the Arts Lab, my mum used to go in the 60s so I've been lucky enough to hear about it first-hand, it was a basement space where you'd take your shoes off, throw yourself down on a mattress on the floor and enjoy the all-night screenings of experimental films by LFMC members and other 60s icons like Yoko Ono.
Many of the members of the LFMC were fine artists, including Malcolm Le Grice who was teaching art at St Martins in the 60s, at the time of the group's founding. Alongside making his own films, he established the UK's first experimental film course. Today it's commonplace for film to be taught in art schools but in the 1960s this was a radical idea.
Last month the BFI celebrated his work with a series of screenings and reconstructions, I met Malcolm at the BFI and asked him about working with the LFMC
JB: Did you have any long-term aims for The London Filmmakers Co-op when it was first set up?
MLG: The London Filmmakers Co-op was started in 1966 but I was not then a member. At the time I was involved with the Arts Lab in Drury Lane … In 68 together with Simon Hartog, we defined the merger of both organisations, my diagram plan is still on the wall at LUX (see image below). This expanded the co-op from just a distribution organisation to include a cinema and production workshop. I became the architect and organiser of the workshop with film printing and developing, with the objective to make filmmaking cheaper and more available to experimental film makers. This succeeded and in the next 4 or 5 years and dozens of new filmmakers emerged in the UK.
JB: How important do you think the LFMC was for contemporary independent filmmaking in the UK and how did it give rise to our current culture of independent filmmaking and festivals?
MLG: The co-op became the centre of experimental film screening, making and distribution, very active and the major film co-op in Europe. The more general Independent film, the Independent Film Makers Association emerged more from the exclusively Political film makers - for example Cinema Action, Berwick Street Collective, and sought to become part of the film and TV industry. Many co-op film makers engaged with this, there were different objectives but no fundamental conflict. I was very involved in both, through my membership of the BFI Production Board and the lobby group to set up Channel 4 TV.
JB: Comparing the professional kit that is accessible to young filmmakers and film students today, can you describe the sort of kit and equipment you had access to back in the 60’s and 70s?
MLG: Our kit in the 60 and 70s was virtually all 16mm film, cameras were hard to come by and borrowed where possible. Film stock and lab costs were very expensive, only the co-op workshop offered printing, Processing and editing and cut costs. Early video kit was primitive - black and white and low resolution. From about 1984 higher resolution portable video, Vid 8, then Vid Hi8 and then in the 90s HD digital Video came. Also lower cost visual computers gradually opened up more sophisticated video editing and effects.
JB: How important was gaining the respect of film institutions like the BFI and galleries like Tate Britain to the LFMC?
MLG: What respect? … Any attention to Experimental film and the Co-op work is still minimal and sporadic, particularly at Tate which still treats experimental film as marginal. Virtually none of the pioneering work of film and expanded cinema of the early period has been bought and exhibited in National Collections. I have fought this battle for almost 50 years. Some recent recognition by BFI, NFT and Tate is still minimal and fringe …
Thanks Malcolm for the insights in to your practice and workings of the LFMC!