Edited by independent curator of avant-garde art and film Mark Webber, new book Shoot Shoot Shoot: The First Decade of the London Film-Makers’ Co-operative 1966–76 follows radical collective the London Film-Makers Co-op from modest beginnings (a series of film screenings at Better Books bookshop) to becoming a more formalised work-sharing organisation boasting a distribution office, cinema space and film workshop housed first at the Drury Lane Arts Lab, then a string of run down buildings and squats in Camden and Kentish Town.
Basing the group on the New York Film-Makers’ Co-op, the LFMC founders programmed American classics and progressive, challenging British avant-garde films by filmmakers including Malcolm Le Grice (who the BFI called “probably the most influential modernist filmmaker in British cinema”), feminist mixed-genre filmmaker Sandra Lahire and American visual artist Carolee Schneemann.
In the lead up to the book launch at the ICA along with a screening of Freize-commissioned film Soft Floor, Hard Film: 50 Years of the London Film-Makers’ Co-op (also available to watch for free here) made with LUX, and a panel discussion featuring Matthew Noel-Tod, former LFMC members Malcolm Le Grice and Lis Rhodes, and film curator Mark Webber this Thursday, we caught up with Mark to talk about the past, present and future of DIY film.
Hi Mark! To start off with, tell us about the LFMC’s “Shoot Shoot Shoot” manifesto.
The London Film-Makers’ Co-operative announced itself to the world in the first issue of its magazine Cinim by reproducing a telegram that included the statement “Purpose To Shoot Shoot Shoot Shoot Shoot Shoot Stop Never Stop”. As far as I could ascertain, the telegram was just mocked-up for the magazine in October 1966 and not actually sent anywhere, but it does make for a nice introductory manifesto. In actual fact, there weren’t so many British filmmakers at that time that were actively making ‘avant-garde’ films. The founders of the Co-op were predominately critics and enthusiasts that met at the Better Books shop on Charing Cross Road, keen to see new experimental films and make them available for distribution, but not yet too sure how to make them. There had been a wave of exciting work coming mostly from the USA after World War II – filmmakers like Maya Deren, Kenneth Anger, Stan Brakhage – but it wasn’t until the late 1960s that a real movement developed over here.
How did the LMFC alter the film landscape in London during the late 60s and 70s?
A year or so after the LFMC began, a younger group assembled at the Drury Lane Arts Laboratory that were much more interested in making films. When they merged with the original Co-op members, the idea of using the organisation to stimulate production really took off. Malcolm Le Grice and others started to build a film workshop so that they could print and process 16mm film without needing to work with commercial film laboratories, and this really charted the course for the LFMC’s future. Filmmaking really became viable as a personal, artistic medium in which an individual could perform every stage of the process themselves – from shooting (though a camera is not necessarily required) right through to making the projection copy of their work. The LFMC also had its own cinema and a distribution office that made this work available around the world.
What did LFMC members gain from working collectively?
A major benefit was this idea of democratising the means of production. It made it cheaper to produce work but also made it possible for a very distinctive, hand-made type of filmmaking to develop. Anyone could use the workshop and they also ran courses for students from various art colleges. The activity of keeping the Co-op running, with basically no outside funding for the first decade, meant that a real community developed around it. Also, this unique situation with the film workshop, cinema space and distribution agency under one roof fostered a really strong creative dialogue between filmmakers that informed their subsequent works. Discussions at screenings and the theoretical writing that developed around these films were a vital part of this.
As the organisation moved from home to home, how did things change?
The organisation was always run on a shoestring in a series of really run-down former industrial buildings, but by the mid-1970s it started to be successful in receiving grants from the BFI and Arts Council. At least then they were able to start paying a small wage to those running the cinema, workshop and distribution, and begin to have some level of security in their future. The Co-op continued to grow, distributing hundreds of works by international filmmakers and presenting an amazing array of films in the cinema, but with grants come certain expectations and eventually influence from the funding bodies.
In the 1990s the LFMC was forced to merge with London Electronic Arts, a kind of video co-op that began in the mid-1970s, and it became the Lux Centre, housed in a fancy Lottery funded building in Hoxton Square. The organisation sort of lost touch with its constituency and it seems that a series of management decisions, exasperated by the sudden gentrification of that area, brought a swift collapse. The LUX Centre was closed within a couple of years, everyone lost their jobs, and then a much smaller, more appropriate organisation called LUX rose from its ashes and continues the good work today.
The internet and digital technology mean that now, anyone, anywhere can be a filmmaker. Is this a positive thing for the future of film-making?
There are good and bad sides to this. Of course it’s great that we can all shoot moving images with synchronised sound on our phones or any number of cheap cameras, but that doesn’t make you a filmmaker. There’s a proliferation of moving images being produced in the name of ‘art’ and it can be difficult these days to find the really good work, though there’s still a lot of it being made. There’s something very special about the discipline that working with 8mm or 16mm film brings – having to consider each expensive exposure, editing your material by hand with a splicer, and gently nudging it through a film projector – really makes you think about what you’re doing.