The Film-Makers Cooperative is the largest archive and distributor of independent and avant-garde films in the world.
Created by 22 artists in 1961 as the distribution branch of the New American Cinema Group, the New-York-based co-op was affiliated to the global counter-culture movement. It now has more than 5,000 films, videotapes and DVDs in its collection.
Mary Magdalene Serra is one of the creators of the Film-Makers Cooperative. She explained how the idea of a co-operative emerged in the context of an increased dissatisfaction among artists towards the Hollywood driven movie industry. The main purpose of the Film-Makers Cooperative was providing an alternative to the mainstream movie industry.
“We wanted to promote personal vision and not the manufactured-type of product which is predominant in the mainstream industry”, said Mary Magdalene. The co-operative is part of the New American Cinema, which is similar to the French New Wave and British Free Cinema Movement.
“The New American Cinema is against the idea of entertainment just for money making purposes," Mary Magdalene said. According to her, the co-operative nature has been providential in the development of the "New American Cinema Group”.
“I think that organisation and communities are important. The web is expensive and you need to have the latest technology. It is essential to have communities working together. And co-operatives are really dynamic now. Co-operatives need to be organic and have to evolve, grow and change. Instead of being linear they have to be circular. The best results are achieved through discussion and co-operation rather than saying this is the vision that needs to be adopted.”
The New American Cinema is focused on the idea of personal vision, challanging different misconceptions of today’s society. It also places a strong emphasis on authenticity and alternative media. Its roots are in the avant-garde cinema of Kenneth Anger, Gregory Markopoulos, Stan Brakhage, Maya Deren, and Ron Rice.
“There was a motion picture production code until 1968, but Barney Rosset challenged the censorship and afterwards the laws have gradually changed. Following 1968 the film started to have some redeeming social value and it could also have aesthetic," said Mary Magdalene.
“The new generation is not heroic but exploring radical aesthetic, not so much about promoting the product. It’s focused on life style and challanges the dominant ideology. Artists who share the same ideals and wanting to explore these issues have joined our co-operative.”
She said good films can be made out of a limited budget. “There are grants a lot of the film makers collaborate like George Smith and Amy Law from England they collaborate through grants.
“We all struggle-but it allows for more opportunities for experimentation. We are a co-operative of artists working together and we have an amazing board presided by Anne Hanavan,” she said.
The Film-Makers Cooperative runs its own annual screening event and also organises other screenings. Added Mary Magdalene: “We make our prices affordable so people can come. We have a screening room which was funded by Charles S Cohen."