Canyon Cinema

What is Canyon Cinema?
Canyon Cinema is a film distribution organization of living filmmakers that distributes, supports, promotes, and preserves independent cinematic works of art.

Who is Canyon Cinema?
Dominic Angerame, executive director; Mark Toscano, assistant director & film traffic controller; Pamela Harris, bookkeeper; and Klara Grunning, part-time assistant. Current Board of Directors: Susanne Cockrell, Anna Geyer, Owen Land, Elizabeth Sher, and Clair Bain. Nathaniel Dorksy is a Board Advisor.

How, when, and why did Canyon come into being?
Canyon Cinema was formed around 1962. As the legend goes, Bruce Baillie, Chick Strand, and others were showing films to neighbors and friends in their backyard on a sheet tied between two trees. As the screenings and films became popular, the filmmakers realized that some form of permanent distribution had to happen along with a steady place to show the films. Hence, Canyon Cinema was started, regularly showing films and publishing a film newsletter. By 1965-66 the Canyon Cinema Cooperative had been formed. This included screenings, the publication of a newsletter, and the distribution of films by about 20-30 filmmakers from the house of Earl Bodien.
By 1966-67 Canyon became an official film distribution corporation dedicated to the distribution, promotion, and preservation of film as an art form. Founded as a grassroots organization to educate the public about an emerging American film culture, Canyon began with 25 members (and 40 films) who were dedicated to the necessity and possibility of film artists having an active and constructive role in the exhibition, distribution, and promotion of their own work. Policies, rental fees, and catalog descriptions were and continue to be determined by the participating members.
In the 30 years of its operations Canyon Cinema has become active as one of the world’s leading distributors of experimental and independent film. At present, Canyon Cinema has 350 members in North America and abroad and distributes more than 3,000 films. Despite our dramatic increase in scale, we remain committed to the principles upon which Canyon was founded: in film, as in other disciplines, new ideas and forms evolve out of individual artistic innovations.

How are business decisions made at Canyon?
Everyday operational decisions are normally made by the executive director, often in collaboration with other staff members. Larger issues, such as royalty percentages, relocation, and policy decisions, are made by the Board of Directors in collaboration with the executive director.

What distinguishes you from other distributors?
Independent filmmakers, unlike commercial filmmakers or studio artists, rarely receive financial recompense. The money that Canyon Cinema returns to its members provides them with means to continue to make their films. We are the only distribution organization that has been consistent in the equitable return of artists’ revenues; over 40% of Canyon’s gross income is returned directly to the filmmakers. Any filmmaker can become a member of Canyon and have his/her films distributed. The only requirement is a nominal membership fee, the deposit of film print(s), and the review of a committee. The filmmakers write their own catalog descriptions and determine their rental rates. Fifty percent of each rental fee is returned to the filmmaker. The films on deposit with Canyon remain the property of the artist. Canyon represents filmmakers whose work spans aesthetic and cultural categories and we are the sole alternative outlet for hundreds of artists representing diverse perspectives and myriad of communities.

Unofficial motto or driving philosophy:
Canyon Cinema’s chief goal is to keep alive the active distribution of motion picture films in any format. Canyon is run, operated, and governed by filmmakers.

How many works are in your collection?
We rent 3,000 16mm, 35mm, super 8, regular 8 motion picture films. We also sell more than 500 VHS titles.

What types of works do you distribute?
The main part of Canyon Cinema’s inventory is avant-garde/experimental films. These include abstract films, structural films, experimental narratives, documentaries, experimental personal documentaries, and animation. The length of these works range from one second to 14 hours and with production dates between 1932 and 2000.

Films and filmmakers that are part of Canyon:
Among the 350 filmmakers whose works are deposited at Canyon, many have been selected by the National Registry to have their films preserved, including Castro Street by Bruce Baillie (1966); Chulas Fronteras by Les Blank (1976); Dog Star Man by Stan Brakhage (1964); Eaux d’Artifice by Kenneth Anger (1953); A Movie by Bruce Conner (1958); and Wax Experiments by Oskar Fischinger (1932). Also distributed through Canyon Cinema are noted avant-garde filmmakers such as Gunvor Nelson, Barbara Hammer, Su Friedrich, Martin Arnold, Chick Strand, James Benning, Peter Kubelka, George Kuchar, Matthias Mueller, Pat O’Neill, and Michael Snow.

Best known titles in Canyon’s catalog:
The most rented titles are Scorpio Rising; A Movie; Castro Street; Wavelength; Window Water Baby Moving; Fuses; Mujer de Milfuegos; and Piece Touche.

An upcoming title to watch for:
Stan Brakhage’s two-hour film.

Does Canyon promote the work of individual members?
As a policy, not really. However, if any of the staff is asked to recommend films in a genre such as optical printed films, animation films, erotic films, etc., s/he may suggest titles or filmmakers that instructors, educators, or curators may be familiar with. The executive director may program film series containing particular individual’s films for promotion or screening in shows that represent the organization as a whole. Canyon does not invest in promotional materials for any of its filmmakers, outside of its own catalogs.

Where do Canyon titles generally show?
The films from Canyon are shown all around the world at festivals such as the Experimental Film Festival in Bangkok, the Experime-ntal Film Festival in Bilbao, the Rotterdam International Film Festival, the New York Film Festival, the San Francisco International Film Festival, Frameline Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, the Film Arts Festival, Ottawa Animation Film Festival, Athens Film Festival, and at hundreds of other large and small festivals worldwide. We also provide rental prints for small film showcases, galleries, and museums. The San Francisco Cinematheque, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Anthology Film Archives, Millennium Film Workshop, Berks Filmmakers, and Walker Art Center all rent from Canyon on a regular basis. Another mainstay of film rental requests come from the film departments of hundreds of universities and colleges that have Film Studies programs or Film Production programs.

How do educators and community members find out about the titles you handle?
Every five years we publish an illustrated, comprehensive, 500-page catalog containing our full inventory descriptions, rental fees, and sale prices. Canyon Cinema Catalog 2000 was published in the beginning of the year and is now available by sending $35 plus $7 postage to our offices.
Describe your relationship with the makers you represent:
Today, Canyon Cinema’s primary activity is the distribution of 16mm films of independent film artists. Filmmakers write their own catalog descriptions and rental fees are set at $3 per minute. Fifty percent of the rental fee is returned to the filmmakers. The films on deposit with Canyon remain the property of the artist.

An advantage of the co-op structure for a filmmaker is . . .
that filmmakers have an actual voice in determining the policies and procedures at Canyon by voting directly for members of the Board of Directors who represent their interests within the organization. Canyon Cinema pays a higher royalty percentage rate than most commercial distributors, and the filmmakers still own the rights to their work as well as the films themselves.

A possible disadvantage of a co-op structure for a filmmaker is . . .
that since Canyon Cinema represents the work by more than 350 filmmakers from around the world, it becomes impossible to actively promote a single filmmaker’s work, which many filmmakers find to be a disadvantage.

Biggest change at Canyon in recent years:
2000 marks the publication of a new catalog! Also, we have recently decided to sell videotapes, CD-ROMs, and other digital technologies that our filmmaker members may be creating. Canyon Cinema has also actively been seeking and finding many foreign film showcases and festivals that wish to rent films.
Most important issue facing Canyon today:
The extreme rising cost of operating from the Bay Area. Rents here are escalating beyond belief and our lease runs out in just over a year; we are expecting our rent to quadruple at that time. We would like to remain in the Bay Area and are asking everyone to help us find a secure rental space for the near and distant future.

Where will Canyon be 10 years from now?
We believe that there is a Renaissance happening in experimental filmmaking and that an organization such as Canyon will be in a good place 10 years from now. Motion picture films will be very valuable works of art.

Other distributors you admire:
There are only four distribution organizations (that we know of) such as Canyon around the world. We admire all of them for continuing their efforts to pursue the expansion of cinema as an art form: Canadian Distribution Centre, Ontario; Light Cone in Paris; Film-Makers’ Cooperative, New York City; and Six Pack Film in Vienna.

If you could only give independent filmmakers one bit of advice it would be to . . .
keep making films.

About :

Lissa Gibbs was a contributing editor to The Independent and former Film Arts Foundation Fest director.