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Canyon's Crisis

To name Stan Brakhage, Kenneth Anger, Shirley Clarke, Bruce Conner, Oskar Fischinger, Nathaniel Dorsky, Ernie Gehr, Ken Jacobs and Lewis Klahr is to merely scratch the surface of the inestimable wealth stored in the Canyon Cinema collection of 16mm and 35mm prints and DVDs. In the early 60s, George Lucas, still in his teens, would drive out to Canyon, California to watch informal screenings in Bruce Baillie's backyard before Canyon Cinema, Inc was founded as a distribution company in 1967. It's since grown to around 320 members worldwide and the collection currently boasts more than 3200 films and DVDs. And it's in trouble.

Executive Director Dominic Angerame has sent "a very serious letter," an open plea for help to the film community in which he outlines the scenario — an overall decline in rentals, sales, distribution fees, bank interest and occasional donations — that has led to the very real possibility that Canyon may go out of business within two years. "In short, we need any tangible help or advice that our community, or other contacts that might be able to offer."

The Board of Directors has already approached governmental institutions, but to no avail: "The five other major distributors of experimental film which are located in New York, Paris, Toronto, Vienna and London now receive substantial funding from government agencies on both a national and local level. These distributors, despite the fact they are 'small businesses' are recognized as irreplaceable cultural entities which like any other municipal arts organization such as a symphony orchestra need additional support in order to survive. This is far more difficult in the United States."

Lucasfilm Foundation has offered support in the past, but evidently, they've indicated that those funds will be drying up. Canyon has approached the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco, Pacific Film Archives and the Stanford University Media Library, but: "So far these organizations do not have the interest or resources to engage Canyon. There may be other film/art organizations that might want to form a relationship with Canyon (possibly outside the Bay Area). The idea is that Canyon's unique film collection and distribution skills would be preserved under their protection."

Angerame spells out a few more possible solutions under consideration; he and the Board are not looking simply for outright funding. They're looking for ideas that would make Canyon a sustainable, ongoing concern. At the bottom of the letter, there's space for posting replies.

Image above: Nathaniel Dorsky's Pastourelle (2010). For news and tips throughout the day every day, follow @thedailyMUBI on Twitter and/or the RSS feed.

I hope that one of the alternatives they mention will enable them to keep going…
A very sad state of affairs; I greatly appreciate the company’s candor.

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