Scott MacDonald: Documentary & The Avant-Garde

During the past quarter century, the histories of documentary and avant-garde film have converged; or, really, have converged again—there have been many such convergences over the decades—in some new ways. Many particular films fit comfortably into both historical categories, and scholars have begun to recognize that these categories themselves are growing increasingly inclusive, and elusive. This weekend, Scott MacDonald will present two shows of films that, in various ways, straddle the categories of documentary and avant-garde film.

Saturday, December 12 – 7:30pm

What Happened on 23rd Street New York City (1901)

A single-shot, conceptual film produced by the Thomas Edison Studio (1 minute).

Daybreak Express (1953) by D. A. Pennebaker

A celebration of morning in New York City (5 minutes).

The Wonder Ring

1955, 16mm print, by Stan Brakhage, a visual exploration of the ThirdAvenue El, commissioned by Joseph Cornell (6 minutes).

Venice Pier

1976, 16mm print by Gary Beydler a formalist study of Venice Pier in Venice Beach, California (16 minutes).

Border (2008)

By Laura Waddington a cine-nocturne focusing on the Sangatte Red Cross refugee camp near the Chunnel (27 minutes).

Sunday, December 13 – 7:30pm

The War Game (1965)

16mm print, the film that established Peter Watkins as a major force in political filmmaking.

Suppressed by the BBC, who produced the film, for 20 years and rarely seen now, The War Game won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature of 1965 (47 minutes).

Ice Bears of the Beaufort (2008)

A meditation on polar bears, shot by Arthur and Jennifer Smith, who make their home on the north coast of Alaska (50 minutes).

Scott MacDonald is author of the on-going series, A Critical Cinema: Interviews with Independent Filmmakers, now in five volumes (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988, 1992, 1998, 2004, 2005). His Avant-Garde Film/Motion Studies (Cambridge University Press) was published in 1993; Screen Writings: Scripts and Texts by Independent Filmmakers (California), in 1995; and The Garden in the Machine: A Field guide to Independent Films about Place (California) in 2001).


In recent years, MacDonald has published three books on institutions that have kept alternative cinema alive: the companion volumes Cinema 16: Documents Toward a History of the Film Society and Art in Cinema: Documents Toward a History of the Film Society (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2002, 2006), and Canyon Cinema: The Life and Times of an Independent Film Distributor (California, 2008). His articles and interviews have been published in Film Quarterly, The Independent, Artforum, October, The Chicago Review, American Studies, ISLE (Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment), Feminist Studies, and other journals. His newest book, Adventures of Perception (California), a collection of essays and interviews, was published this year.

For thirty years MacDonald’s passion has been introducing students and public audiences to the worlds of alternative cinema. In 1999 he was an Anthology Film Archives Film Preservation Honoree for his service in helping to preserve the history of alternative cinema. He has curated film events at the Museum of Modern Art (New York), at Anthology Film Archives (New York), at the Pacific Film Archive (Berkeley), at the Chicago Historical Society, and at many other venues. He has taught film history, American literature, and American studies, and programmed film events, at Utica College of Syracuse University (where he is Professor Emeritus), and at Hamilton College, Bard College, and Harvard University.

The Film-Makers' Cooperative

A Brief History of the New American Cinema Group

History and Mission

A group of twenty-three artists in New York City founded the New American Cinema Group in the autumn of 1960. It included filmmaking luminaries such as Jonas Mekas, Shirley Clarke, Andy Warhol, Alfred Leslie, Robert Frank, Gregory Markopoulos, Peter Bogdanovich, and Jack Smith. The group collectively believed that they were part of a new generation of filmmakers. The purpose of the New American Cinema Group was to promote experimental, avant-garde, and personal filmmaking in light of the mainstream film industry that ignored such work.

A division of the New American Cinema Group, the Film-Makers’ Cooperative (FMC), was founded as an artist owned and artist run non-profit distribution organization for the works of independent and avant-garde filmmakers. The FMC functioned as a non-exclusive distributor of their work accepting all films without curatorial censorship and giving the filmmaker a specified percentage of all rental income – currently 60%.

In 2009

the FMC entered its forty-eighth year of continuous operation and moved into a new location at 475 Park Avenue South. Since 1991, M.M. Serra has served as the Executive Director running the daily operations of the FMC with the assistance of Ryan Marino and Joshua Solondz. Since its conception the FMC actively participates in the artistic community of New York. We are engaged in various exhibition venues throughout the city, including Whitney Museum, Anthology Film Archives, Millennium Film Workshop, P.S.1 and the Living Theatre as well as other venues. Our staff comes from various educational institutions, offering internships to students of New York University, the New School, School of Visual Arts, Fordham and Cooper Union.

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