the late seventies the Underground Cinema of the '60's was either forgotten
or dismissed as an adolescent phase of the Avant-Garde / Independent sector.
Over the next thirty years this formation , which began with the Underground
movement and the Agit-prop collectives, expanded, fragmented and mutated,
and as it did, it defined itself, and it was defined, in the context of a
complex industrial and ideological struggle.
Throughout the seventies various activists and theorists used the terms 'Avant-Garde'
and 'Independent' as interchangeable, but by the end of the decade
a clear terminological distinction had developed by which 'Avant-Garde
film and video' 10
had come to mean specifically film and video made by Artists, whilst
'Independent film and video' identified the development of a broader sector
which included the Avant-Garde but also included diverse makers, practises
and genres defined by there 'independence' from the commercial '
mainstream' media. This concept of 'Independence' was based upon
a rejection of the ideological and industrial structures of both commercial
and State television and cinema.
The Independent sector would come to include, amongst others; community video
makers, black filmmakers, leftist film collectives, women filmmakers, regional
media workshops, gay and lesbian filmmakers, radical documentary makers, Artists
During the late seventies and early eighties the Independent sector secured
an extensive infrastructure of both regional and national State funding and
participated in the development of Channel 4 , Cable TV and the reform of
the TV and cinematic trade unions.
Meanwhile the Avant-Garde became so isolated and obscure that if you weren't
actually in the movement you wouldn't believe it existed. Even it's most ardent
advocates were riven with doubt, Deke Dusinberre writing in Afterimage in
'Its true, too true, that everyone here in England is bored by the avant-garde.
Everyone - truly everyone - will acknowledge the importance of its role in
nurturing that new champion dubbed 'British Independent film culture', but
most of those (the politicos especially, and also the closet Hollywood-Mosfilm
apologists) remain bored by the films, frustrated by their esoteric appeal,
and seeking - no, demanding - a way out of the obligation to like them. For
the rest (the Fine Art crowd), uneasiness surrounds the stale smell which,
it is feared , belongs to the carcass of Modernism , which someone claims
to have seen lifelessly nudging the muddy edge of the lake in St. James's.
By the 1990's English 'Avant-Garde' film and video had become a historical
term used only in a contemporary sense by the most die-hard adepts. It was
consigned to history along withabstract film, expanded cinema, alternative
cinema, parallel cinema, experimental film, non-narrative film, absolute film,
non-objective film, formal film and Structural-Materialist film. The eventual
adoption of the term 'Artists film and video' by the Lux in 1997 finally
completed and recognised the process begun in the early seventies with the
switch from Underground to Avant-Garde ; the initiation of a new FINE
The Independent sector by the 1990's had lost it's identity in the
industrial, technological and organisational transformations of the eighties.
With the emergence of Channel 4 and the B.F.I. as major 'Independent' feature
film producers and the massive expansion of 'Independent' production
companies commissioned to make 'programmes' for Channel 4, Cable, Satellite
and eventually the B.B.C. , the concept of independence from a commercial
mainstream became ever more difficult to rationalise. To be anIndependent
film/video maker was no longer an act of conscious political autonomy
or opposition, it was to be a freelancer in the deregulated media industry.
In 1995 the selector of the third I. C. A. Biennial of Independent Film and
Video , John Wyver, the influential director of Illuminations the production
company responsible for the first broadcast TV compilations of independent
film and video 12
, stated that...
'In the mid-1990s in Britain there is no independent film and video culture.
None - at least none of the kind so clearly identifiable 15 years ago, and
none with any significant presence. No independent film avant-garde , no independent
video art production.....this is a state which we might - cautiously - celebrate.'
Wyver's contention in his catalogue essay for the Biennial was that the Independent
sector was now totally dependent on television. Two years later at
the Fourth I. C. A Biennial in 1997 the selection included five major broadcast
TV commercials; Adidas, Polaroid, Capital Radio, AT & T and Guiness. 14
In the autumn of 1996 Steve McIntyre the then Chief Executive of the L.F.V.D.A.
commented in an article on the future for film funding:
'Unlike traditional funders, however, the LFVDA undertakes activity itself...........it
could be argued that this approach is setting the LFVDA in competition with
the independent sector it is there to fund. The problem with this argument
is that it assumes there is still such a thing as a coherent 'independent
sector', with its own agenda and plans . There isn't . Perhaps there never
As I told you at the beginning of this text, although the London Film-Makers
Co-Op ceased to exist in 1995 it's name lived on for four more years, therefore
Reader let us be careful in what follows and not confuse people and things
with their their names or visa versa.
For the purposes of this text the 'Independent sector' refers to the continuous
but developing movement which emerged out of the radical film/video culture
of the late sixties early seventies. This movement has agents, institutions
, films and videos, publications, academics, economics.....it is a hybrid
industry, neither public nor commercial. It is not totally dependent
on television, but it is totally dependent on State funding. It is the Independent
sector but it is not independent. At the conference The State Of Independence
( the Lux Nov 7th. 1998) various leading administrators of the Independent
sector referred to 'independence' as a "spirit" or a "vision".This
is not an inaccuracy, a semiotic shift or a discrepancy between sign and referent,
it is untrue, they were lying.
Later we'll look at what independence and autonomy mean , for now remember,
although the London Film-Makers Co-Op ceased to exist in 1995 it's name lived
on for four more years.
Meanwhile, the digital revolution looms and the end of film and video technology
seems inevitable... as the ideological tensions of the Independent sector
becomes ever more unstable, so the historians of the sector prepare to close
the book on independence. 17