The Life of Names


By 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 and animators.
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 1981 declared...

'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. ' 11

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 ART.

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.' 13

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 was."
15


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 16 ( 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


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