Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Millenium Film Workshop: a film haven for the LES

Since 1966, Millennium Film Workshop ( opened its doors to non-commercial, "personal cinema" makers, giving them a refuge to learn, craft, edit, and exhibit their work with minimal cost. Millennium had the pleasure of being on the cutting edge of this phenomenon and has not looked back since.

The East Village was an ideal place for something like Millennium in the mid-1960s. The area was the hub of counter-culture life and political activity and a place that would present the highest culmination of art and film would fit right in. The kind of cinema presented would be referred to as "personal cinema", coined by now Executive Director, Howard Guttenplan: "I called it 'personal cinema' early on and I think that might be a better description and a more precise term. It's very personal, usually made by one person, free to investigate a wide range of ideas, subject matter, and forms. This work relates more closely to the art world than to traditional movies."

Millennium has been able to help bring this form of film-making into the foreground. In the 1940s, the concept of personal films was practically unheard of. However, during WWII, hand-held cameras were developed to shoot combat, and after the war people were still embracing 16mm as a way to expres your own personal experience.

After a few moves and directors, Millennium has spent 35 years on East 4th Street with Howard Guttenplan as the executive director. Guttenplan taught himself many of the administrative skills required as well as finding time to make and show his own "diary films", personalized archivings of his days in NYC as well as overseas. These films have been exhibited around the world and the Museum of Modern Art has described Guttenplan's work as "spontaneous, immediate celebrations of color, texture, and design."

MOMA also began showing avant-garde film in 1968 in its Cineprobe series as well as the Whitney Museum, which began showing films in 1970. Until these two leading museums in contemporary and experimental work, Millennium was the only space exclusively devoted to showing new experimental work. Guttenplan still pushes community interaction and keeping Millennium's open-door policy in tact to this day.

This is a prime example of the way East 4th Street Cultural District approaches art cultivation and distribution. We embrace the freedom of creation and are interested in supporting the exhibition of art without censorship. The right to explore, discover, succeed, and fail are respected and buoyed here on this block. It is not an easy thing to make happen, but we believe in safe havens for the arts and wish to continue making that more and more possible so people may make the art they want with positive effects.

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