Film Series / Events

Search All Film Series (1999-present)
Browse All Film Series

April 18

Canyon Cinema: The Life & Times of an Independent Film Distributor

The 1960s saw the emergence of a wide range of approaches to cinema that offered alternatives to Hollywood commercial filmmaking, including new approaches to documentary and new forms of experimental and avant-garde filmmaking. One of the centers of what Jonas Mekas was calling the New American Cinema was the San Francisco Bay Area. By the early 1960s, Bruce Baillie and Chick Strand had begun informal screenings at an anarchist, mobile venue they called "Canyon Cinema." Soon, Canyon was publishing the Cinemanews, which by the end of the decade had become an international nexus for information about alternative media; and in 1966 Canyon became a distribution organization. For the past forty years, Canyon Cinema has shown itself to be the most dependable alternative film distribution organization in this country.

The filmmakers who were part of the emergence of Canyon Cinema and who made the organization a success also created a remarkable body of films that were widely influential and remain a considerable pleasure to experience and to think about. Bruce Baillie became well-known for his lovely film poetry; Bruce Conner's "recycling" of earlier films transformed commercial advertising and ultimately instigated MTV; Robert Nelson's Oh Dem Watermelons (1965) was, and remains, a powerful (and funny) attack on American racism; and Gunvor Nelson created a series of inventive and engaging feminist films.

Scott MacDonald will be present to introduce and contextualize two programs of Canyon films – one by Canyon men, the other by Canyon women – that will represent the range and the often revolutionary spirit that characterized the work of the Canyon filmmakers. MacDonald's new book, Canyon Cinema: The Life and Times of an Independent Film Distributor, just published by the University of California Press, will be available at the screening.

Program curated by and notes written by Scott MacDonald. There will be a brief intermission between the programs.

Special Event Tickets $10
Friday April 18 at 7pm

Program 1


Directed by Bruce Baillie.
US 1966, 16mm, b/w and color, silent, 5 min.

One of Baillie's sensuous tone poems, Tung is a portrait of a friend; sandy skin and flaxen hair in the early-morning light.

Cosmic Ray

Directed by Bruce Conner.
US 1961, 16mm, 5 min.

A classic, early found-footage film, and, for better or worse, one of the instigators of MTV.

Big Sur: The Ladies

Directed by Larry Jordan.
US 1966, 16mm, color, 3 min.

"Fast-moving impressions of the Big Sur, the water, the ocean, and the Ladies, as part of the landscape, swimming, or running nude, against the sun or part of the sun. The movements of the camera are impregnated with such happiness that they pull you into a world of exuberance, of light, of joy of living."
- Jonas Mekas

Oh Dem Watermelons

Directed by Robert Nelson.
US 1965, 16mm, color, 11 min.

A major American underground classic. This film originally served as a theatrical intermission in the San Francisco Mime Troupe’s social-political satire “A Minstrel Show, or Civil Rights in a Cracker Barrel,” but it quickly took on a life of its own. Oh Dem Watermelons takes hilarious and absurd jabs at the watermelon as a tired Black stereotype, using a wild mix of collage, animation, and irreverence, set to a propulsive soundtrack by Steve Reich. - Mark Toscano

Valentine de las Sierras

Directed by Bruce Baillie.
US 1968, 16mm, color, 10 min.

Song of the revolutionary hero, Valentin, sung by Jose Santollo Nasido en Santa Cruz de la Soledad; Chapala, Jalisco, Mexico.

Marilyn Times Five

Directed by Bruce Conner.
US 1973, 16mm, b/w, 13 min.

High Kukus

Directed by James Broughton.
US 1973, 16mm, color, 3 min.

"A High Kuku is, of course, a cuckoo haiku. In inventing this form James Broughton has concocted zany verses which are 'high' in the sense that they are often metaphysical and are keenly aware of the metacomedy of things.... In the contemplation of lofty themes most people are serious, though not always sincere. Broughton, however, is always sincere but hardly ever serious. Indeed, seriousness is a questionable virtue; it is gravity rather than levity, and it was that devout Catholic, G.K. Chesterton, who maintained that the angels fly because they take themselves lightly. And, in company with the angels, Broughton laughs with God rather than at him." - Alan Watts

Hot Leatherette

Directed by Robert Nelson.
US 1967, 16mm, b/w, 5 min.

A kinetic film sketch designed to involve the viewer's muscles. The rocky seaside cliffs near Stinson Beach, California, hold the wrecked carcass of a ‘52 pickup that is a rusting monument to Hot Leatherette. - Robert Nelson


Program 2


Directed by Chick Strand.
US 1967, 16mm, color, 3 min.

A film poem using found film and stock footage altered by printing, home development and solarization. It is a film using visual relationships to invoke a feeling of flow and movement. Japanese Koto music.


Directed by Anne Severson.
US 1970, 16mm, b/w, 7 min.

A continuous dissolve of 87 male and female nudes, Riverbody's "fascination lies with the suspense of that magic moment, halfway between two persons, when the dissolve technique produces composite figures, oftentimes hermaphroditic, that inspires awe for the mystery of the human form." - B. Ruby Rich


Directed by Gunvor Nelson.
US 1972, 16mm, b/w, 10 min.

"Ellion Ness, a thoroughly professional stripper, goes through her paces, bares her body, and then, astonishingly and literally, transcends it. While the film makes a forceful political statement on the image of woman and the true meaning of stripping, the intergalactic transcendence of its ending locates it firmly within the mainstream of joyous humanism and stubborn optimism." - B. Ruby Rich

Kirsa Nicholina

Directed by Gunvor Nelson.
US 1969, 16mm, color, 16 min.

"That Gunvor Nelson is indeed one of the most gifted of our poetic film humanists is revealed in Kirsa Nicholina, her masterpiece. This deceptively simple film of a child being born to a couple in their home is an almost classic manifesto of the new sensibility, a proud affirmation of man amidst technology, genocide, and ecological destruction. Birth is presented not as an antiseptic, 'medical' experience (the usual birth film focuses on an anonymous vagina appropriately surrounded by a white shroud) but as a living-through of a primitive mystery, a spiritual celebration, a rite of passage...." - Amos Vogel

My Name is Oona

Directed by Gunvor Nelson.
US 1969, 16mm, b/w, 10 min.

"My Name is Oona captures in haunting, intensely lyrical images fragments of the coming to consciousness of a child girl. A series of extremely brief flashes of her moving through night-lit space or woods in sensuous negative, separated by rapid fades into blackness, burst upon us like a fairy-tale princess, with a late sun only partially outlining her and the animal in silvery filigree against the encroaching darkness; one of the most perfect recent examples of poetic cinema." - Amos Vogel


Directed by Chick Strand.
US 1979, 16mm, b/w, 7 min.

Dedicated to the memory of Anne Frank, and the tenacity of the human spirit.

Pacific Far East Line

Directed by Abigail Child.
US 1979, 16mm, color, silent, 12 min.

An urban landscape film constructed from materials gathered over two years looking out at downtown San Francisco. The elements "folded" and mixed, Time redefines Space: the erector and helicopter appear as toys within a schizy motor-oil-ized ballet mechanique.

Browse Other Series from this Season
Return to Top
Harvard Film Archive • Carpenter Center • 24 Quincy Street • Cambridge MA 02138 • 617-495-4700