Canyon Cinema Turns 50, Showers Bay Area with a Year of Cinematic Riches

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Barbara Hammer performing 'Changing the Shape of Film,' 2009 at Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin. (Photo by Gerd Mittelberg; Courtesy of Barbara Hammer)

The traditional marker of a fiftieth anniversary is gold, but this year, Canyon Cinema celebrates five decades of existence with all things silver screen. Incorporated as a film distribution business in 1967 by a group of avant-garde, underground and experimental filmmakers (among them, Bruce Conner), Canyon Cinema is now a nonprofit foundation dedicated to the preservation and presentation of non-commercial artist-made moving images.

Canyon Cinema 50, a year-long program celebrating the organization’s past, present and future, kicks off at 7pm on Feb. 15, with “Inside and Out: More or Less of Me,” a presentation by New York-based artist Mark Street at California College of the Arts. Street’s work ranges from material explorations of 16mm film to urban “essays” to an upcoming documentary tracing economic cycles in North Dakota oil country. “I’m inspired by filmmakers whose artistic journey begins with their quotidian life and takes us into uncharted terrain,” Street says. Along with his own work, Street will screen 16mm shorts from the Canyon Cinema archive, films by Gunvor Nelson, Robert Breer and Paula Froehle.

Mark Street
Mark Street (Courtesy of the artist)

If Street’s presentation whets your appetite for "uncharted terrain," but you’re looking to stretch your legs and watch experimental film, head to the Exploratorium’s Kanbar Forum on Feb. 16, 7:30pm. “Changing the Shape of Film: An Evening with Barbara Hammer” introduces audiences to two examples of “transmuted cinema” from the filmmaker’s 40-plus-year career. By making a weather balloon a projection surface or putting a 16mm projector in motion, Hammer’s works question the formal arrangement between projector, audience and screen, sometimes forcing viewers to negotiate new vantage points lest they miss out on the action. After the screenings, Hammer, a pioneer of queer cinema with over 80 moving images under her belt, holds court for an intimate conversation with her audience.

Barbara Hammer performing 'Available Apace' at A Space, Toronto, 1979.
Barbara Hammer performing 'Available Apace' at A Space, Toronto, 1979. (Courtesy of the artist)

The Canyon Cinema 50 screening series continues for the rest of 2017, with yet-to-be-announced events at partner institutions the Exploratorium, Pro Arts, BAMPFA, the San Francisco Film Society and San Francisco Cinematheque. If there seems to be very little to look forward to in the year(s) to come, Canyon Cinema proves the avant-garde, underground and experimental can and will survive despite political climates that would rather see such artistic practices discredited, defunded and dissolved. Long may it survive as well.



Canyon Cinema 50 begins Wednesday, Feb. 15 and continues throughout 2017. For more information on the series, visit