The London Film-Makers’ Co-operative holds a very unique place in London film history, one which will be celebrated this year by the Tate Britain through a selection of documents, ephemera and films from the period.
For the uninitiated: The LFMC was founded in October 1966 as a non-commercial distributor of avant-garde cinema. In contrast to similar groups that emerged around the world, it grew to incorporate a distribution service, cinema space and film lab. Filmmakers were able to control every aspect of the creative process, allowing them to explore the material aspects of celluloid and experiment with multiple projection and performance-based ‘expanded cinema’ outside of the mainstream market.
The original group of film enthusiasts would meet in the basement of the Better Books shop on Charing Cross Road. Its founding members, including Bob Cobbing, Ray Durgnat, Simon Hartog, John Latham and Stephen Dwoskin, were inspired by filmmakers like Jonas Mekas and the New American Cinema Group in New York, who had established their own non-profit distribution cooperative in 1962. The closure of the bookshop the following year led to LFMC screenings relocating to the Drury Lane Arts Lab, until it found a more permanent base at the New Arts Lab on Drummond Street, near Euston Station.
Starting with working in avant-garde cinema, the LFMC also moved into published its own journal, Cinim. More filmmakers joined, including Malcolm Le Grice, Fred Drummond and David Curtis, and the LFMC eventually built its own film laboratory, a workshop for printing and processing 16mm film. This allowed experimental film to be experienced and experimented with first-hand, keeping the LFMC at the heart of independent film culture in London (including screenings and rentals) and the world for decades- though relying on run-down buildings provided by Camden Council in Kentish Town and Primrose Hill. The LFMC eventually folded in 2002, but it lives on in a new organisation: LUX, which continues to be the UK’s leading agency for the support and promotion of artists’ moving image.
The BFI have also been running a series of film programmes programmed by the actual filmmakers who were part of the organisation: LFMC50, a monthly programme, in partnership with BFI Southbank, curated by the original Co-op cinema programmers (David Curtis, Peter Gidal, Annabel Nicolson, Lis Rhodes, Deke Dusinberre (the next one is LFMC 50: Taking the Time on 24 May, from guest curator Deke Dusinberre). May 2016 also sees the BFI launch Crossing the Threshold: Experimental films and live performances from Malcolm Le Grice, one of the the filmmakers in the LFC who began in the underground scene of London and is well known for reconfiguring images through 16mm printing treatments, looping and other manipulations.
You can search the BFI Shop’s LFMC books and DVDs here.
The Tate exhibition is at Archive Gallery, Tate Britain, Millbank, London SW1P 4RG
25 April – 17 July 2016.