Canyon Cinema began in a legendary and organic fashion, born of a love for cinema and unapologetic presentation of programs that one might enjoy or not: the essence was community. Bruce Baillie first used a sheet as a screen in Canyon, California in 1961 to project films for a group of people with various backgrounds and artistic leanings the rest is history.

Canyon is “a service organization for local geniuses” as James Broughton has said. At its core the filmmakers and artists who have persevered and insisted on creating work that has lived in many ways on the fringe of mainstream viewership and consciousness. The irony of course resides in the fact that the underground, experimental and avant-garde has continuously influenced the mainstream. While some Canyon filmmakers have firmly secured positions in the canon, there are more in need of (re)discovery, study and engagement.

The legacy of Canyon continues today in the form of a nonprofit organization, the membership voted in 2012 to make this change in order to be eligible for grants and more funding opportunities in light of shrinking resources and increasing challenging for the arts. With the heralded “death of film” and resulting stampede to digital technologies a few years ago it is becoming increasingly difficult and expensive to produce new prints with fewer stocks to choose from that in many cases alter significantly the end result. As with many cases of adversity in the past faced by artists we must see this as an opportunity and creative challenge. While some continue to solely work in super-8, 16 and 35mm, others hybridize forms of analog and digital while others have completely moved to making digital work. The richness of this array is akin to the manifold nature of the Canyon collection – which is diverse and vast beyond the general identification of “experimental.”

In my time at Canyon I have been fortunate to have made sincere and deep connections with many of the founders and original members. Bruce Baillie calls the office frequently with communiqués from abroad, musings about new projects and ideas for the future. Lawrence Jordan treated us with a Salon last year in which he gave a live demonstration of his animation techniques and spoke at length about his philosophies on visual storytelling. Emails and letters from Gunvor Nelson and Rose Lowder are special treats with details of life and house repairs one sentence to mention of new works in the next. Nathaniel Dorsky presented two Salons that focused on discussion of influence, meaning and form in select works by Stan Brakhage. These details, interactions and elements of collaboration, meeting, screening and discussion keep the flame of Canyon burning. The work is never done; we are called to do it.



Denah A. Johnston


Executive Director, Canyon Cinema Foundation

 April 30, 2015

San Francisco, California