« Shared cinematographic laboratories. From the cellar to the garden, forms and functions of a place of invention and resistance »
First appearing in the mid-1960s, artist-run film labs are not simply places where technical resources are put at the disposal of filmmakers to create their works. They also represent a certain idea of creation itself and of its economic, aesthetic, political, and now ecological stakes.
When the first laboratories of this kind – the London Film-Maker’s Cooperative or the Millennium Film Workshop in New York – appeared in the late 1960s, the goal was twofold: to create a space in which filmmakers could dedicate the time and energy necessary to aspects of the creation processes that were generally considered secondary, such as optical and contact printing, developing, and striking prints; and for filmmakers to free themselves from their technological and economic dependence on the film industry by seeking out and practicing forms of radical autonomy. While they were lively and exciting, such initiatives also remained isolated and sporadic.
In the 1990s, an even stronger demand for autonomy and for training was expressed by filmmakers, in large part coming from the field of experimental film. This led to the first stage of the blossoming of the artist-run film lab movement, a process accompanied not only by the sharing of skills and knowledge, but also by meetings, film programs, and publications that testified to a desire to band together. With the rapid, large-scale development of digital technologies and the almost total disappearance of the infrastructures dedicated to shooting and working with photochemical film, the number of artist-run film labs has grown exponentially in the last several years, with new labs appearing in many places around the world. This has been fueled by a newfound interest in photochemical technology and by a desire to build spaces of resistance to the “digital revolution”.
This one-day symposium will seek to explore the history of this movement and, most of all, the way in which it lives on and continues to develop in the present moment. By inviting both researchers and the filmmakers who use and participate in the every-day life of artist-run film labs, the goal will be to better understand the place of such labs in contemporary film practice. What is produced in these spaces, how is it made, and with what technical, economic, and human means? Another central question will be the mission – both the aesthetic and the relational and societal mission – that is central to artist-run film labs. These spaces are not only dedicated to making different types of films differently; on a broader level, they also set out to rethink the role of filmmaking in the world today. Initially planned to take place “before the storm” – in May 2020 – and postponed due to the pandemic, this symposium will raise issues that resonate in a number of ways with the situation that we have been faced with over the last year and a half.