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50th Anniversary of the London Film-Makers’ Co-operative

2016 marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of the London Film-Makers’ Co-operative (LFMC), the ground-breaking organisation that inaugurated a tradition for the production, distribution, and exhibition of artists’ moving image in the UK, influencing and anticipating the vibrant contemporary culture of the present.

The London Film-Makers Co-op was begun in October 1966 by a group of film enthusiasts that met 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 activities of Jonas Mekas and the New American Cinema Group in New York, who had established their 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.

Having initially sought to show and distribute avant-garde cinema, the LFMC soon began to publish its own journal, Cinim. Towards the end of the sixties, a new generation of Co-op members, including Malcolm Le Grice, Fred Drummond and David Curtis, began to push for a production wing. By establishing its own film laboratory, a workshop for printing and processing 16mm film, the LFMC was transformed into a unique facility for the production, exhibition and distribution of independent cinema. Film could be experienced and experimented with first-hand, and the Co-op both ignited and nourished a boom in British experimental film practice.

Through the 70s, 80s and 90s, the LFMC was at the heart of independent film culture in London, and one of the major centres of an international network of cooperatives and cinematheques. Its regular cinema programme screened new work from around the world and its rental collection grew to several thousand titles. For three decades, the Co-op survived on a minimal budget in a series of run-down buildings provided by Camden Council in Kentish Town and Primrose Hill. It moved into new premises at the Lux Centre in Hoxton Square in 1997 and merged with London Electronic Arts (formerly London Video Arts) in 1999. This phase was short-lived, but following its demise in 2002, a new organisation LUX was formed, and continues to be the UK’s leading agency for the support and promotion of artists’ moving image.

Throughout 2016, LUX will celebrate 50 years of artists’ moving practice in the UK with a number of screenings, talks, workshops and other events, including 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...), and Co-op Dialogues 1966-2016 at Tate Britain, a series of inter-generational screenings and artists’ conversations which begins in March with John Smith and Turner Prize winner Laure Prouvost. A book on the Co-op’s first decade is planned for October 2016.  

Image Credit: London Film-Makers' Co-operative membership card. Courtesy of LUX