above are recent
articles by two of the leading administrators of 'Independent' media and
together they articulate a stunning ideological manoeuvre.
In 'What You See Is What You Get' John Wyver argues that there
is no longer an 'Independent' film/video culture because 'Independent'
production has become totally dependent upon and entwined with the television
industry. There is no longer an 'Independent' sector, all that remains
is an 'Independent tradition' which now exists within the structures and
screens of TV. But..."Maybe, however, in the interstices of the Internet
will flourish a new independent image culture."
In 'The Very Model Of A Modern Funding Agency' Steve McIntyre considers
the function of the LFVDA as London's advisory body on National Lottery
film and video funding and argues that since Lottery funding can only
go to individual applications and since there is no longer a coherent
'Independent' Sector "....the notion of Independence can only be
saved by rigorously attaching it to work and not to institutions."
And so, two respected professionals pronounce the death of their own profession
but temper their grief with the hope of it's imminent transformation and
But what is it that has died and what do these alchemists want to replace
it with ?
Well, to understand the sheer nerve of this manoeuvre you've got to get
to grips with the implicit meaning of the term 'Independent ' in this
context, they're not talking about a sector that is free from all outside
authority, a sector that is not financially dependent on an executive
agency, both Wyver and McIntyre use the term 'Independent" to refer
to the specific cultural industry which evolved out of London in the mid
'60's and developed and expanded throughout the '70's and early eighties.
Wyver and McIntyre define the sector even as they negate it.
Firstly they suggest that the now defunct "Independent " project
was once, in some vague way, politically radical and subversive, that
there was once a media strategy for social change but that this radicalism
is no longer possible in the new realism and technology of the '90's.
As McIntyre says ...
"Much has been lost but much has been gained. The point now is to
find ways (the plural is crucial) of making sense of and exploiting new
opportunities. Of developing an approach which might be designated 'principled
The second crucial definition that both writers share is that the 'Independent
Sector' defined itself as a network of state funded organisations and
state funded film/video makers. This would include the funding agencies
themselves (eg. the British Film Institute, the Arts Council, the Regional
Arts Boards), distribution agencies (eg. Film and Video Umbrella
), workshops and production organisations (eg. the London Film Makers
Co-Op and London Electronic Arts), cinemas and art centres (eg. the
ICA and the Regional Film Theatres), festivals (eg. the ICA Biennial and
Viva 8 ) and journals (eg. Vertigo and Coil).
It is this model of an "Independent" sector that Wyver and McIntyre
believe to be dead, and I agree with them, but what is remarkable is that
they've only just realised because, to no budget underground film/video
makers, it was obvious five years ago.
For five years
the EXPLODING CINEMA
and the other groups in the English NO WAVE have been staging shows in
pubs, clubs, cafes, squats, old schools, disused factories and any other
room with walls and electricity,
this rapid and widespread evolution of no budget exhibition is the most
dynamic development in alternative media since the underground film movement
of the '60's and yet it has been completely and deliberately ignored by
the established so-called 'Independent' sector, there has been no acknowledgement
in any of it's journals, there has been no encouragement from any of it's
agencies and no attempt has been made to represent the no wave in any
of it's festivals : for instance at the Pandemonium London Festival Of
Moving Images held at the ICA, at the Co-Op Viva 8 festival in East London
and at the '95 ICA Biennial curated by Wyver, where out of the 26 works
shown only 2 were not directly funded by a state agency or TV channel.
Now I'm not saying this is a bad thing, an influx of professional media
scouts hellbent on appropriation and recoupment would probably be the
kiss of death for the no wave cinema scene, what I am saying is that something
weird is going on.
By any semantic definition of the term 'Independent' the no wave scene
and it's hundreds of film/video makers, represents a new totally independent
industry, financially self sufficient with a rapidly expanding audience.
And gradually networks and circuits are developing amongst the various
But Wyver and McIntyre seem oblivious to this and have chosen this moment
of unprecedented revival to read the last rites on the "Independent"
Now, it could be argued that the no wave has no core politic or shared
aesthetic and so does not constitute a 'sector' or a 'project' but such
an argument would betray a basic misunderstanding of the nature and history
of independent film and video. Which brings me to the question : What
was the original usage of the term 'Independent' ? And how did it get
wrenched so far from it's true meaning that it began to denote it's exact
Essentially 'Independent' rose to dominance in the early seventies as
an aggregate term to describe a diversity of politically radical movements,
organisations, practises and projects that had emerged out of the '60's
counter culture, including avant garde/experimental film centred around
the LFMC (1966) and the agit-prop documentary groups such as the Berwick
Street Collective (1972), the London Womens Film Group (1972), Four Corners
Films (1973) and the Newsreel Collective (1974).
The LFMC originally subscribed to the term 'Underground Film' and initially
functioned as a cinema which screened imported American work, as their
membership expanded and they began to produce their own work the term
Underground was dropped and replaced by 'avant-garde'.
In those early days the term 'independent' was used to mean separate from,
and in opposition to, mainstream commercial TV and Cinema which was viewed
as nothing more than an enervating drug, a bourgeois image factory that
maintained the hegemony of the ruling class. The original Independent
project was to construct an alternative media with organisations, practises
and techniques capable of subverting and dismantling the mainstream at
every level. The trouble with this naive conception of popular culture
was that it failed to confront the vital problem of exhibition and distribution......
publicity, box office success, and popular entertainment were considered
to be bourgeois concerns and this together with a preoccupation on artisanal
process and production led to an ever increasing reliance on state funding
as the only means of finance. So it was that when the Independent Film-makers
Association formed in 1974 to represent the diverse strands of the sector
its prime function was to lobby the state funding organisations for broader
and more comprehensive funding schemes including the provision of wages
in allocated production funding and in the early '80's to the appointment
of a Commissioning Editor for Independent Film and Video at Channel 4.
me back to the theoretical
manipulations of Wyver and McIntyre.
Essentially the 'Independent' sector conspired in its own dissolution,
what began as a diverse autonomous movement gradually devolved into a
homogenised professional state institution, and when the industrial and
structural stage of this liquidation was complete all that remained was
to dismantle and discredit the theoretical base. Up until now of course
this wasn't necessary, the funded sector had its career structure of
mutual justification, it had its canon of visionary 'cutting edge' film/video
makers and it's TV co-productions, it could dismiss criticism as the sour
grapes of an embittered maker who didn't make the shortlist or as a lobbying
tactic by a desperate workshop. And it was desirable to have 'Independence'
as an ideological concept with its nostalgic overtones of opposition
But with the advent of the no wave cinema scene and increasing hostility
from independent pressure groups like the London Film and Video Forum
it must have became ever more tempting to declare the 'Independent' sector
dead and gone.
The beauty of this manoeuvre is that it places all opposition to it's
veracity in a semantic limbo. You can't challenge the end of 'Independent
Film Culture' by insisting that there are still hundreds of independent
film/video makers or that there is a thriving independent no budget cinema
scene because Wyver and McIntyre don't mean independent, they mean "INDEPENDENT"
: the state funded sector of which they are two key representatives. You
cannot demand representation in a sector that no longer exists and you
cannot demand accountability from a sector that does not acknowledge that
They have removed the word 'independence' from debate and sealed the doors
with mirrors, now when we seek access to the halls of the institution
we shall be met with our own reflections.
And its very liberating for Wyver and McIntyre, because if 'Independence'
no longer exists then there's no longer any political or cultural obligation
to seek out collectives, Co-Ops or film/video makers who function outside
of the established media industry and work can be subjectively judged
purely on content or on whether or not it lies within the "Independent
tradition"... whatever that is.
In fact it seems from McIntyre's article that the LFVDA is dispensing
with funding application procedure altogether and is now simply functioning
as a state financed production company.
What is most disturbing however is McIntyre's description of how the LFVDA
and the other funding bodies will serve a "gatekeeping function"
for applications for over
£70 million of National Lottery film finance from now to the year
2000. Applications for low budget, non-mainstream and short film will
go to an advisory panel of regional funding administrators and TV executives
convened by the LFVDA.
So, having appropriated the independent project, having reduced it's radical
social aspirations to product styling, having failed to develop a means
of exhibition/distribution for short film, having excluded all but a privileged
elite from its institutions and finally having declared itself non-existent,
the unelected unaccountable professional administrators of the 'Independent'
non sector are now going to get a cash injection of £70 million
from a spectacular scam that feeds on the desperation of the poor and
the disenfranchised. This is presumably what McIntyre means by "principled
As for the vision of a new age of a digital Internet 'Independence' ,
this is nothing more than a cynical escape clause allowing the funded
sector to abandon the failure and chaos of the present for a bright cyber
future. To this end recent funding initiatives and conferences have abandoned
the old rhetoric of 'Representation and Identity' for a new jargon of
'Innovation, Interaction and the Cutting Edge'.
This digital 'Independence' is not a reformation of the funded sector,
it is the funded sector in the process of compounding its mechanisms
of elitism, nepotism and unaccountability with a technology led vanguard
which legitimates itself simply on the sophistication and modernity of
its production. Since 'state of the art' technology is institutionally
inaccessible, financially prohibitive and requires a high degree of technical
knowledge this vanguard will exclude all unfunded makers who cannot afford
the time and money to invest in the new technology, and all those who
choose to work with the diversity of "older" technologies, from
Super 8 to video camcorder.
the Tory / Labour
state has destroyed the trade union movement, crushed student activism,
introduced the Criminal Justice Bill, the most oppressive infringement
on civil liberty this century and they are in the process of introducing
'workfare' to force those who will not or cannot find waged employment
into low paid drudgery. The 'Independent' sector should have been at the
forefront of resistance and opposition to these assaults but at best it
merely documented them and at worst the sector was used as a safe enclave
where radical media could be contained and diffused.
If I sound angry it's because I am, its time we got angry. For years
now makers have been discussing the erosion and appropriation of the independent
media and their usual conclusion was ..."If you know how the system
works then use it, network, get yourself known, talk to the right people....we
all know the system's corrupt but it is still possible to get funding
for radical oppositional projects and if you rock the boat you'll never
We should have braced our feet against the hull and rocked the boat stupid.
But what goes around comes around. In the last five years a new underground
counter culture has emerged from the ashes of the '60's :.... DIY culture,
Anarchy, the Anti-Road Movement, the squatters movement, the rave scene,
the small press, the Animal Rights movement, the situationist revival,
the free festivals, Eco tribalism. And this counter culture has studied
the mistakes of it's predecessors. The no wave cinema scene is part of
this culture and also a direct descendent of the first wave of underground
The term 'Independence' has been rendered meaningless, but its only a
term, like 'Underground', 'Counter Cinema', 'Alternative', 'Parallel' or
'Oppositional'. And the technology doesn't matter either, Super 8, VHS,
16mm, CD Rom it doesn't matter. What matters is the project which found
its potential in the cine clubs of the 30's and '40's, which began with
the LFMC in the back room of a bookshop on Charring Cross Road, which
returned with the Exploding Cinema and the no wave cinema scene.
And this project mutates, expands and retracts but always continues in
some obscure pocket in spite of the cynicism of professionals and the
disenchantment of it's activists : The project is the total liberation
and democratisation of the media....