The Flaherty: Decades in the Cause of Independent Cinema

The Flaherty: Decades in the Cause of Independent Cinema

The Flaherty: Decades in the Cause of Independent Cinema

The Flaherty: Decades in the Cause of Independent Cinema


This is the inspiring story of The Flaherty, one of the oldest continuously running nonprofit media arts institutions in the world, which has shaped the development of independent film, video, and emerging forms in the United States over the past 60 years. Combining the words of legendary independent filmmakers with a detailed history of The Flaherty, Patricia R. Zimmermann and Scott MacDonald showcase its history and legacy, amply demonstrating how the relationships created at the annual Flaherty seminar have been instrumental in transforming American media history. Moving through the decades, each chapter opens with a detailed history of the organization by Zimmermann, who traces the evolution of The Flaherty from a private gathering of filmmakers to a small annual convening, to today's ever-growing nexus of filmmakers, scholars, librarians, producers, funders, distributors, and others associated with international independent cinema. MacDonald expands each chapter by giving voice to the major figures in the evolution of independent media through transcriptions of key discussions galvanized by films shown at The Flaherty. The discussions feature Frances Flaherty, Robert Gardner, Fred Wiseman, Willard Van Dyke, Jim McBride, Michael Snow, Hollis Frampton, Erik Barnouw, Barbara Kopple, Ed Pincus, Trinh T. Minh-ha, Bruce Conner, Peter Watkins, Su Friedrich, Marlon Riggs, William Greaves, Ken Jacobs, Kazuo Hara, Mani Kaul, Craig Baldwin, Bahman Ghobadi, Eyal Sivan, and many others.


The Flaherty: Decades in the Cause of Independent Cinema represents an unusual collaboration between two scholars and two ways of doing history. Throughout the evolution of this project, Patricia R. Zimmermann has focused on writing the institutional history of the annual Robert Flaherty Seminar, while Scott MacDonald has explored the recordings of the discussions that have taken place at the Flaherty during the decades it has operated. the structure of this volume is a braiding together of our distinct but, we hope, synergic efforts in hopes that our strategy might evoke the energy and dynamism of the Flaherty Seminar itself.

Patricia R. ZIMMERMANN: imagining a history of
the flaherty seminar

The Robert Flaherty Film Seminar is one of the oldest, continuously functioning organizations in the world dedicated to an exploration of independent cinema. It began in 1955 on the Flaherty farm in Vermont at the height of the civil rights movement, the Cold War, the Eisenhower era, and the Red Scare as a place to think through cinema as an art form rather than as a business. Before the current concept of independent cinema existed and before the development of the nonprofit media arts sector now called public media, before the Sundance Film Festival and the Tribeca Film Festival, before the Ann Arbor Film Festival and the Toronto International Film Festival, before arts funding from entities such as the New York State Council on the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts, before the proliferation of microcinemas and niche festivals, the Robert Flaherty Film Seminar was grappling with the aesthetics, dimensions, economics, exhibition, forms, politics, and scope of cinema produced outside the confines of the commercial studio system.

The achievement of the Robert Flaherty Film Seminar is singular and significant. For over half a century—and never missing a year despite financial and organizational challenges—the Flaherty Seminar has created an ongoing experience of cinema that is annoying, collective, exasperating, exhilarating, exploratory, immersive, interactive, and urgent. the annual seminar has screened thousands of films central to the histories of independent cinema, particularly documentary and experimental film, and has . . .

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