[Frameworks] Important Letter From Canyon Cinema

DOMINIC ANGERAME dominicangerame at sbcglobal.net
Thu Mar 31 00:40:53 CDT 2011

A pdf of this letter can be read at: 

To the Film Community:
This is a very serious letter.  It was emailed to our filmmaker members and we 
would like to share this with the larger community.  It concerns the survival of 
Canyon Cinema. As most of you probably know, film rentals over the past few 
years have been steadily declining. This is a result of the proliferation of 
digital media. Many of Canyon’s major filmmakers who have brought substantial 
income to the organization have now made their work available in digital 
formats. Many of our renters, especially in universities, no longer have access 
to adequate film projection. Often after the purchase of a DVD, instructors of 
cinema studies continue to use the digital media and forsake the renting of the 
original 16mm prints. This is partly due to their own dwindling rental budgets 
and the lack of well functioning projectors. 
In addition, a part of our annual income has traditionally come from bank 
interest rates. In previous years Canyon has earned more than $4,000 per year 
this way. In the past three years we have earned almost nothing in this area. 
 We are also very dependent on the money collected from our annual distribution 
fee from our filmmakers.  Many filmmakers do not to pay their yearly fee. Canyon 
Cinema should be collecting more than $32,000 from its 320 members. Last fiscal 
year we collected approximately $21,000 in this manner.
During the past decades Canyon Cinema has been able to survive entirely from 
earned income generated from rentals, sales, distribution fees, bank interest 
and occasional donations.  Each year, since our inception, Canyon Cinema has 
been successful economically, albeit with a very small margin of excess. We are 
now in a state where we can no longer continue to operate as we have in the 
past. This is a very real thing.
World wide interest in our celluloid film collection continues to be strong. 
There are even indications of a resurgence of interest by a new generation of 
film enthusiasts, filmmakers and scholars. Last year our gross rental and sales 
totaled more than (purposely left blank). This is not insignificant. However, 
this is not enough to continue to run our business in its present form.
It is apparent that Canyon Cinema can no longer continue as it was originally 
conceived and changes need to be made that are appropriate to our present day 
and age. The Board of Directors and the staff have been working on solutions. 
However, after many discussions, meetings with advisors, and inquires made 
directly to people who might help us we find that we are at a loss to solve the 
problem. Currently Canyon Cinema is losing $2,000 a month, approximately the 
amount of our rent. At this rate of loss, Canyon Cinema could be out of business 
within two years.
In short, we need any tangible help or advice that our community, or other 
contacts that might be able to offer. We mean this very seriously. The members 
of the Board of Directors and the staff of Canyon Cinema are experimental 
filmmakers like yourselves. We need all the help that our fellow members might 
be able to offer in terms of contacts or ideas. This is very important. 
The five other major distributors of experimental film which are located in New 
York, Paris, Toronto, Vienna and London now receive substantial funding from 
government agencies on both a national and local level. These distributors, 
despite the fact they are “small businesses” are recognized as irreplaceable 
cultural entities which like any other municipal arts organization such as a 
symphony orchestra need additional support in order to survive. This is far more 
difficult in the United States. 
Here are some specific examples of experimental film distribution companies 
modeled after Canyon Cinema currently receiving substantial funding. The 
Film-Makers’ Cooperative in New York City is currently funded by the 
Experimental Television Center as well as New York State Council for the 
Arts. They have also received a life saving donation of free rental space. Light 
Cone in Paris is funded by several governmental agencies including Le Centre 
National de la Cinematographie, Le Ministere de la Culture, La Region 
Ile-de-France and La Ville de Paris. LUX in London is funded by the Arts Council 
England and the Leverhulme Foundation for Educational Activities. In Canada 
the Canadian Filmmaker's Distribution Centre in Toronto is funded by the Canada 
Council for the Arts, Ontario Arts Council, The Ontario Trillum Foundation and 
the Toronto Arts Council. In Vienna, Sixpack Film is most generously supported 
by the Federal Ministry of Art, Culture and Education (Department for Film), 
City of Vienna - Department of Cultural Affairs,  the Provincial Governments of 
Lower Austria, Upper Austria and Salzburgh, and the Trade Association for Music 
and Film industry.  
In contrast Canyon Cinema has not been able to obtain funding from federal, 
state or local governments. It is not that we have not tried. All recent efforts 
to procure funding have been rebuffed due to the nature of the way Canyon Cinema 
is structured as a for profit shareholder corporation. This is how the 
organization was set up since the late 1960’s. Canyon Cinema has attempted to 
become an IRS approved non profit corporation at least twice in the past years 
without success.
Fortunately we have enjoyed many contributions from our members and members of 
the greater film community over time. We are extremely appreciative of that. 
Lucasfilm Foundation has been very helpful in recent years. However they have 
indicated that they will no longer continue their support. Stanford University 
Media Library acquired the Canyon Cinema paper archives for a generous amount of 
$100,000 in 2009. It is those funds upon which we are currently operating.
Now what do we do?
These are some of the ideas the Board and staff have been discussing. Nothing 
has been decided upon. We feel that our filmmakers must be informed of some of 
the possible solutions being discussed.  We need your help in determining the 
direction we should take. The solutions are not easy and some may appear radical 
but are necessary. The question is:  what is most important to preserve in 
Canyon Cinema as a motion picture film distribution company.  Is it to have 
faith in the eventual value of celluloid projection and find a way to survive 
through patronage? Is it to expand into a digital world, a transition for which 
we do not have funds or staff? Is it to face the reality of the present day and 
age of film presentation and radically alter the nature of Canyon Cinema as a 
celluloid distributor?
Here are some possible solutions that have been discussed and investigated: 
1) Dissolve the share holder corporation completely and convert it into a small 
business, modeled as a non shareholder for profit  company distributing 
filmmaker’s work that generates income. This would enable Canyon to streamline 
its operation and be responsible for a much smaller inventory.
2) Dissolve the corporation and start another organization that is a 501 3(c) 
non profit and still operates as a distributor. The cost of converting the 
present company into a non profit is prohibitive and not recommended by all of 
the legal advice we have received along with our past history of this request to 
the IRS. We have also been advised by many significant non-profits in the Bay 
Area that becoming a non profit is by no means a solution for fundraising.
3) Dissolve the company and create a 501 3(c) company that can expand 
distribution to include all media, and forms of moving imagery. This would 
include the difficult and expensive project of digitizing the current films in 
the collection.
4) Find a patron who can donate to Canyon Cinema approx 850 square feet of 
office/film storage space, saving us almost $25,000 per year. Or find a long 
term patron that can provide a contribution of $25,000 cash per year for 
operational expenses.
5) We have explored the possibility of merging with a large more stable 
organization within the film community such as the Museum of Modern Art in San 
Francisco, Pacific Film Archives, Stanford University Media Library. So far 
these organizations do not have the interest or resources to engage Canyon. 
There may be other film/art organization that might want to form a relationship 
with Canyon (possibly outside the Bay Area).. The idea is that Canyon’s unique 
film collection and distribution skills would be preserved under their 
Please take a moment to consider these options and what you feel would be in the 
best interest of Canyon Cinema. What can you personally do to help us at this 
urgent moment? What resources, connection or contacts can you share with us? We 
are interested and considering any kind of solution, including relocating from 
the Bay Area to a less expensive location.
Please email your offers of help, feedback and responses 
to: dominic at canyoncinema.com We have received private donations in the past and 
can continue to receive such if directed through our fiscal agent the National 
Alliance of Media Arts Center. Checks can be made payable to this center and 
mailed directly to Canyon Cinema, 145 Ninth Street #260, San Francisco, CA . 
Canyon Cinema’s paypal account is info at canyoncinema.
If you have any helpful suggestions please contact dominic at canyoncinema.com
Dominic Angerame
Executive Director, Canyon Cinema

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