[Frameworks] Important Letter From Canyon Cinema
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
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
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
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
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
Executive Director, Canyon Cinema
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