Chick Strand, “Mujer de Milfuegos” (1976), 15 minutes, color, sound (all images courtesy Canyon Cinema)

Although Hollywood may arguably be the center of the mainstream American movie industry, the San Francisco Bay Area has had a vital tradition of experimental, underground cinema for decades, from the campy weirdness of the Kuchar brothers to nonprofit gallery and screening room Artists’ Television Access. Founded 50 years ago by cinematic artist Bruce Baillie, San Francisco-based independent film distributor Canyon Cinema has played a major role in supporting avant-garde and artist-made films, distributing the works of more than 256 artists all over the world.

Michael Wallin, “Decodings” (1988), 15 minutes, B&W, sound

In honor of its 50th anniversary, Canyon Cinema is hitting the road for an international tour of screenings featuring a selection of 43 films from its vast archive of thousands. Hosted by the UCLA Film & Television Archive and curated by David Dinnell, the Los Angeles stop includes four programs of 16mm films over two nights, in conjunction with a screening of 8mm films on Thursday night at the Echo Park Film Center.

Highlights from Friday night’s programs, titled Studies in Natural Magic and Associations, include Betzy Bromberg’s 1978 New York City punk travelogue Ciao Bella or Fuck Me Dead, Sara Kathryn Arledge’s satirical upending of gender conventions What is a Man? (1958), and Barbara Hammer’s exploration of lesbian identities, Dyketactics (1974), alongside works from Saul Levine, Curt McDowell, Abigail Child, and others. On Saturday, Decodings and Continuum features Mariah Garnett’s 2014 film Encounters I May or May Not Have Had with Peter Berlin, capturing the artist’s infatuation with the ’70s gay sex symbol, and Dominic Angerame’s experimental city symphony Continuum (1987), with other films from Guvnor Nelson, Cauleen Smith, and Canyon Cinema founders Baillie and Chick Strand. In an era when it seems like most every piece of recorded media is available online, Canyon Cinema at 50 reminds us that there are still reels of film accessible only in the dark confines of a communal screening room.

When: Friday, July 13 & Saturday, July 14, 7:30pm nightly
Where: Hammer Museum, Billy Wilder Theater (10899 Wilshire Blvd., Westwood, Los Angeles)

More info at UCLA Film & Television Archive.

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Matt Stromberg

Matt Stromberg is a freelance visual arts writer based in Los Angeles. In addition to Hyperallergic, he has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, CARLA, Apollo, ARTNews, and other publications.