Avant to Live!

Fifty years ago this July, Bruce Baillie and Chick Strand set up a sheet in their backyard in the California town of Canyon to project avant-garde films. This low-key, lo-fi setup, fortified with red wine, became a weekly bastion for filmmakers as well as their associates, friends, and lovers. Baillie and Strand went on (separately) to make landmark experimental films while shepherding their small artistic and social scene into incarnations that continue to thrive today: San Francisco Cinematheque (exhibition) and Canyon Cinema (distribution). The second annual Crossroads Festival launches tonight with “Radical Light: Cinematheque at 50,” part of a program honoring the Bay Area’s broad, important, and entertaining history of avant-garde filmmaking. The bill features Baillie’s 1966 piece, Tung, plus works by icons such as Gunvor Nelson, Bruce Conner, Greta Snider, and Timoleon Wilkins (although, alas, nothing by Strand). A couple of other salutes to local pioneers pepper the festival (notably “Celebrating Robert Nelson”), but the overwhelming majority is devoted to midcareer and next-generation filmmakers from around the country. Here’s a little-known fact: Much of the innovation and energy in American cinema these days is concentrated in experimental film. And that’s not the red wine talking.
May 12-15, 7 p.m., 2011

 
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