I can remember the first official meeting of the London Filmmakers' Cooperative at Better Books in October, 1966. The actual Co-op had already been formed months earlier in an ad hoc manner out of the film club that was being run on a weekly basis at Better Books. Three of the original committee of five consisted of myself, Simon Hartog, and Bob Cobbing. Bob Cobbing was the manager of Better Books and ran the film club. He was a poet, a concrete poet, and the book shop was a thriving centre for artists of all sorts from many places and many nationalities. It was the early days when London was becoming the hub of activities - an axis between the Americas and Western Europe - and Better Books was one of the very few centrally located bookshops to get good and hard-to-get books, especially on Cinema, Theatre and Poetry. Besides, there were other activities going on at the book shop - like theatre performances in the basement (the People's Show were regularly there) and poetry readings - sometimes music. In any case, there was a sufficient number of interested people passing through to make a regular audience. This was a time of dreams, counter culture flurry, free university days and of course, before divisions set in.
The telling of most periods of history - particularly film history - is most often twisted and distorted at best, and, at worst, just pure propaganda built on half truths. Those who survive leave out those who didn't; one generation leaves out the previous generation (or leave out those who don't suit the current trend) - and dates get changed to be convenient for the writers' tale. Of the latter point, history often puts Warhol's films as the birth and cornerstone of the New American Cinema (better known as the Underground Film movement). Those of us who were there know this to be untrue. Warhol merely picked up on an existing movement and even copied some of the many who preceded him (like Ron Rice, Jack Smith, Harry Smith, Stan Brakhage, Jonas Mekas, Bruce Conner, Shirley Clarke, Robert Frank, Ken Jacobs, Michael Snow, Marie Menken, Kenneth Anger, The Fluxus Group, etc.) Warhol only fooled around with film for a few years and left it just as quickly as he got into it.
It is Warhol's overall success that made him the name to which the others became mere tangents and poor followers. Back at the first London Filmmakers' Co-op meeting in October, 1966, a great many of the British yet to be filmmakers turned up - there were around forty - asking what could the Co-op do for them. I found a note of this in a book published in 1969 (Counter Culture edited by Joseph Berke) describing the scene: many of the so-called filmmakers who arrived came expecting the Co-op to lay on all the facilities for them to be successful filmmakers. There was a British tendency to divide and categorize between professional and amateur. The co-operative structure fitted neither of these existing values. These filmmakers went away to seek success and financial reward in television and the existing industry. A few remained. The majority of the films the co-operative began to handle came from other countries, with just a few from home [the films of Jeff Keen made up a major part of these.] Nonetheless, the films of the New American Cinema got around to a new audience. After this exposure the young British filmmakers started to appear. The Co-op was originally set up to distribute, promote and exhibit the new independent cinema. It was not initially intended for it to be a facility house or a production base.
It wasn't long after the Co-op was running (Antonioni, for example, was an early member) and it began to produce a short lived magazine called Cinim. Only two issues appeared and by the second issue there were suddenly ten other publications (of various qualities) that were discussing the New Cinema now mostly being handled by the Co-op. I was touring the country showing my films along with the growing number of films now distributed by the Co-op. It was because of the then strong Film Society activity throughout the UK that made such New Film exposure possible. But it is here - by late 1967 - that divisions began and history gets all muddled. The films being distributed by the London Filmmakers' Co-op were films that were already made and this didn't satisfy some of the newer filmmakers. An alternative Filmmakers' Co-operative was also set up at the venue called the Arts Lab. The Arts Lab was a space that was fitted with more purpose built facilities and had its own cinema. It drew the membership of the original Filmmakers' Co-op, especially when, by 1968 the owners of Better Books prevented any further use of the shop for films or poetry and the politics of the day. These fractures produced various partisan film practices and subsequently differing film ideologies. Those who had the space therefore dominated the high ground.
I had made seven films by 1966. My first film Asleep was made in 1961. The first time I had shown them publicly in London was at the first Notting Hill Festival the summer before the Co-op began. (The first Notting Hill Festival was not the Carnival as it is now. It was a week long series of events such as music, street theatre, film shows and other art events. I was asked to organize the film shows.) When the 4th International Experimental Film Festival happened in 1967 my eyes were opened. This extremely rare, daring and very large film festival, held in Knokke-le-Zoute, Belgium, from Christmas to New Year's day (thus it finished in 1968) brought together all the possible experimental, independent, underground and avant-garde (whatever you want to call them) films. I presented four of my films with trepidation...