“MILLENNIUM: THAT WAS MY NAME FOR IT when, first asked in 1966, to propose a project. The Millennium because it would have to be that to actually give out equipment, education, space to work in, etc. for free. Dictionary definition: A hoped for period of joy, serenity, prosperity and justice.”
-Ken Jacobs, August 2013
An integral part of the cultural history of New York City, the Millennium Film Workshop was born during the 1960’s counter-cultural period in the East Village. The Millennium was one of a group of arts workshops set up in 1965-66 on the Lower East Side by St. Marks Church and the New School as part of the federal government’s anti-poverty program (this is where the St. Mark’s Poetry Project got its start). Filmmaker Ken Jacobs was appointed the first director, and in the fall of 1966 he set up a film series at the church on Sunday afternoons – mostly one-person programs open to any filmmaker with a body of work. Jacobs also launched separate “open screenings,” where he led discussions between the filmmakers and audience, pioneering the one-person film-talk format in the United States and establishing it as a vital and distinctive feature of the organization. In 1967, the organization became independent and moved to an old courthouse on Second Street and Second Avenue, the building now used by Anthology Film Archives. Workshops were introduced where various filmmakers taught classes in cinematography, sound, and editing. When Jacobs began teaching at Binhamton University, George Tenneille, and then and Gary Smith served as Executive Directors.
Filmmaker Howard Guttenplan (was named Executive Director in 1971 and led Millennium for forty years. A gifted administrator, he developed a stable operational model based on the efficient use of diverse revenue streams. A visionary programmer, his “Personal Cinema” series brought to New York emerging filmmakers from around the nation and world, such as Jon Jost, Kenneth Anger, Carolee Schneeman, Valie Export, Paul Sharits, Michael Snow, Malcolm Le Grice, Yvonne Rainer, Bruce Conner, Robert Breer, Birgit Hein, Ernie Gehr, Abigail Child, Amy Greenfield, James Benning, and Rudy Burckhardt. Artists who were invited to mount their first one-person shows at Millennium include Hollis Frampton, Clayton Patterson, Jennifer Reeves, Donna Cameron, Bill Morrison, Fred Worden, M.M. Serra, Todd Haynes, Vivienne Dick, Holly Fisher, Sharon Greytak, Lewis Klahr, and Su Friedrich.
The late Stan Brakhage was a passionate supporter of Millennium, and it was his preferred NYC exhibition venue. Guttenplan maintained “instruction in the tools of filmmaking” at a high level, delivered through intimate classes led by remarkable teachers, including Alan Berliner, Su Friedrich, Barbara Hammer, Paul Sharits, Jud Yalkut, Ross McLaren, Jennifer Reeves, Kelly Spivey, Noël Carroll, Nisi Jacobs, Rachel Shuman, and Jon Jost.
The Millennium Film Journal was launched in 1978. Currently led by Senior Editor Grahame Weinbren, it is now the oldest continuously published journal of artist’s cinema in the world, known for diversity and quality of thought. In 1999 Guttenplan established an in-house gallery devoted to exhibitions of visual art by and about media artists, and soon after added digital cinema to media instruction available at “no or low cost”.
In its early history Millennium occupied various locations in lower Manhattan, including a loft space on Great Jones Street (1969-1974), before settling in a long-term home in a city-owned building at 66 East 4th Street in 1974. In 2011 the building was acquired by Millennium’s co-tenant, La Mama theater company. Faced with a radical increase in rent, a member movement elected a new governing board, and upon Howard Guttenplan’s retirement in 2012 directed negotiations to extricate the organization from its lease, and led Millennium through the very difficult transition to a new organizational paradigm and location. In June 2013, MFW moved across the Williamsburg Bridge to Bushwick, Brooklyn, an emerging focal point of visual art in New York City. It is currently housed at Fire Proof at 119 Ingraham Street in Bushwick.
Peter Kingsbury served as Executive Director from September 2013 through October 2015. With zero funding, he implemented a program of distributed volunteer leadership, adding posts such as Programming Director, Equipment Manager, and MFJ Managing Editor, and support posts such as Archivist, Bookkeeper, and Screening Committee. Full seasons of Personal Cinema screenings were restored, following a principle of open programming, and in 2013-14 six workshops were mounted. New Bylaws were introduced to improve governance accountability and transparency.
In May 2015 The Museum of Modern Art purchased the Millennium Archive -thousands of images, audio tapes, letters, program notes, publicity, and ephemera that documents 49 years of exhibition and service to cinema artists. MoMA’s acquisition of the Archive, a final project of the late Howard Guttenplan, validates the relevance of Millennium’s mission, and the historical significance of its programs in the development of artists’ cinema. The interaction of its workshops, equipment access, journal, and screenings has long provided filmmakers unique synergies of reflection and practice.
To better serve this mission, in November 2015 Millennium’s board, staff, and membership embarked on a six to nine month period of strategic reflection and restructuring. Although Millennium’s screenings, workshops, and equipment access programs are suspended, publication of the Millennium Film Journal will continue.
In this period of “creative hibernation” we will listen to members, friends, and the broader artist cinema community; analyze assets, challenges, and opportunities; and approve a five year Strategic Plan. We will gather funding and organize volunteer capacity, forge partnerships, renew and acquire equipment, negotiate space. At the end of this period a stronger and more capable Millennium will reopen to serve cinema artists.
The Millennium Film Workshop will continue to be dedicated to the exhibition, study, and practice of experimental cinema. Whether supporting artists in the development of their work, or critically engaging audiences, our wide range of programs and services will support the role artists play in stimulating social change, cultural awareness, and inspiring creativity in others.