MM Serra of New York City’s Film-Makers’ Cooperative to visit IU Cinema Feb. 27

MM Serra

MM Serra, a key figure in the New York underground filmmaking scene, will speak at IU Cinema and attend two screenings during her visit to Indiana University Bloomington.


Guest post by Noelle Griffis of IU’s Black Film Center/Archive:

“We don’t want false, polished, slick films—we prefer them rough, unpolished, but alive; we don’t want rosy films—we want them the color of blood.”

These determined words concluded the first statement of the New American Cinema Group, now known as The Film-Makers’ Cooperative. For more than a decade, MM Serra has served as its executive director.

Serra will be in Bloomington to give a Jorgensen Guest Filmmaker Lecture at 3 p.m. on Feb. 27. In the evening she also will present two programs of the Cooperative’s films at Indiana University Cinema as part of the Underground Film Series.

The founding of “The Group”

Emboldened by the success of low-budget, independent works like John Cassavetes’ “Shadows” (1959), a coalition of New York filmmakers including Jonas Mekas, Andy Warhol, Shirley Clarke and Jack Smith gathered together in 1962 to draft their manifesto.

The Group, as they called themselves, rejected the multimillion-dollar “product film” and the “budget myth” perpetuated by the film industry to keep filmmaking in the hands of the few. They declared Hollywood obsolete, morally corrupt, and above all else, boring. They called for a radically new, uncensored cinema.

Initially organized as the distribution center for the New American Cinema Group, The Film-Makers’ Cooperative is now the longest-standing archive and distributor of independent media.

As executive director of the Coop, MM Serra has worked tirelessly to preserve the legacy of the New York avant-garde, while also continuing its tradition of pushing new boundaries through her own filmmaking practice.

MM Serra: Moving Image Maker

During her talk “Art(core): Avant Garde and the Cinematic Body,” Serra will discuss how the ongoing opposition to censorship has worked to shape and define the American avant-garde cinema, from the arrests that followed exhibitions of Smith’s “Flaming Creatures” in 1963, to recent bans on work deemed too provocative. The lecture will include film clips and a screening of a new work in progress. Tickets are not required for this event, but seating is limited.


“The Explicit Celluloid Body” will feature shorts by Peggy Ahwesh and others in the Film-Makers’ Cooperative.

The 6:30 p.m. program, “The Explicit Celluloid Body,” features 16mm works that span the cooperative’s 50-year history. “All of the films are from the Film-Makers’ Cooperative collection and reflect an overview of filmmakers who broke with the taboos and censorship of the mainstream popular culture of the United States,” Serra said in her curatorial statement. “I chose short experimental films that focus on the body and embrace an alternative perspective on gender and sexuality.”

The program features works by seminal avant-garde filmmakers, including Smith, Carolee Schneemann, Paul Sharits, Kurt Kren, Peggy Ahwesh and Martha Colburn. The presentation culminates with Barbara Rubin’s “Christmas on Earth,” which incorporates double-projection and color gels that alter the projected image. Originally screened as part of an Andy Warhol/Velvet Underground performance, the film itself becomes a live event as the nature of its projection ensures that each viewing will be unique.

Serra as a filmmaker

The 9:30 p.m. program, “The Short, Radical Films of MM Serra,” presents a retrospective of experimental works from Serra’s 30-year career as a boundary-pushing visual artist. Her films have premiered at Sundance, MoMA and the New York Film Festival.

MM Serra Bitch Beauty

“Bitch Beauty” is a 2011 film from MM Serra.

This 16mm and video program includes “Chop Off” (2008), “Bitch Beauty” (2011) and a special presentation of a new work in progress that incorporates archival Times Square peep show footage.

Serra’s films feature the deviant and the taboo, exploring the thin lines between pleasure and pain, and sexuality and death. Her films are often sexually explicit, but she explains, “They resist the commodification of the body enacted by the sex industry.”

The term she has coined for experimental films that explore the erotic is “Art(core).”

Please be advised that the Serra lecture and both screenings contain sexually explicit material. The film screenings at IU Cinema are free, but ticketed. The “MM Serra: Moving Image Maker” series is sponsored by the Department of Communication and Culture, Film and Media Studies Program, the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction and IU Cinema.

The Jorgensen Guest Filmmaker Lecture Series is made possible through the generous support of the Ove W Jorgensen Foundation.

Tickets for IU Cinema films can be obtained at the IU Auditorium box office from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday; at the cinema one hour before any screening; or by phone at 812-855-1103 for a $10 service fee per order.

Related Screenings at IU Cinema

Just Another Notion: The Short Films of Mike Henderson” will be screened at 6:30 p.m. on April 3 at IU Cinema. Henderson is a painter, blues musician and sculptor whose work can be found at the Film-Makers’ Cooperative. He and archivist Mark Toscano of the Academy Film Archives will attend the screening, which is sponsored by the Black Film Center/Archive.

Noelle Griffis is a doctoral candidate in Film and Media Studies. She is currently writing about filmmaking culture and the politics of location shooting in New York City, 1966-1974.

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