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Experimental Film Coalition: The Founding

Letter from a student publication, 1983

This is Part One in a series about Chicago’s Experimental Film Coalition; and covers the organization’s inception.

In 1983, a group in Chicago, Illinois formed the Experimental Film Coalition to promote and provide support nationally for independent, avant-garde, experimental and underground filmmakers. In their hometown, the Coalition hosted monthly screenings, founded a long running film festival and published two periodicals during their decade-plus existence.

Perhaps the first mention of the Coalition was in a “Letter to the Editor” in the February 25, 1983 edition of Crumbs, a student publication at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC).

The unsigned letter lays out the writer’s frustration with the experimental filmmaker’s extreme difficulty in finding funding to create work, as opposed to traditional narrative and documentary filmmakers. The plan for the Coalition was to create a non-profit corporation to help “apply and lobby for private, state, and federal funds” for experimental filmmakers nationwide. A meeting was set for Monday, February 28, 1983 at 6:00 p.m. in SAIC’s Filmmaking department to discuss the group’s formation. (Click above image to read the letter in full.)

As of this writing, a list of attendees of that meeting has not been uncovered. However, one of the group’s founders was filmmaker Sharon Couzin, who served as the Coalition’s President until 1988. Couzin began making films in the early 1970s, including Roseblood (1974), an experimental dance film, and Deutschland Spiegel (1980), which combines German newsreels and personal footage. She was teaching at SAIC in 1983 and had been since 1978; after receiving her B.A. there in 1976 and her MFA in 1977.

Another early Coalition member was John Schofill, who also taught film at SAIC at the time. Plus, E. Jay Sims served as the Coalition’s Communications Coordinator from 1986 to 1989.

One of the earliest initiatives of the Coalition was to hold regular monthly screenings, which you can read here in Part Two.

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