Steve Anker: Always Starting Something

"It's incredibly alive!" says Steve Anker, surveying the alternative media scene in Los Angeles.

Anker is getting ready to initiate a multi-venue celebration of experimental media here in Los Angeles in celebration of the publication of a new book, Radical Light: Alternative Film and Video in the San Francisco Bay Area, 1945 - 2000, which, at just over 300 pages, captures an extraordinary history, with contributions by dozens of filmmakers, historians, critics and curators.

The book, more than a decade in the making, was edited by Anker and two of his San Francisco-based colleagues and avant-garde advocates - Kathy Geritz is the Film Curator at the Pacific Film Archive at UC Berkeley and Steve Seid is PAF's Video Curator. Anker knows Geritz and Seid from his many years in San Francisco, where he was the director of the beloved San Francisco Cinematheque, known for championing alternative media, as well as artistic director of the Foundation for Art in Cinema. He has a degree in Filmmaking and Film History from Columbia University, and taught for many years at the San Francisco Art Institute. He currently is the dean of the School of Film/Video at CalArts, and co-curates, with Berenice Reynaud, the wonderful programs of experimental film at REDCAT.

Anker arrived in Los Angeles eight years ago, and says that in that time, LA's media art scene has blossomed. "Look at what's happening," he says. "You have galleries showing video and mixed media work, you have screenings, you have communities. It's been a real surprise!"

Anker's career has been devoted to supporting alternative media - he has worked in New York and Boston in addition to San Francisco and LA - and he has encountered his share of nay-sayers, those who say that the avant-garde has become stodgy, or that the scene is finally over. "In 1980 and '81, people were saying that talking about avant-garde film was like beating a dead horse - it was over." Anker disagreed, and he was right. The '80s and '90s were watershed decades in a new era of alternative film and video, with the rise of personal video, video art, video installation and the emergence of a new generation of artists and filmmakers dedicated to a DIY ethos.

Now, people complain that the avant-garde is too museum-based. Again, Anker isn't convinced. "Sure, you can say the avant-garde is institutionalized, but what does that really mean? Has Brakhage been institutionalized? Has Michael Snow become institutionalized? I don't think so."

When asked about his strategies for galvanizing communities around alternative media, Anker says that his method is simple. "I find that by tapping into things that are already here, and bringing people together, you can make a lot happen. Here in Los Angeles, the response to this area has been very strong, very intelligent, very committed and very broad. It's very obvious just how much need and value this kind of activity has here."

The screenings in celebration of Radical Light offer a great way to see a 50-year history of mediamaking by a particular community. One of the special highlights is the final screening on Sunday, January 23 at the Echo Park Film Center, when Anker will present several Super 8 an Regular 8mm films.

Looking back at his career, going all the way back to New York nearly 30 years ago, Anker says that supporting alternative media is an ongoing endeavor. "I see myself always starting something," he says. Lucky for us, he's here in LA.

The events organized to celebrate Radical Light include the following:
Friday, January 14 at 7:30 p.m.
UCLA Film and Television Archives
Billy Wilder Theater
Hammer Museum
10899 Wilshire Boulevard
Westwood Village
Program: "Landscape As Expression"

Sunday, January 16 at 7:30 p.m.
L.A. Filmforum
at the Spielberg Theater at the Egyptian
6712 Hollywood Boulevard
Program: "The 1980s and 1990s"

Monday, January 17 at 8:30 p.m.
Disney Concert Hall
631 West Second Street
Downtown Los Angeles
Program: "Beat Era San Francisco"

Thursday, January 20 at 7:30 p.m.
Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions (LACE)
6522 Hollywood Boulevard
Program: "Post-Performance Video"

Friday, January 21 at 7:30 p.m.
UCLA Film and Television Archives
Billy Wilder Theater
Hammer Museum
10899 Wilshire Boulevard
Westwood Village
Program: "1961-1971"

Sunday, January 23 at 7:30 p.m.
L.A. Filmforum
at the Echo Park Film Center
1200 North Alvarado Street (@ Sunset Blvd.)
Program: "Small Gauge"

Story continues below

We are dedicated to providing you with articles like this one. Show your support with a tax-deductible contribution to KCET. After all, public media is meant for the public. It belongs to all of us.

Keep Reading