In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Avant-Garde and Experimental Film

  • Introduction
  • Anthologies
  • Journals
  • Early Cinema and Modernism
  • European Avant-Garde Film
  • International Avant-Garde Film outside Europe
  • Avant-Garde Film Theory
  • Film Theory and Experimental Film
  • Gender and Sexuality
  • Venues and Archives
  • Rental Resources
  • Filmographies

Related Articles Expand or collapse the "related articles" sectionabout

Forthcoming Articles Expand or collapse the "forthcoming articles" section


Cinema and Media Studies Avant-Garde and Experimental Film
Robin Blaetz
  • LAST REVIEWED: 15 August 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 July 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0082


Experimental and avant-garde film is cinema made outside of the film industry on an artisanal basis, largely without regard to the structures and demands of traditional narrative film. While experimental film as a separate mode of film practice is international, its most prevalent manifestations were in western Europe before World War II and North America and Britain in the postwar period. Avant-garde film is often produced in the context of the larger art world, particularly in relation to the visual arts and literature. It is also frequently produced as a critique of dominant, classical Hollywood cinema and functions in relation to political movements and strategies, such as feminism. Although experimental films present myriad structures, lengths, and concerns, filmmakers have traditionally favored 8 mm and 16 mm formats. Currently, filmmakers are using video and new media of all kinds as well as including film in larger multimedia installations. Scholarship and writing about experimental film run the gamut from deeply personal and casual in tone to highly dense and theoretical. Unless otherwise noted, the material in this bibliography is suitable for undergraduate and graduate students who have some knowledge of film history. Given the paucity of material written about experimental film as well as the countercultural nature of the films and the filmmaking practices, some original texts are included that have been supplanted with revised versions of film history because they are inaccurate or unsubstantiated; yet, they remain useful for the obscure material and historical perspectives they provide.


Given the broad range of films that are called experimental, no single anthology can cover the entire field. MacDonald 1988–2005, a formidable five-volume collection of interviews with a wide range of avant-garde filmmakers, is the most inclusive source, while Dixon and Foster 2002 and Graf and Scheunemann 2007 are single volumes that include the work of filmmakers who are unavailable for interviews. Michelson 2017 is an indispensible volume for its brilliance and coverage. Posner 2001 is a short but rich guide that accompanies a seven-disc DVD set of restored films. MacDonald 2014 examines the blend of documentary and avant-garde film through interviews. The Sitney 1975, Sitney 1978, and Sitney 2000 edited volumes (all cited under P. Adams Sitney) are essential, given P. Adam Sitney’s premier role in writing and editing the history of the field, while the Mekas 1972 edited volume is more specific to the rise of the American Avant-Garde in the 1960s and 1970s and is written by a filmmaker and activist rather than a historian. James and Hyman 2015 covers postwar experimental film in Los Angeles. UbuWeb: Film & Video contains not only films but written material by and about many experimental filmmakers.

  • Dixon, Wheeler Winston, and Gwendolyn Audrey Foster, eds. Experimental Cinema: The Film Reader. London and New York: Routledge, 2002.

    Covers the field of experimental and avant-garde cinema from the 1920s onward, concentrating on movements and varied key figures, with a concentration on issues such as gender, sexuality, and race, as well as the impact of technological innovation.

  • Graf, Alexander, and Dietrich Scheunemann, eds. Avant-Garde Film. Amsterdam and New York: Rodopi, 2007.

    This hefty, wide-ranging anthology is the result of a research project at the University of Edinburgh that aims to connect the history of avant-garde film to the wider avant-garde in literature and art. It establishes a continuum between the contemporary moving image and the classical experimental film that preceded it from the 1920s onward.

  • James, David, and Adam Hyman, eds. Alternative Projections: Experimental Film in Los Angeles, 1945–1980. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2015.

    Enriches the history of avant-garde cinema by moving beyond the usual New York and San Francisco film scenes to consider the work of Los Angeles-based filmmakers. In addition to scholarly work, the book includes historical documents, photographs, and information about postwar film series.

  • MacDonald, Scott. A Critical Cinema: Interviews with Independent Filmmakers. 5 vols. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988–2005.

    These five volumes of in-depth, perceptive, truly enlightening interviews with a multitude of filmmakers offer a veritable history of the field. The author’s overriding concern is with experimental cinema as a form of critique of conventional media.

  • MacDonald, Scott. Avant Doc: Intersections of Documentary and Avant-Garde Cinema. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.

    This collection of interviews, including one with Annette Michelson and several about Harvard’s Sensory Ethnography Lab, focuses on filmmakers and some specific films that exist between and blur the conventional categories of documentary and avant-garde filmmaking.

  • Mekas, Jonas, ed. Movie Journal: The Rise of a New American Cinema, 1959–1971. New York: Macmillan, 1972.

    A collection of the columns written for the Village Voice beginning in 1958 under the title “Movie Journal” by a filmmaker who is also one of the founders of the journal Film Culture (New York, 1955–1996; select articles available online), the Film-Maker’s Co-op, and Anthology Film Archives.

  • Michelson, Annette. On the Eve of the Future: Selected Writings on Film. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2017.

    A collection of the most influential essays written by one of avant-garde film’s original and most important scholars. Includes essays about Marcel Duchamp, Maya Deren, Joseph Cornell, Hollis Frampton, Martha Rosler, Harry Smith, Michael Snow, and others.

  • Posner, Bruce, ed. Unseen Cinema: Early American Avant-Garde Film 1893–1941. New York: Anthology Film Archives, 2001.

    Assembled to accompany a seven-disc DVD collection of restored films, this short volume includes thirty essays and articles by both filmmakers and scholars, as well as sixty-five annotated photographs.

  • UbuWeb: Film & Video.

    This page on the UbuWeb website contains links to a good deal of written material by and about experimental filmmakers and their work. It also features an eclectic and unpredictable array of films that can be watched on the website. The films are not always approved by the filmmakers for inclusion and the quality of the material is variable.

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