Ben Yahya, an American student at the London School of Film Technique, then in Covent Garden, only gets one line in my book, but his energy was an important factor in the LFMCo-op workshop’s early days. In a letter he wrote to the obscure film mag fiba actualité dated 25 May ‘68 (issue of spring 1969), Ben gives this alternative account of the workshop’s birth throes.
“I am an American. I came to London last Christmas. I want to make films. I found the London Filmmakers Co-operative, [then still based at Better Books] though helpful and sincere, to be little than a mimeographed list of already established ‘underground’ films for hire. I don’t believe an art can exist in a vacuum, least of all filmmaking, a truly communist art form. One must have an audience and one must have competitors, tutors and students. Working with funds and facilities provided for me by Dave Curtis and Jim Haynes at the Arts Lab, I built a 16mm film developing contraption. [‘Funds’ is news to me, and he’s understating Malcolm’s role in the making of that wonderful Heath Robinson ‘contraption’ – giant plywood wheels with connecting dowel rods studded with nails to keep the film in place, and wooden trays for developer etc., into which they turned; but he continues, now acknowledging Malcolm:] I then found someone else interested in making films, creating a scene in which others could make films and overcoming the prohibitive costs and lack of inter-individual communication that have kept anything from happening in London to date. His name is Malcolm Le Grice., he’s English, he’s built a 16mm printer. Through the Arts Lab we called an open meeting last January, and established a pool of the equipment and skills we each possessed, a pool that could be used by whoever wished. We also found cheap suppliers of 16mm stock…..We have recently joined forces with the old London Filmmakers Co-operative to create a two-tier distribution/production community of independent filmmakers. … We generally number about 100 [!] and to my knowledge, there are at least 12 independent productions in various stages of assembly which in one way or another were helped by the Co-op”.
In the bulk of his letter to fiba, Ben seems to be taking issue with the magazine’s report on the Knokke 67-68 EXPRMNTL Festival, (a report I haven’t seen, but which I assume he felt either overstates or perhaps belittles the nascent LFMCo-op’s achievements). Thanks to Mark Webber for drawing my attention to this letter. I’ve lost touch with Ben, but believe he became fully involved with theatre on his later return to New York.
Fred Drummond’s Showerproof and Mike Leggett’s Shepherd’s Bush and amongst the first films to directly show the impact of access to the professional printers and developers at the Robert St workshop. For detailed information about the equipment and its use, see Mike Leggett’s article ‘LFMC Workshop: Early Experimentation with Printer and Processor’ in Shoot Shoot Shoot (Webber, 2016).
Showerproof, Fred Drummond, 1969
Shepherd’s Bush, Mike Leggett, 1971