San Francisco Cinematheque is a non-profit media arts organization dedicated to the cultivation of the international field of non-commercial artist-made cinema. San Francisco Cinematheque inspires aesthetic dialog among artists, stimulates critical discourse, and encourages appreciation of artist-made cinema across the broader cultural landscape.

Cinematheque is dedicated to presenting and encouraging study and appreciation of film, video and performance works which engage with the histories and traditions associated with forms of cinema identified under various non-commercial rubrics as avant-garde, experimental, underground, personal, graphic, abstract, expanded, visionary (etc, etc etc), including formally innovative narrative and documentary forms, animated works and other marginalized forms. In its dedication to supporting aesthetically radical cinema from all historical eras and geo-political locales, Cinematheque celebrates the breadth and depth of this vibrant art form. In our 62 years, Cinematheque has supported the careers of thousands of film/video artists and enjoys a strong position as a major nexus in the international avant-garde film community.

Cinematheque traces its origins to an originary film screening presented by filmmaker Bruce Baillie in 1961 in a  front yard in Canyon, California, a small community hidden in the hills and valleys just east of Oakland. Baillie was soon joined by filmmaker Chick Strand and other fellow conspirators and together the group presented underground film screenings at various locations across the San Francisco Bay Area, including Glide Fellowship Hall, Mills College, Intersection for the Arts and Sonoma State University. Consistently supported by a constantly shifting cast of participants, Canyon Cinema, as it was known, also served for much of the 1960s as an informal filmmaking collective and information hub, publishing The Canyon Cinema News on a regular basis, and, by the mid-’60s had become a formal distributor of underground films. This distribution activity continues to this day through the work of the Canyon Cinema Foundation, a non-profit film distributor representing hundreds of independent filmmakers and holding over 3,500 films.

In the 1970s, Cinematheque expanded its curatorial vision to be more inclusive of film (and video) from international filmmaking communities, acquired 501(c)3 non-profit status (in 1977) and began the ongoing year-round schedule of public film screenings that continues to this day. Since this era, Cinematheque has partnered with an array of Bay Area film and arts institutions in our presentations including Artists’ Television Access, the Center for New Music, the Canyon Cinema Foundation, the Exploratorium, the Film Arts Foundation, Gray Area, Headlands Center for the Arts, the McEvoy Foundation for the Arts, New Langton Arts, No Nothing Cinema, Other Cinema, the San Francisco Art Institute, SFMOMA, Shapeshifters Cinema, Total Mobile Home Microcinema and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (among others) and has presented programs at venues and festivals worldwide.

In 1985, Cinematheque published the first issue of Cinematograph, Cinematheque’s “occasional” journal, which has published seven issues (the most recent being in 2013). Cinematheque has also published artist books and monographs on filmmakers—including Ernie Gehr,* Scott Stark,* Stephanie Barber, Jeanne C. Finley & John Muse, Lynn Marie Kirby, Gordon Matta-Clark and Lynne Sachs.* Please visit our online bookstore for more information about these—and other hard-to-find titles.

In 2010, Cinematheque founded CROSSROADS an annual film festival dedicated to the exhibition of contemporary avant-garde film, video and performance work from the international filmmaking community. Presented in dialog with avant-garde film festivals worldwide, CROSSROADS is recognized by artists, curators and others in the field for its attentive and insightful curatorial vision and as a significant node in the international film community.

In the past CROSSROADS has been presented annually at San Francisco’s Victoria Theater (2010-2016) and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (2015-2019). As of 2022, CROSSROADS  is presented at Gray Area. For a history of CROSSROADS (including Program Notes and listing of all programs) please visit our CROSSROADS festival page.