An interesting story out of the East Village tonight: Millenium Film Workshop, the legendary film collective founded by director Ken Jacobs in 1966 (whose Seeking the Monkey King was just screened at Sundance and won an award from the National Society of Film Critics) is being evicted from the building it has occupied on East 4th Street since 1975.
The cause (a failure to pay rent for “about ten months,” according to board member Jay Hudson) is not an unusual one leading to an eviction. Nor would the fact Millenium has had drastic cuts from the New York State Council for the Arts be an excuse a landlord would typically accept for such a large sum of unpaid rent.
But this is somewhat unusual: the party evicting Millenium is not a speculator, nor an investment firm, nor a international bank. In no way do they match the typical description of a profit driven greedy landlord.
Quite the opposite, in fact: the evicting landlord is another not-for-profit: it’s La Mama E.T.C. (Experimental Theatre Club), Millenium’s neighbor since it, too, set up on East 4th Street.
According to Hudson, “At 8 O’ clock, we were just served with papers from our landlord. Basically, we were badly hurt by a loss in funding from grants — mostly NYSCA — and basically, we fell seriously behind in our rent. Pretty much, the landlord couldn’t hold out any longer.”
The two were not always landlord and tenant. Hudson says that La Mama and Millenium moved into 74 and 66 East 4th Street, respectively, at the same time, with La Mama founder Ellen Stewart and longtime Millenium leader Howard Guttenplan at the helm of each organization. Originally owned by the city, Hudson says, in 2005, La Mama “paid a dollar” and became the owner of both buildings (and Millenium’s landlord).
For a long time, Hudson says, “There was a standing relationship between Ellen and Howard. I think that kept La Mama from making a move on Millenium.”
This may have shifted last year, when Stewart died and Millenium fell behind in their rent, putting the film workshop at the mercy of the theater. (The block of 4th street both occupy officially became Ellen Stewart Way last October.)
Hudson — who only recently came on the board (along with a returning Jacobs) after Guttenplan stepped aside — says drastic cuts from grant funding have been devastating for Millenium, but he assumes that La Mama has also been hurt by similar cuts from sources like NYSCA. “They’re a much larger organization. Their needs for funding have increased as grants have decreased, so they’re under a lot of pressure. I suspect that’s why they would have taken this drastic step. There was actually going to be a deal with Millenium and La Mama in place,” Hudson says.
“The people at La Mama are great people,” Jacobs echoed, “so I’m not sure what happened.” Both say a number of steps were in the works to raise revenue — including a sale this weekend, which they say La Mama was aware of, so they were surprised to get the eviction letter tonight.
Despite falling behind in their rent — which Hudson says is about a third of Millenium’s overall costs, when they’re keeping up with it — Millenium has not had a drastic cut in services in recent months. They’ve continued to have screenings and classes. The Millenium Film Journal is still being published.
The next step, Hudson says, is to contact their lawyer tomorrow and to take the issue to their members, of which there are about 100 who are currently active.
For his part, Jacobs is glad to be back at Millenium after a hiatus of many years, although he concedes that if it’s going to survive, it’s imperative that young people take the reins, something he thinks is happening. “I’m old, and I’m making my films full time. It’s really a good thing that there are young members [at Millenium]. It has the attention of a lot of young people, who are ready to give it fresh energy.”
Disclosure: When I was studying film at NYU in the last nineties, I cut one of my 16mm films at Millenium one summer and became a member when I couldn’t get access at Tisch. I asked Jacobs if there was still a flatbed at Millenium, and/or if anyone was still using it.
“There is, and they do. Believe or not there are people who still insist of working with film. Not me, though. I think they’re crazy.
“I use Final Cut and After Effects.”
Tomorrow, we will reach out to La Mama for their side of the story.