Experimental or avant-garde film is a tricky notion. In North America, "avant-garde" is the more common term of the two because film as a practice is primarily marked by a manifestly commercial culture. Non-profit, minor, and inexpensively produced film is itself a phenomenon of the avant-garde in a climate that is strictly capitalist. In Europe, where hardly any feature films aimed for regular distribution are produced without public funding (that is, partly non-commercial), the oppositions between different economies of production are not as polarized.
I am, however, convinced that we have these imprecise and restricting notions of avant-garde or experimental because film as a field of study has such a short history. The emerging digital culture of the moving image that is blending formats, media and practices of exhibition will soon make the notion of "film" obsolete. Nonetheless, the dominant form, i.e., narrative feature film, has become—and has been—the metonymical figure for film as an economy (movies), social form (film) and aesthetic language (cinema). What the recent changes in formats, media, and exhibition will imply for those products and practices that David James has termed "minor cinemas" is that, when taken together, "minor" cinematic forms will turn out to be "major" in terms of output and availability, due to digital technology and the Internet. The change is nevertheless not radically new. In 1958, Pontus Hultén, the up-and-coming, versatile director of Stockholm's Museum of Contemporary Art (one of the leading European art museums of the 1960s), pointed this out in a catalogue for Viking Eggeling's work:
In a couple of years probably no one will talk about film as they are doing now. The concept of film will disappear. Film will be used in the same way as the printed word. The simple fact that the moving image is projected by an optic-mechanical apparatus will be no more of a common denominator than that all printed letters are printed in a printing press. There will be as many kinds of film as there are novels, newspapers, brochures, secret reports, essays and poems. And every kind will be considered as something separate in itself...
Detroit: Wayne State University Press , 2007. Vol. 48, no 2, 165-173 p.