Published: April 13, 2023

Experimental filmmakers Ken and Flo Jacobs have donated their correspondence, teaching materials, film production records and other written materials related to their multi-decade career in New York City’s avant-garde and experimental film community to the University Libraries’ Rare and Distinctive (RaD) Collections.

The new Ken and Flo Jacobs Collection marks a significant expansion of RaD's collections on the history of experimental film and video.

“We are really pleased that Ken and Flo chose the University Libraries to house these important papers and we are honored to be trusted to preserve and steward their legacy,” said Jamie Wagner, moving image archivist.

Pioneers of experimental film

Ken and Flo Jacobs—a married couple—are artists, performers, teachers and experimental filmmakers based in New York City. They are a unique and influential part of the experimental film and avant-garde cinema community that emerged nationally in the 1950s.

Ken was a founding professor in the department of cinema studies at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Binghamton, the first cinema studies department in the SUNY university system. He is considered one of the founders of American experimental cinema and a pioneer of three-dimensional filmmaking, holding patents for several 3D film production technologies and methods. He is also credited with coining the term "paracinema" to describe his cinematic performances, which combine live projector work and shadow play performance.

Together, the Jacobs established venues for experimental filmmakers to screen and develop their work including the renowned Millennium Film Workshop and the Collective for Living Cinema. The Millennium Film Workshop also served as a resource for filmmakers to borrow the tools and equipment for filmmaking.

Through their teaching, filmmaking, performance and networking, the Jacobs paved the way for the future of experimental film


Ken and Flo Jacobs
Ken and Flo Jacobs by Robert Haller, Brakhage Collection

Their connection to CU Boulder

The Jacobs have had close ties to CU Boulder’s Cinema Studies & Moving Image Arts since the 1970s. Ken Jacobs taught experimental film classes in the summer at the university in the late 1970s and early 1980s and gave public workshops at the Boulder Public Library.

The cinema studies program at CU Boulder has a historic reputation for experimental filmmaking. The First Person Cinema series, founded as the Experimental Cinema Group in 1955, is now the world's longest-running university program for screening experimental film and video work.


What's in the collection

Papers in the Ken and Flo Jacobs Collection contain information about Ken Jacobs as an artist—exhibition details, performance notes, teaching and patents—and also represent the personal and professional networks of the avant-garde film community through correspondence with other artists and distribution networks for sending materials.

The collection also has over 200 audio recordings from the 1960s–1990s, including classroom lectures, public talks, recordings of performance rehearsals, and even personal conversations between him and other artists and filmmakers. These recordings are available online via the CU Digital Library with more becoming available as RaD continues to digitize.

These materials may provide insight for anyone interested in American film, experimental and avant-garde art, cinema education and New York’s countercultural art scene.


Image and Idea 3D Theater article in Daily Camera
Daily Camera article about Ken Jacobs' New York Apparition Theatre, Don Yannacito Collection, 1982

A destination for experimental film scholars

Acquiring the Ken and Flo Jacobs Collection is a significant expansion of RaD's collections on the history of experimental film and video. 

RaD is already a center for scholarship in experimental film because of the Stan Brakhage Collection, the work of a former CU Boulder filmmaker, scholar and contemporary to Ken Jacobs, Stan Brakhage. The Brakhage Center for Media Arts was also named after Brakhage, a center that promotes education and research regarding the historical and cultural significance of experimental film and media art.

The Jacobs Collection offers a strong counterpoint to the Brakhage Collection giving scholars a different perspective on many of the same people and concepts.

“RaD has been working since 2019 to establish the University Libraries as a center for scholarship on the history of experimental film. The Jacobs material is a monumental cornerstone collection for us and will attract researchers from around the globe,” said Megan K. Friedel, RaD’s assistant faculty director of Collections Management and Stewardship and the lead archivist for RaD’s archives.

RaD is dedicated to actively collecting archival materials that represent diverse perspectives and approaches to experimental film and video art, and is interested in continuing to expand and develop these rich, archival collections.


Ken Jacobs and Stan Brakhage
Ken Jacobs and Stan Brakhage, Brakhage Collection

Scholars can see the new Ken and Flo Jacobs Collection and other materials in RaD's collections on the history of experimental film and video by scheduling a Reading Room appointment.

Special thanks to the W. H. Donner Foundation, which supported the acquisition of the collection.