Support Filmmaker & Friend MM Serra

Dear Friends of MM Serra,

We need your help and support to raise money for our dear friend and beloved community member, MM Serra. We’re asking you to contribute to a fund that will pay her apartment rent for the next two years. This will guarantee MM’s security and well-being through December 2025. 

MM Serra is a filmmaker, curator, and adjunct professor at The New School. Until recently, she was Executive Director of the Film-Makers’ Cooperative, the world’s oldest and largest distributor of independent film, where she served on staff for 32 years. She has taught courses on cinema at The New School since 1998 and has made over 34 films, which have screened at venues like MoMA, Sundance, and the Tribeca Film Festival. In March, the Society for Cinema & Media Studies’s annual conference in Boston will feature the roundtable discussion, “A Celebration & Reflection on Filmmaker, Curator MM Serra’s 30+ Years as Executive Director of Film-makers’ Cooperative.”

In the last year, Serra has experienced significant life changes, which have left her in a precarious financial position. Since transitioning off of the Coop’s staff, Serra has been living in New York City without a substantial source of income and has been subsisting on social security, a meager adjunct salary, and modest savings. In addition, Serra had a serious health scare last summer. She underwent emergency surgery in July and was hospitalized for several days afterward. This left her with thousands of dollars in medical bills, as well as an increased need for long-term medical care and home care. 

Despite these issues, Serra has continued production on several new films. She has also maintained an active teaching schedule at The New School, and has worked to develop new programming projects to support artists in her community. Her philosophy of making art no matter what life throws at her has inspired us all. As her friends, we believe that giving her this rent stability will allow her to direct her income toward other material needs, while also enabling her to continue her active and necessary artistic practice. 

The major reason we are working to raise money for Serra is because she has dedicated so much time and labor to supporting the independent film community in New York. As the Executive Director of the Film-Makers’ Cooperative, for instance, Serra guided the organization through two major relocations, supported the distribution of films in the collection, secured grants and other forms of financial assistance for the organization, curated innumerable screenings of artists’ work, and oversaw numerous restorations of independent media. Serra’s work for the Coop involved long hours and little pay, but she did it with love and joy, giving her whole self to our community.

We are seeking to raise $27,000, as this would cover two years of rent for Serra’s apartment in the Lower East Side, where she is an active and celebrated presence in the neighborhood. The monthly rent will be paid from the fund directly to Serra’s landlord. Contributions made to Allied Productions, Inc., a 501(c)(3) non-profit arts service organization, are tax deductible to the full extent allowed by law. If you prefer to write a check directly, please make payable to Allied Productions,Inc. earmarked for MM Serra Fund and mail to PO Box 20260 New York, NY 10009.  Donors will receive a letter from Allied Productions, Inc. with information confirming the tax deduction. An administrative fee of 9% has been calculated into the campaign’s target goal delegated for the administration of the funds of MM’s rent each month. 

MM Serra has meant many things to each of us. Over the next few weeks, we, along with a few invited guests, will be sharing a range of narratives testifying to Serra’s remarkable contributions to our community. Stay in touch for some great slices of underground experimental film history!

In health, solidarity and enthusiasm,

Friends of MM Serra, Members of the Film-makers Cooperative(FMC), **FMC’s Advisory Board:

Peggy Ahwesh, Josh Guilford, Devon Narine-Singh, Lynne Sachs, Peter Cramer, Jack Waters

* Allied Productions,Inc (for identification purposes only)

Narratives to MM Serra’s contributions to our community

A VALENTINE For MM. SERRA from Abigail Child

I first met Serra when she arrived from Los Angeles, wearing high heels, fabulously sexy black bangs (much like Pabst’s Lulu), and designer coats. I warned her about those heels, saying “you have to be able to run in NYC.” She was a fashionista then and still is.  Together, along with Robert Hilferty (brilliant ex-student of mine from NYU and a filmmaker in his own right), we 

co-curated Conspiracies over a weekend in May 1988 at Rapp Arts Center, a Catholic church and nun’s residency hall in the East Village (not incidently, where I had edited Mayhem (1987) in a 8’ by 15’ nun’s bedroom, with hardly space for the Steenbeck plus an editing chair.) MM being Catholic, particularly enjoyed screening our outrageous experimental films there. They had a remarkable theater with tragedy-comedy plaster masks centered above the proscenium arch. The line-up of filmmakers on those programs included Todd Haynes, Lewis Klahr, Mary Filippo, Joe Gibbons, Erika Beckmann and other key members of the downtown NYC avantgarde. The poster included Weegee’s famous photograph of a mobbed Coney Island, and our several shows, too, were mobbed and exhilarating. I should add our projectionist was Alex, then, the mixer at Duart Labs, who magnanimously volunteered to work the event. There we were, up in the booth, where things went a bit crazy, as they easily could do screening a long list of short experimental films!

It was successful and fun enough, so that in May 1990, we did another Weekend and then in 1991, Serra and I curated a Valentine’s Day Film Night at WEBO Gallery downtown. Later, Serra single-handedly curated another show, again at Rapp. The most memorable for me from that program was Nick Zedd’s War Is Menstrual Envy, which had Annie Sprinkle cuddling a burn victim. Disturbing and unforgettable. Just what MM loved: sex and shock.

We became fast friends.  A bit later, MM was showing her films in S and M dungeons downtown. She had shared her sexual history with me, which involved abuse as a child, abuse that her mother denied. Around then, she showed me her film of her mother, Reel to Real Momma (1982), and the image of her mother staring out at the audience, so harsh, so cold—I felt for her.  The person in her family whom she loved the most was her Dad, whom I was privileged to meet. He worked as a coal miner; small and round, he was the opposite of the mom. And he loved gardens. At that point I was a member of a community garden in the East Village, and he would come by and visit, talking about plants and gardening. He was happiest there. Serra has a plot now in the community garden at 6th Street and Ave. B. Digging in the garden is always a pleasure, grounding, quite literally.

There was a time when we tried to do a film together on bisexuality. It didn’t quite work out. But there she was, clicking in her heels across the wood floor at Westbeth where we were shooting. Either later or just before, Peggy Ahwesh and I shot for her film, Soi Meme, on female ejaculation. Quite fun, even if I remained skeptical about what we were seeing. 

Serra took on the job at the film coop not long after. She remained always supportive, and always active. In many ways, she brought the Film Coop into the 21st century, getting the films out to an international audience, travelling with them and curating shows, often of women or lesser known and/or forgotten filmmakers. While working, she studied and graduated with an advanced degree from New York University, remaining dedicated, determined, and loving cinema. She moved ahead no matter the problems, curating shows abroad and establishing an ongoing tradition of exhibition at the Coop itself, continuing to make her own films. She was living on very constrained finances, yet still a fashionista, showing up in wonderful idiosyncratic style, discovering and befriending downtown designers, heralding them just as she did the Coop’s filmmakers. She remained an eccentric beauty, even as she switched from high-heels to baseball shoes. During this time, she was also teaching at the New School, enabling her to influence and bring to experimental cinema a new crop of devotees. She influenced so many people, building community. She worked with Michelle Handleman, Peggy Ahwesh, Jennifer Reeves, Tom Chomont and myself, among others.

Most particularly, I will never forget those incredible Rapp shows and the group of people we brought together in New York: this moment of unity, a fantastic cross-section of filmmakers just as New York was coming out of the 1980s, funky with drugs and a reputation for danger popularized by the film “Escape from New York”. We never ‘escaped’ but stayed, to continue our love affair with the city and cinema, sustaining experimentation, friendship and community.

Abigail Child

Bogliasco, Italy

Feb 14th, 2024