A filmmaker and trailblazing film distribution entrepreneur, Freude (1942–2009) became a central figure in the San Francisco Bay Area film community in the late 1960s and 1970s. Her Serious Business Company (1972–83) distributed many of the era’s most acclaimed independent and experimental films, but its lasting impact created a platform for discovering lesser-known works. Freude’s contributions to the experimental film and independent filmmaking communities remain largely unsung. This article will excite further investigation and recognition into Freude’s important efforts to support California and national artist-made filmmaking movements as it examines her professional relationships and draws from interviews, correspondence, and ephemera from the Serious Business Company archives at the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley. It also builds on recent efforts at BAMPFA and San Francisco State University’s the Archive Project where authors Antonella Bonfanti and Tanya Zimbardo have recently been involved with public programs about Freude’s legacy.

A filmmaker and trailblazing film distribution entrepreneur, Freude (1942–2009) (see fig. 1) became a central figure in the San Francisco Bay Area film community in the late 1960s and 1970s. Her Serious Business Company (SBC, 1972–83) distributed many of the era’s most acclaimed independent and experimental films, but its lasting impact created a platform for discovering lesser-known works. Heavily involved in the women’s movement, Freude leveraged her company to actively champion feminist filmmaking, connecting with various women’s organizations and creating an outlet for this work to reach a national audience. Through her efforts, she cultivated a modest but meaningful income for the documentary and artist filmmakers represented in the catalog by brokering print sales and rentals to educational and cultural institutions. And yet, despite these breakthroughs, Freude’s contributions to the experimental film and independent filmmaking communities remain largely unsung. This is finally starting to change. We believe the combination of several programming efforts over recent years—joined by a film preservation initiative led by the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA) at UC Berkeley—are bringing more visibility to Freude’s feminist filmmaking and further examination of her vision for film distribution.

Figure 1.

Freude in the Serious Business Company office. Photo by Terri P. Tepper. Courtesy of UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive.

Figure 1.

Freude in the Serious Business Company office. Photo by Terri P. Tepper. Courtesy of UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive.

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We, Antonella Bonfanti and Tanya Zimbardo, became aware of Freude through our respective research and interest in the Bay Area experimental filmmaking community. Decades before her death, Freude had the foresight to place her films at BAMPFA and her SBC papers at the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley. Bonfanti, while working at Canyon Cinema, was introduced to a relatively overlooked group of remarkable Bay Area artists, including many women who are alive today, such as Dorothy Wiley and Alice Anne Parker (Severson), both of whose work had been distributed by SBC. When she joined the team at BAMPFA in 2020, Bonfanti built on their archive staff’s long-standing efforts to preserve radical, countercultural, and experimental works from the 1960s and 1970s by Bay Area filmmakers. Long custodians of her film elements, BAMPFA focused a 2020 preservation project on Freude’s films and select women filmmakers she supported. Bonfanti and BAMPFA Film Archivist Jon Shibata recognized a growing interest in Freude, but the lack of access to high-quality exhibition 16 mm prints or digital files created roadblocks to a deeper investigation into her work and legacy and thus prioritized her films for preservation. BAMPFA invited Zimbardo to participate as a guest speaker, with Bonfanti, in a related 2022 screening program in light of her prior independent research on SBC and encouragement of publicly addressing Freude’s feminist curatorial contributions as a distributor and programmer. As part of an interest in histories of artist film curation, Zimbardo’s approach to Freude’s story has recently expanded to include conversations with film professionals who were part of her milieu.

After attending consciousness-raising groups, Freude realized she needed to make changes in her life, namely, a divorce from filmmaker Scott Bartlett. Giving herself the name Freude—an expression of joy—she created an independent identity that was mirrored in her vision for entrepreneurial work. Various articles and news profiles though have inaccurately maintained her husband’s name, referring to her as “Freude Bartlett” instead of “Freude.”

Freude had a short but productive filmmaking career, completing nine 16 mm films between 1966 and 1974.1 Unlike those of her male contemporaries such as Jordan Belson or Bartlett, “who were making movies that reveal the ‘mysteries of the cosmos,’” Freude’s films were deeply personal, exploring the realities of domestic and personal life.2 Karen Cooper, director of New York’s Film Forum, states: “Freude combines the most glorious artifact of California living with a mélange of domestic, maternal, and wholly personal symbols. The result is a free-flowing pastiche whose essence is the filmmaker’s love of husband, babies, friends, and the West Coast.”3

Her films articulate the complex identity of a woman who is fiercely independent and talented and explore the theme of sexual desire. Freude dedicates two works, Promise Her Anything but Give Her the Kitchen Sink (1969) and Shooting Star (1970) (see fig. 2), to Bartlett. Described by Kirk Tougas of the Georgia Straight on its release as “a woman’s statement of rebellion,” in Promise Her Anything Freude intercuts abstract close-up shots of plumbing fixtures with representational imagery in an irregular tempo to convey the complexities of her domestic life. In Shooting Star, Bartlett is shown making films and teaching. Freude and Bartlett are seen together, with their matching mops of red locks, with Freude in the role of supporter. She’s the one at the typewriter writing the grants and doing the administrative work that allows her husband to focus on his career and creative endeavors. Freude builds a montage combining these shots with found footage to compose a portrait of their lives as lovers and business partners that is both deeply affectionate and satirical. Stand Up and Be Counted (1969), made collaboratively with Bartlett, is a bold affirmation of love and equality masterfully expressed through continuous dissolves into a series of happy nude couples in various configurations: female/male, male/male, female/female.

Figure 2.

Still from Freude’s Shooting Star (1970). Courtesy of UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive.

Figure 2.

Still from Freude’s Shooting Star (1970). Courtesy of UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive.

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A profound expression of motherhood, Sweet Dreams (1971) (see fig. 3) presents an infant in close-up dissolving into superimposed shots of dolphins playing underwater and crashing waves. Aqueous and dreamy, the film ends with the infant looking directly into the camera while nursing at its mother’s breast. Freude described the film as a “poetic celebration of an earthly and tender aspect of female sexuality.” It reflects on the intense connection to nature a mother feels while bonding with their baby, as well as a statement supporting women’s empowerment.

Figure 3.

Still from Freude’s Sweet Dreams (1971). Courtesy of UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive.

Figure 3.

Still from Freude’s Sweet Dreams (1971). Courtesy of UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive.

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Freude’s final completed film was made with Gunvor Nelson.4 One and the Same (1973) (see fig. 4) is a double self-portrait of two women filmmakers celebrating their friendship and work. Dressed in black against a black background, the two women play with long sheets of black fabric, rolling in and about each other fluidly. Nelson likewise drew on motherhood for filmic inspiration. The demands of raising children and running a business shifted Freude’s attention away from her own filmmaking.

Figure 4.

Still from Freude and Gunvor Nelson’s One and the Same (1973). Courtesy of UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive.

Figure 4.

Still from Freude and Gunvor Nelson’s One and the Same (1973). Courtesy of UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive.

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Freude’s films are lesser known today and rarely screened in part because she is not represented by established experimental distributors like Canyon Cinema, even though she had been actively involved with the pioneering film cooperative.5 For instance, Freude published a feminist editorial in Canyon Cinemanews in May/June 1974, which independent curator Susannah Magers revisited on the occasion of Canyon Cinema’s fiftieth anniversary touring programs and 2019 launch of a website (CC50.org).6 In her dual role as a filmmaker and small business owner, she would lug around films by others when invited to give talks. Freude would often include her own personal films within the context of programs highlighting other women filmmakers.7

With a signature cloud of flaming red hair, Freude has often been described as a major force with a witty, dynamic personality and a highly eloquent proponent of film. In explaining her choice of name, Freude shared her personal motto, borrowed from Oscar Wilde: “One must be serious about something if one is to have any amusement in life.”8 While she would initially represent Bartlett exclusively—declining to represent other filmmakers—SBC became a vehicle for her to return to those artists and pursue others. Divorced at twenty-nine, Freude invested $1,000, the only money she had in the bank, on the print run of the first catalog, with insurance from a taxi accident covering postage and rent. Freude discovered that there was a market for film prints through libraries with budgets. Later, she shifted her distribution strategies by including both celluloid and video formats of titles and adapting to the burgeoning television market. However, her business plan would largely come to a halt in the 1980s when the bank loans she needed to shift to VHS tapes were declined. After she and her director of Marketing and Sales, Sally Jo Fifer, wrapped up the business that was operated at her home, Freude transitioned into work as a freelance consultant. Fifer describes how Freude could sell anything and would have been a great film producer.9 After earning a master’s degree in Information Sciences at UC Berkeley, in 1986 Freude founded the communications firm Metropolis Media, whose clients included PC World, Intel, and nonprofits whose goals she supported.10

Starting with just forty titles, the SBC catalog focused on independent and experimental films but expanded over the years to include over 250 works across a range of subjects and genres such as social documentaries, films for children, alternative health-care films, and a large animation collection. The roster of artist filmmakers included James Broughton, Bruce Conner, Shirley Clarke, Sally Cruikshank, Barbara Hammer, Pat O’Neill, David Pies, and Chick Strand, among many others.

The two specialty areas—women’s films and avant-garde films—were not represented by major commercial distributors at the time. Film cooperatives Canyon Cinema (Bay Area) and the Filmmakers’ Cooperative (New York) did exist for the avant-garde, accepting films and renting them on an egalitarian and membership basis. While Freude initially began with a sales-only model, she recognized that a lot of the feminist films she encountered were not sellable, so she began doing rentals because she felt it was important to get the work out.

The era of Freude’s company’s founding became a watershed moment for the establishment of organizations for films by and about women, including Iris Films (1975–present, Berkeley CA); New Day Films (1971–present, Beacon, NY); Women in Focus (1974–92, Vancouver, BC); and Women Make Movies (1972–present, New York, NY). In 1972, the Women’s History Research Center in Berkeley included Freude in their “Films By And/Or About Women: Directory of Filmmakers, Distributors Internationally, Past and Present.” The SBC papers at UC Berkeley reflect Freude’s relationships with this burgeoning network and forms of support through distribution and programming collaborations.11

Karen Cooper, the longtime founding director (1972–2022) of the nonprofit Film Forum in New York, has cited Freude’s influence on her: “She was one of my closest colleagues [who] introduced me to wonderful films by women, animated films by Sally Cruikshank and Kathleen Laughlin and others whose work was not widely seen. As a colleague and a professional, she became my best friend; there was no email then so we had an epistolary relationship. She was a great model for me about how a woman can take very seriously her work.”12

In contrast to the proliferation of membership-based nonprofits and film collectives, Freude was a one-person home office operation for many years until she could hire staff. The SBC papers reveal one rental story gone awry, in which displeased high school students wrote complaint letters addressed to “sirs,” which Freude corrects in a humorous reply. She then quoted this reply in one of the company’s advertisements with Marlene Dietrich: “however, in fact we at Serious Business Company are women. We respectfully ask that you revise your form letter or think for a moment before addressing us as “Gentleman” or “Sir” (see fig. 5).

Figure 5.

Advertisement for Serious Business Company. Courtesy of UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, Film Library and Study Center collection.

Figure 5.

Advertisement for Serious Business Company. Courtesy of UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, Film Library and Study Center collection.

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B. Ruby Rich recounts how Sally Potter placed her film Thriller (1979) with SBC instead of with a Museum of Modern Art film package, “hoping this would ensure its distribution beyond the museum/academic context to a broader range of women.…Thriller did well, but the company suffered from the syndrome Freude identified without hesitation: the difficulty of doing business when ‘you always have to create the market first before you can sell to it.’”13 While Freude had tapped into the library market for educational and art films, cuts in government funding (among other shifts in the 1980s) affected this revenue stream. In 1986, Freude describes how “during the heyday of the Women’s Movement, we couldn’t keep women’s films on the shelf. They were out all the time. Everyone from rape crisis centers to churches, synagogues, and private consciousness-raising groups, to the YWCA and the Girl Scouts. People do not rent them much anymore. We began with art films by women and documentaries on women artists and writers, histories of the women’s movement and issues sensitive to women. Priorities in the movement and women’s films have changed.…Nevertheless, these films, though used in Women’s Studies on the university level, simply are not rented very much anymore by the community. They went out of vogue!”14

UC Berkeley, Freude’s alma mater for graduate studies, provided a dynamic activist and multidisciplinary climate that fostered feminist film discourse in the seventies when SBC was established. The academic journal Camera Obscura began as a collectively edited publication founded by four graduate students. Women & Film (1972–75) and Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media (1974–present) also formed at the university before the founding of a film major in 1976. The Pacific Film Archive of the University Art Museum (later BAMPFA) regularly hosted a discussion group on women’s film. Edith R. Kramer, a pioneering film curator in the region and close friend of Freude, joined the PFA in the mid-seventies and would serve as their film director over several decades.15 Freude would guest curate at PFA, such as the eight-week series “States of Heart and Consciousness in Films by Women or You’ve Come a Long Way Down the Garden Path” (1974). Linda Artel, a PFA film consultant and feminist film scholar, worked with Freude/SBC on select projects such as a summer showcase of experimental shorts including animation “Films for Big and Little People” (1980).

With generous support from the National Film Preservation Foundation (NFPF), BAMPFA received an Avant-Garde Masters grant in 2020 to preserve ten short 16 mm films from their collection by creating new photochemical film negatives and exhibition prints as well as high-quality digital files for exhibition and access.16 In honor of Freude’s spirit of collaboration and support of fellow women filmmakers, BAMPFA curated the selection to focus on women’s artistic production of the 1960s and 1970s while highlighting a breadth of styles and concerns. The project included three of Freude’s solo films, her collaborations with Bartlett and Gunvor Nelson, along with Nelson’s My Name Is Oona (1969); Alice Anne Parker (Severson)’s I Change I Am the Same (1969); Karen Johnson’s Orange (1970); Josie (Ramstad) Winship’s Bird Lady vs The Galloping Gonads; and Judith Wardwell’s Plastic Bag (1969). These ten films represent a singular moment in the history of the American avant-garde, which Freude’s films and her pioneering work with SBC filmmakers help to present in context. Bringing the female perspective to the fore, they are examples of the radical, countercultural experimentation that became synonymous with Bay Area filmmaking during the 1960s and 1970s. Though some digital copies of the titles in this project had been available prior to their preservation on boutique or self-published DVD labels (or via nonprofit distributors), these artist films remained largely inaccessible as they are either not in distribution or only available as worn prints from Canyon Cinema, Filmmakers’ Cooperative, or LUX.

BAMPFA publicly showcased the first phase of its preservation project in a 2022 program called Serious Business Company and Bay Area Women Artists, part of its Out of the Vault series. Accompanied by an online article by Bonfanti, the program featured a suite of 16 mm short films by Bay Area women filmmakers whose works were distributed by SBC.17 Expanded on-site access to the preservation prints and digital copies are available in the BAMPFA Film Library and Study Center, and for public programs to curators worldwide.

Program coorganizer and BAMPFA Film Curator Kathy Geritz knew Freude and interviewed her in 2003; the interview was featured in Radical Light: Alternative Film and Video in the San Francisco Bay Area, 1945–2000 (2010). Coedited with Steve Anker and Steve Seid, this book remains an invaluable resource on experimental media. Freude’s Folly (1972) was included as part of the related San Francisco Cinematheque 2010 program “RADICAL LIGHT (Women of the West: 70s Bay Area Experimentalists)” by one of the guest curators, filmmaker and educator Janis Crystal Lipzin. In 1973, Lipzin had cofounded with Caroline Savage Lee and Joel Singer the screening collective Eye Music Inc., active in the era of SBC.18

BAMPFA Film Archivist Jon Shibata had previously arranged to scan Freude’s Sacred Heart of Jesus (1965) as a conservation measure since the title in their archives existed only as a 16 mm color reversal print. Shibata then showcased this work, among other films, video, and audio recordings selected from BAMPFA’s holdings, within the context of an online gallery portal for the exhibition Way Bay 2 (2018).19 In collaboration with BAMPFA engagement associate David Wilson, Shibata used this successful experiment of an online streaming format as an opportunity to surface rarely and never-before-seen works and archival material. The larger curatorial team (including Geritz) of Way Bay and Way Bay 2 (2018), which spanned art and film, poetry and performance, presented a wide-ranging exploration of two hundred years of creative energies from the Bay Area.

The Way Bay 2 portal is still accessible online. BAMPFA received permission from artists and their estates prior to uploading the films to the Internet Archive, several of which already resided on that platform through the museum’s collaboration with California Revealed, a California State Library initiative that has digitized and uploaded many California-based film and video works from the BAMPFA collection. Bartlett’s video The Making of Off-On (1980), a recreation of his acclaimed electrovideographic jam OffOn (1968) with UCLA students, was also included. Elon Bartlett, Freude’s son (formerly Adam in her films), stated on his professional website that because his late father had received more critical acclaim than his mother, he had regularly handled estate permissions for commercial and noncommercial projects, but this was the first time he was approached about Freude’s work since she passed.

Indeed, filmmaker-scholar Greta Snider expressed dismay during the virtual public program for Serious Business: Feminism, Film Distribution, and Freude (2022) that she had often heard about Bartlett as a prominent alum of San Francisco State University, but not Freude.20 When Freude first returned to the Bay Area from New York as a single mother on welfare, she sought a work-study position at SFSU as the Department of Cinema’s student secretary from 1967 to 1969. In addition to her film studies, she was the art editor of its irreverent single-issue Filmmagazine, with Tom DeWitt and Judith Wardwell.

As both a filmmaker and feminist film distributor, Freude is positioned for rediscovery within a larger climate of interest in histories of film curation, distribution, and women filmmakers. In addition to the access and potential for activation that archives offer, there are a number of film professionals who were friends with Freude who could contribute their perspectives to primary research. Film archivists, notably at BAMPFA and the Academy Film Archive in Los Angeles, have in recent years preserved films by a number of California-based artist filmmakers SBC distributed, featuring restored works through their own programming and distribution partnerships. BAMPFA’s programming and preservation efforts, highlighted in this case study, offer invaluable resources that we hope will ignite further consideration of Freude’s crucial legacy.


In addition to prints in the BAMPFA collection, Freude’s films are currently distributed by Filmmakers’ Cooperative in New York. Available for rental: Standup and Be Counted (1969, 16 mm, color, sound, 3 min.); Women and Children at Large (16 mm, color, 6 min.); and Freude’s anthology My Life in Art (1973, 16 mm, color, sound, 29 min.), which includes eight titles: Promise Her Anything But Give Her the Kitchen Sink, Shooting Star, Standup and Be Counted, Adam’s Birth, Sweet Dreams, Folly, Women and Children at Large, and One and The Same.


In a 2003 interview, Freude described her films in contrast as “glorified home moves—and, when you get right down to it, that’s what they are. In a certain way that is what the women’s movement was all about—getting rid of those distinctions.” Freude reflects that she was a pioneer as a distributor, not as a filmmaker. See Kathy Geritz, “‘You Can’t Do That’: Portraits of Three Feminists in Film,” in Radical Light: Alternative Film and Video in the San Francisco Bay Area, 1945–2000, ed. Steve Anker, Kathy Geritz, and Steve Seid (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010), 139–40.


The Film-Makers’ Cooperative. (n.d.). Retrieved from: https://film-makerscoop.com/catalogue/bartlett-freude-my-life-in-art.


A prominent figure of experimental cinema, Nelson, now in her early nineties, has had an illustrious career as an artist filmmaker and continues to make and exhibit work worldwide. Nelson developed relationships with many Bay Area filmmakers from when she lived and taught in the area before returning to Sweden in 1993. She collaborated with Dorothy Wiley on several films starting with Schmeerguntz (1965), distributed by SBC.


Freude’s own professional career would overlap with several key women film professionals, in particular those at the helm of their organizations. For instance, Diane Kitchen as Canyon Cinema’s director from 1974 to 1977 made efforts to bolster its distribution business.


Susannah Magers, Marked as Such: Feminist and Queer Visibility as Agency in Experimental Filmmaking (Excerpt), 2017, Canyon Cinema, https://connects.canyoncinema.com/marked-as-such-feminist-and-queer-visibility-as-agency-in-experimental-filmmaking-excerpt/.


One example includes a 1974 program introduced by Freude represented in the Creative Arts Television archive. It includes: Judith Wardwell, Freude, Karen Johnson, Chick Strand, Betty Chen, Sharon Hennessey, Gunvor Nelson.


Geritz, “You Can’t Do That,” 139–40.


Fifer interview by Tanya Zimbardo, San Francisco, May 2023. Fifer is the CEO of Independent Television (2001–23) in San Francisco.


Tony Reveaux in his tribute in memoriam to Freude describes her creative approach to marketing. See Freude Bartlett, cineSOURCE, January 5, 2009. https://cinesourcemagazine.com/index.php?/site/comments/freude_bartlett/.


The SBC collection consists of “correspondence; publicity materials; and accounting and invoice statements from and to filmmakers. Also included are correspondence and documentation regarding film programs organized by SBC, correspondence with film programmers and organizations, and general business records.” Dean Smith (2011, June), Finding Aid to the Serious Business Company Records, 1965–1983, bulk 1972–1983. Berkeley: University of California, Berkeley: The Bancroft Library. Retrieved https://oac.cdlib.org/findaid/ark:/13030/kt6q2nf66x/.


Freude’s professional career would overlap with several key women film professionals at the helm of their organizations, including Diane Kitchen, Canyon Cinema’s director from 1974 to 1977, who made efforts to bolster its distribution business.


B. Ruby Rich, Chick Flicks: Theories and Memories of the Feminist Film Movement (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1998), 222.


Interview with Freude Bartlett, “Doing serious business,” by John Hess and Chuck Kleinhans, from Jump Cut, no. 31, March 1986, 30–34.


From 1983 to 2005, Edith R. Kramer served as director and senior film curator of the Pacific Film Archive (PFA). Kramer began working at BAMPFA in 1975 as assistant film curator and served as acting director of PFA in 1980. Kramer was manager of Canyon Cinema from 1967 to 1970 and film curator at SFMOMA (then SFMA) before joining the BAMPFA staff in 1975.


The National Film Preservation Foundation’s Avant-Garde Masters grant program is funded by the Hobson/Lucas Family Foundation.


This BAMPFA program on September 22, 2022, featured an introduction by guest speaker Zimbardo and a conversation between Bay Area filmmaker Dorothy Wiley and BAMPFA staff and program curators Bonfanti and Shibata. The screening featured preservation prints of films by Freude, Gunvor Nelson, Alice Anne Parker (with Shelby Kennedy), Judith Wardwell, and Wiley. See Bonfanti’s “Off the Shelves: This Is Serious Business” on the BAMPFA website, https://bampfa.org/page/shelves-serious-business.


Primarily active 1973–84, Eye Music Inc. was a forerunner of what is now called microcinemas. They organized programs of artist films and film installations at multiple venues.


Sacred Heart of Jesus (1965, 16 mm, color, sound, 5:38 min.) is described online as a “pixilated road trip and back-to-nature explorations in Northern California, playfully shot by Freude.” The short film is available to view online at https://bampfa.org/waybay and on the Internet Archive, https://archive.org/details/sacred-heart-of-jesus_13088_PM0018371_R01of01.


Authors Bonfanti and Zimbardo participated as guest speakers along with Shibata for this program held on November 8, 2022, and hosted by Courtney Fellion and Greta Snider, faculty of the San Francisco State University (SFSU) Cinema Department. It was presented as part of the “Activism and Archives” series of the SFSU the Archive Project.