Now & Then

Long before Super 8’s 40-year march from home movie to Kodak’s hot new kid, long before camcorders, and long before desktop editing and filmmakers like us needed information, Bob Brodsky and I were pleased to have Super 8. When we began filmmaking in the 1970s we used it more often than 16mm to make community documentaries and short films. It was lighter, cheaper, and Kodachrome looked great.

So, in order to help others evaluate new products and services, we tested equipment and wrote monthly columns detailing what we learned for Filmmakers magazine until its close in 1982. Not long after, we got a call from AIVF’s Kathleen Hulser (the strong-minded but gentle-to-us editor of The Independent) and Larry Sapadin (AIVF’s ace director/strategist). They talked us into continuing the column for The Independent.

By that point, we had started giving workshops on Super 8 at media art centers around the country. Our articles chronicled the vitality we found in indie media across the U.S.

After home video arrived in the ‘80s, manufacturers and the press jumped over each other to ballyhoo products. They wanted us to buy a new camera every couple of years as video improved: VHS, Video8, Hi8, VHS-C, digital camcorders, and finally computer editing. For some reason, a small group of us kept on filming in Super 8: Saul Levine up in Boston, Albert Nigrin with a dedicated festival at Rutgers. Super 8 filmmakers made up the avant garde in music videos—Kelly Reichardt shot the first one we saw; Jem Cohen was one of the best.

Jeff Preiss made exquisite 8mm films—a Bolex poked out of his backpack. The Cinema of Transgression gang in lower Manhattan, theTaller del Cine La Red group in San Juan, the Flicker movement all over contributed to a trend in camera style and risky subject matter that influenced filmmakers from Berlin to Hollywood. Risk-taking was emotional, too. These filmmakers often used their own family movies to create works in the evolving “personal documentary” genre long before first-person storytelling was bankable.

Although times have changed, we still need to protect and promote these smaller films, the artistic works, the home movies—they need to be gathered and shown carefully, to be annotated and preserved. The industry has gotten craftier, absorbed more styles, coopted stories, and demanded output in lieu of insight and research. More than ever, we need to stay connected in order to get the quieter marginal voices heard in our noisy world—something AIVF once helped us to do.

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