Voices from Issues Past

What happened at AIVF over the last 30 years? Coming up with a coherent and entertaining way to answer that question was not an easy task. Instead of recounting the factual history—which would put most readers to sleep—we decided to let the voices (of past and present) speak for themselves. What follows is a conversation of sorts, about the independent filmmaking industry from the beginnings of Super 8 to now, including rarely collected insights—from extreme gratitude to thoughtful criticism—about AIVF’s role along the way.

“After all, it is 1979. Sexism in the media has been around as a topic for at least a decade. If we haven’t something new to contribute in terms of abolishing the still rampant sexism in the media, why are we devoting time and energy to plan or attend such a meeting?”
—Ardele Lister, in reference to an AIVF/Women Make Movies panel, 1979

“Merely recognizing the fact that color film fades is useless. We must act now or the films we make in the 1980s will be subjected to the same indiscriminate destruction as all those made in the past 40 years. Working with film stock that is guaranteed to deteriorate in a matter of months is insulting and insane. We have no choice but to take action to correct this situation which is absolutely intolerable.”
—Martin Scorsese, letter to the editor, 1980

“Back in 1969, just when portable video equipment was becoming available in
stores, I met some people called the Videofreex. It was terrific. We set up a loft in SoHo in the late sixties and early seventies as a video studio and did everything we
could think of on tape. We never stopped to think about why we were doing it or whether there was any money in it. That was back in ‘69. Of course, some people have made millions thinking about whether there was money in it in the years since then.”
—Skip Blumberg, 1981

“Although in this age of Atari, cranking by motor a perforated strip of film – the gelatinous emulsion extruded from cattle bones, the cellulose base from tree pulp – through a device mechanically resembling a sewing machine and dunking it repeatedly in tanks of chemical soup before drying and buffing might seem by comparison primitive, the end result justifies the means with a standard image fidelity unmatched by other systems. Simply put: Color negative represents a mature, vital, enduring technology, not to be written off.”
—David Leitner, 1982

“The consumer video market is expanding just as the prognosticators promised. This January was a boom month for video stores, as a crush of customers rushed to the cassette shelves, eager to try the VCRs they got for Christmas.”
—Debra Goldman, 1985

“Despite SAG’s emphasis on its economic motives, the new contract indicates significant changes for a union that has been considered one of the least flexible with independents.”
—Lucinda Furlong, 1986

“One other note of extreme caution before you invest in S-VHS: Very soon (maybe in
five years) video will be totally digital, and then everything, every format, will change. But that’s life with video.”
—Bart Weiss, 1988

“Much news footage has been irretrievably lost. For the first 20 years of television news,
none of the networks had film libraries per se, even for internal use. When Emile de Antonio and Daniel Talbot asked CBS in 1961 for footage from the 1954 Army-McCarthy hearings, ‘They thought we were a little strange,’ says Talbot. But, he recalls, once the network realized the producers were ‘not just some middle- aged hippies’ and ‘heard the jingle of money,” they sat down to talk.’
—Patricia Thomson, 1989

“In the last two to three years, the sheer quantity of work by [Latina] women and the increased opportunities to share contracts and experiences across national boundaries has led to a movement that is changing the shape and the direction of new Latin American cinema.”
—Liz Kotz, 1989

“[Michael] Moore-bashing and [Spike] Lee-bashing seemed to rise and fall with their box-office grosses, much like the fluctuations in anti-Japanese opinions in relation to the rise and fall of the U.S. trade deficit. The more tickets sold, the more anxiety about the potential dangers of these films. Why? Here were two hometown boys – Lee from Brooklyn and Moore from Flint – who knew their subject matter with firsthand intimacy. Perhaps too close for comfort.”
—Renee Tajima, 1990

“The significance of the features by black directors at this year’s [Sundance] was enhanced by their number (one or two wouldn’t have had the same impact), the variety, the quality, and the prizes they won. The message seemed clear: independent black
feature filmmakers have achieved critical mass.”
—Peter Broderick, 1991

“From 1863 to 1910, there were 17,600 short films released in the USA. In 1992, the professional short film is nearly non-existent, and the number of companies producing or acquiring shorts for commercial release can be counted on a few fingers.”
—Eileen Wilkinson, 1992

“On September 1, the Bravo Cable Network will launch the Independent Film Channel…[T]he need for a separate channel became apparent five years ago when…two days before Jean-Luc Godard’s Hail Mary was scheduled to be broadcast, [Bravo] underwent a vicious attack from the radical right, which included hostile picketers, bomb threats, and anonymous callers asking for home addresses.”
—Jennie Lanouette, 1994

“We were like little piranhas nipping at it with our cameras.”
—Richard Linklater on the freedom of filming a scene with a handheld digital camera, Jan/Feb 2002

“The importance of Primary still hasn’t been understood. The fact that there are no interviews is staggering in a film of that sort. There are no people talking to cameras. It’s unbelievable. That still hasn’t been understood by the industry or television at all.”
—Richard Leacock, 1996

“Exhibitors say there’s a trend to designate a single screen in a big multiplex as the ‘art screen.’ In some cities, an entire 4- or 6-plex can be devoted to showing ‘specialty films.’”
—Dan Mirvish, 1997

“The small gauge has a unique, inimitable palette and texture. Even so, Kodak moved to discontinue production of Super 8 sound cartridges and many print stocks a few years ago. This has put Super 8 filmmaking on the endangered species list.”
—Donna Cameron, 1998

“This is the first time distributing short films has actually been viable. VHS doesn’t work, the Internet is too slow, and CD-ROM only stores a few minutes of decent video. DVD can get filmmakers’ work seen and launch their careers.”
—Scott Epstein, 1999

“I used to be able to pitch a project verbally. But now I go out and shoot a little bit. I edit on the way home in the plane with Final Cut Pro 2 on my G4, and I have a demo to show when I land…having already shot something puts me far ahead of the game.”
—Joe Berlinger, October 2001

“In my case, digital video has allowed me to shoot in a different way than I have
before, if only for the simple reason that you can shoot for an hour at a time or even longer. While it may seem like a subtle change, it has certainly been a significant one.”
—Errol Morris, October 2001

“Norman Mailer’s proverbial ‘shit storm’ hit the arts community when the GOP electorally massacred the Democratic party, taking control of Congress for the first time in 40 years. The question posed by supporters of the NEW and public broadcasting was not whether the two institutions would be affected, but just how severely.”
—Christopher Borrelli, 1995

“Prior to Netflix, you were dependent on this perfect storm of circumstances for anyone to see your film. They had to know about it, be free to go see it on the night it was playing, to have the cash, to not flake out. Now, all we need is someone who says ‘I want to see that movie.’”
—Katy Chevigny, filmmaker, September 2005