There was a time when in order to record moving memories you had to thread a spool of 8mm sized film through a camera in the dark. It was a little tedious, even for the most experienced shooter, so it was not uncommon to have film jams and other memory crushing problems when you tried to capture that perfect moment.
But when it worked… WOW! Your friends and family would sit in awe, hoot with laughter, marvel at your talent as the flickering image was projected — sometimes as much as sometimes 5 feet across.
Being able to record your own life was available (to those with money) starting in 1923 when the smaller gauge of 16mm was available on safety film. Previously, film was only available as 35mm (think Hollywood) using nitrate film. Nitrate can ignite and burn down buildings with a single match. Not the kind of thing you’d want to have sitting around in your cupboard!
8mm, which was actually 16mm film run through the camera twice and split down the middle, was introduced in 1932 and made things a little more affordable, but it was still quite awkward to use.
1965 brought Super 8, which was the film god’s gift to the middle class. Suddenly, all you had to do was pop a cartridge into the camera and shoot away. And most of the new cameras had light sensors and easy, through-the-lens focusing.
Fast forward a few decades, as film is pushed aside for digital.. Does a 20 year old even know what film is? If they are a hipster, yes. If not, it’s quite possible they have never seen a picture of film, and extremely likely they have never held a piece in their hands.
I am, at 40, part of the generation who grew up shooting photographs and have now embraced digital technology. I still mourn the “death” of film, but I am also extremely glad I know that “the death of film” has scare quotes — there are plenty of people all across the world still using moving image and still film to record their memories and art.
There are many film festivals dedicated to small gauge film and here in Toronto we are incredibly lucky to have The 8 Fest.
The fest was conceived in 2008 by notable indie filmmakers and artists. Since then, one weekend a year, in the depths of Toronto winter chill, all the film and home movie nerds come out to stare at a flickering screen and hear the soft click of the projector.
The program is always quite eclectic with experimental, narrative and home movies at its focus. This year had a focus on small gauge film in Argentina, recent films of the past two years, Toronto home movies during World War II, a performance piece of Super 8 loops and sine wave oscillators, and more.
Here are some highlights of the events I attended…
The fest got started with a selection of experimental small gauge film from Argentina. Pablo Marin brought us a handful of engaging and beautiful shorts from the 70’s, 80’s and 2010s.
Intemperie en Chapicuy is a film that spent decades out in the open, by the remains of an old truck covered with bullet holes. A mystery of crackles and colours, you think you can see the original film underneath… or is it your imagination?
Testamento y vida interior by Narcisa Hirsch is a dada-esque colour sound 16mm film from 1977. Coffins, clocks, undertakers, a mysterious woman… Shot all over Argentina during the height of the repressive “Dirty War” against left wing activists, it’s quite a brave film made when nearly 8,500 people were “disappeared” between 1976 and 1979.
Passacaglia y fuga by Jorge Honik and Laura Abel is in some ways the artist’s retreat during the Dirty Wars. Shot in and around their astonishingly beautiful refuge, the camera swings around their calm, warm and comforting home while shots of the sometimes violent weather outside are interspersed.
The Saturday Tit-For-Tat screening curated by Milada Kovacova was particularly fun with the godfather of Toronto Super 8, John Porter, starting the evening off with a hilarious interaction with his film Daily Double Dick Van Dykes. The film is of Porter interacting with late night television in 1984 as The Dick Van Dyke Show is played over and over during the year in the wee hours. There are three projectors running this film at the same time. John, in 1984, is pointing to television as it plays the opening theme song of the show.
John, in 2014, is pointing at his projections and also interacting. The Dick Van Dyke theme song loops over and over both on the film sound track from the television, from John in 1984 singing along, and John in 2014 singing along. It’s a lot of crazy fun!
A Super 8 event without John just wouldn’t be right, as he has been cultivating it as an art form since 1968 and seems to be constantly shooting. John also taught an intro to Super 8 workshop at this year’s 8 Fest.
Einstein’s Joke by Eldon Garnet and Duncan Johnson is a Super 8 sound film from 1978. It reenacts a joke that Einstein use to tell at dinner parties. I still don’t know what the joke was! But the film is clearly about the absurdity of life and how we go through amazing, difficult or inane journeys to find ourselves right back at where we started, without much to show for it.
Shawna Dempsey and Lorri Millan (forever known to me now as the Lesbian National Parks women after seeing their hilarious and skillful film of the same name) are old hands at indie filmmaking and this year they dug up some orphaned footage (shot footage that was never used for anything) to turn into Vigilance. The thoughtful short 3 minute piece ponders violence against women that’s shown daily in the media, and how as women we are conditioned to always be “on alert.”
Wads and Wads, by Kids on TV, was deftly shot in 2003 by Robert Kennedy. Colourful, sexy, and silly, I was struck how glitter can enhance an image on Super 8! You really have to understand lighting to get indoor Super 8 shots to look this good.
Sunday evening focused on home movies with the program From Kingston Road to Humber Bay: Life in Toronto around World War II. I have loved home movies from even before I went to archiving school, and I was a collector for many years myself. These films came from an unknown family, now housed in the Heaps and Phillips collection. We were treated to wondrous and beautiful images of Toronto from the ‘30s and ‘40s, both in colour and black and white.
The Home Movies History Project has been screening and cataloging home movies in Toronto since 1999. The organization participates in Home Movie Day — a world-wide event — and has occasional screenings in locations like Monkey’s Paw Bookshop. https://sites.google.com/site/homemoviehistoryproject/
[Apologies for quality. This is where digital has trouble. Good quality means huge files that take forever to upload! You'll just have to go to a home movie screening in your town!]
The cold blustery Toronto weekend was no match to the warm glow of the small gauge projectors!
Plan your winter fun for next year: the8fest.com
John Porter has a great website that lists events and is an archive of all the indie film goings on: http://www.super8porter.ca/
Like most blogs, This Analog Earth! is made up of research and wisely knowledge gathered over the years. Here is a list of resources I got information from: