Jeremiah Knupp -- November 12th, 2010
Coming soon to a theater near you (Court Square, in fact), it’s cinema painted in the grainy, shaky palate of your parents’ home movies. The format is Super 8. The festival is Super Gr8 and Harrisonburg is about to become the home of the first event of its kind.
The idea for a local 8mm film festival was hatched from a conversation between local filmmakers Tim Estep and Paul Somers. Estep recalled a class exercise he had done in film school where the students were given a camera and a roll of black and white Super 8 film and told to shoot a movie “in camera,” meaning the footage would be played as it was shot without editing. After the project was completed the students gathered to watch their films for the first time.
“The format leveled the playing field, as far as filmmaking goes,” Estep said. “It felt more artistic because you are forced into the rules.”
Once the standard of amateur and home movies, 8mm motion picture film, developed by Kodak in the 1930s, has largely been replaced by video. Its latest incarnation, Super 8, which appeared in 1965, provided a better image quality and was easier to use for the weekend filmmaker.
“The image quality is good and the flaws are more intriguing than flaws. It’s a good format for happy mistakes,” Somers said. “It’s like writing in a poetic form. You write differently than you normally would because your words are constrained by the form.”
Since 8mm film is shot at 18 frames per second (versus 30 for video or 24 for 35mm movie cameras) the resulting image is more jumpy because, as Somers says, “you’re putting half the amount of pictures into the same amount of time.”
“It still lives, but in a weird place,” Estep explained, noting that 8mm is still popular with filmmakers looking for a vintage feel, from Oliver Stone movies to Ralph Lauren commercials.
“Everyone has seen it, but they haven’t known it was Super 8,” Somers said. “It’s a different format than digital video. We could have done a VHS film festival, but it would have not have been as interesting or cool.”
For examples of Super 8 filmmaking see the movies below, one Somers shot for Wonder Skate and a You Tube video of a silent film shot on the same Kodak black and white film that the contestants used.
So Estep and Somers formed a plan. Local artists would be given one roll of black and white 8mm film and a camera to use. They would turn the film back in to the festival organizers who would send it off for development and then the filmmakers and a local audience would gather at Court Square theater to watch the movies for the first time.
“The filmmakers are not going to see their movie until the audience does, which is kind of antithetical to most festivals,” Somers said.
“Sometimes there are mistakes and there is nothing you can do about it,” Estep said. “It’s a crap shoot.”
The idea for the festival got spread around even before the organizers had a chance to advertise and the response was overwhelming.
“Literally before we could do a call for entries the roster was full,” Estep said.
Those who answered the call come from all walks of life, from students to professors, experienced directors to first time filmmakers. In its inaugural year Super Gr8 had room for twenty films. Some were made by individuals and others were team efforts. Cameras that shoot 8mm are friendly to animation and several filmmakers who are visual artists chose to make their films in this format. Each had two months to shoot and many overcame difficulty, often technical, from their antiquated equipment (twelve cameras which had to be shared among everyone).
Entrants were charged $25, which only covered part of the $70 Estep said it cost to purchase the film stock, have it developed and then transferred to high definition video to be projected at Court Square for each three and a half minute movie. The rest of the cost was made up by local sponsors. Shot without sound, each contestant is choosing to show their film silent, with taped or live music or while reading a narrative or poetry.
The first annual Super Gr8 film festival will be held on Tuesday, November 16 at 7:30 p.m. in Court Square Theater with an after party to follow at the Artful Dodger. Awards will be given for five categories, including Best Film and Audience Choice. A $3 donation is encouraged for admission.
The festival is the first of its kind, as far as Estep and Somers know. They plan to grow next year’s festival, bringing in more filmmakers and sponsors.
“In Harrisonburg there is a wealth of talent out of proportion to the population of the town,” noted Somers who organizes local art shows.
And Estep and Somers have given that talent a whole new showcase.