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By Andrew Clarke
, Arts Editor
Tuesday, February 12, 2013
Nothing says home movies quite like Super 8 film. In fact there is such a sense of nostalgia for this bastion of small-scale film making that there is now an app available to give digital footage that heightened, colour-rich Super 8 look.
But what started out as a popular way to preserve family memories has now become the preserve of artists and niche film-makers.
The resilience of Super 8 as a film-making medium is currently being celebrated by Smith’s Row gallery in Bury St Edmunds. A new exhibition has just opened – Flicker: Artists and Super 8 which looks at the ways that Super 8 still continues around the world – even though film cartridges are becoming harder to source now that Kodak has suspended production of their enormously popular Kodachrome film in 2005.
The moment when Kodachrome ceased production is commemorated in a short Super 8 film by Italian film-maker Salvatore Bevilacqua in partnership with Davide Pepe. They are displaying three films which are screened simultaneously one of which is a compilation of ‘best bits’ taken from a variety of Super 8 home movies, a film of film-maker Salvatore Bevilacqua destroying his Super 8 camera, using the last cartridge of film to record the smashing of the lens and finally footage of film-star Isabella Rossellini being photographed with the shattered camera at a New York film festival.
She was so taken with the finished film, which won a prize at the festival, that she signed the camera, and it is on display as part of the exhibition.
The exhibition has been pulled together by Rosie Grieve of Smith’s Row and Chris Mizsak of the Cambridge Super 8 Group who have built up an archive of about a thousand films since they were founded in 2006.
Chris said: “Although I love Super 8 I do realise that you can’t go back but I do believe that film and digital can co-exist. I actually like these electronic devices which simulates the look of Super 8 because it not only keeps Super 8 in the public mind it may encourage some people to go over to film-making.”
He said that Super 8 was first introduced by film manufacturers Kodak in 1965 as an improvement to the standard home-movie 8mm filmstock. By the 1970s Super 8 was the most widely used film format in the world.
However, its time at the top lasted little more than ten years because by the early 1980s video was already making in-roads into home-movie making. Camcorders had two huge advantages over Super 8 for home moviemakers. One was that footage could be viewed immediately in camera and secondly there were no expensive processing costs.
“The drawback for home movie users was that once the film cartridge was finished they had to send it away for developing – and processing could be quite expensive. But the upside was that when the films came back, threading them up on the projector, getting everyone round for the film show was a very special occasion.”
He said that while home movie-makers increasingly opted for video, Super 8 remained a firm favourite with artists and independent film-makers. Directors like the late Derek Jarman, Spike Lee and Oliver Stone have used Super 8 footage as flashbacks in their films while Hollywood titans Steven Spielberg and Tim Burton have publically acknowledged their debt to Super 8 as an important part of their development.
Last year Steven Spielberg even produced a film called Super 8, directed by JJ Abrams, which was inspired by the model train wrecks he used to film in his garage as a boy.
“There’s a huge trend for that vintage experience these days – anything that’s vintage is in because people can then personalise it and there’s been an explosion in wedding photographers offering a Super 8 package to go alongside the video and the still wedding album.”
He said that artists have also embraced Super 8 and the exhibition draws artists from all over the world including Ipswich-based artist Giovanna Maria Casetta, Turner Prize nominee Luke Fowler along with Spanish film-maker Maite Abella, German documentary specialist Dagie Brundert and Russian-born photographer, now living in Norway, Dimitri Lurie.
The exhibition came about after a chance conversation with gallery director Alison Plumridge.
“It turned out that she was a fan of Super 8 movies, and suggested we put something together. Most art whether it is a painting, a sculpture, an installation is usually still. The joy of having films showing is that the images are forever changing and we are showing a number of different films. It is not just one film on a loop – although some are on a loop many are not,” Chris said.
He said that the make-up of the Cambridge Super 8 Group provided a snapshot of the sort of people who still passionately championed the use of Super 8 film.
“We are loosely a collective of artists, film-makers, scientists, inventors and enthusiasts who come together with a common interest which is preserving film, promoting low gauge film-making and we have been running a small, but internationally recognised film festival since 2006.”
He said that they have a developed a network of sponsors who provide in-kind support which allows their work to continue. Ultimately they hope to create a free, fully searchable web archive which will allow these remarkable films to be viewed.
“Having it based on the web I think will be easier for everyone rather than having boxes of DVDs, sitting there stagnating. Film-makers with very limited resources have gone to extraordinary lengths to shoot these films and they have sent two or three copies to various festivals around the world, hoping that people will see their work. We are helping them to reach a much larger audience.”
He said that as a group The Cambridge Super 8 Group are very focused on community and stage screenings around the eastern region as well as create bespoke films or compilations for specific organisations or events as well as staging a film festival in Cambridge.
“Occasionally someone will approach us with some reels of film that they have found in the shed or stored in an attic and ask us to take a look at it because they have no idea what it is and suddenly they’ll see Uncle Ted in a film that was shot years ago. So it’s nice to allow people to see old family films but what’s even more exciting is when people approach with a film that turns out to be historically interesting.
“Then we’ll incorporate that into a package and screen it to local history groups and societies – also we have close ties with the East Anglian Film Archive and were education partners for the BBC’s Real History Project last year.”
Workshops and education plays a big part in their philosophy and they have built several workshops and presentation into the exhibition programme at Smith’s Row with the idea of allowing those with an interest in Super 8 film-making an opportunity to get their hands dirty – quite literally in one case.
On March 9-10 film-maker Dagie Brundert will be hosting a workshop about creating chemicals to make and develop your own film using everyday chemicals and locally brewed beer.
Chris said that such inventiveness is required because the future of Super 8 film-making is poised on a precipice.
“Kodak are down-sizing and discontinuing their stocks of Super 8. Kodachrome really popularised Super 8 and fast forward to today and it is no more. There are still some smaller companies who are trying to fill the gaps but Kodak really was the market leader.
“One of the debates that, I think, permeates its way all through this exhibition is the question what is the future of film. Will it survive or will digital completely take over?
“We don’t believe that Super 8 will die because there is a strong enough interest around the world to keep it alive. You can buy strips of acetate, you can make emulsions and you can paint them on. Super 8 will survive even if it is preserved and championed by clustered of artisans around the world.”
He said that Dagie Brundert is a legend in the Super 8 world because not only does she shoot every day of her life but her bath doubles as a large developing tank. Dagie has developed ways of using coffee, tea and beer, red wine and food waste as a way creating organic chemicals for film development.
“There is a whole new angle starting to appear in the film-making world.”
Other film workshops are being run this weekend and on February 16-17 by film organisation Cherry Kino and will tackle issues involved in black and white and colour film-making.
He said that they thought long and hard about the layout of the exhibition and how it would look for the visitor. The exhibition was very much about bringing in the general public rather than Super 8 enthusiasts. He said that they were looking to attract people who had never heard or experienced Super 8 as well as those who remembered the format from its heyday.
“We have still images on the walls, mounted as fine art prints, as well as a camera and a random picture generator which is constructed with inkjet print technology.”
The machine sprays Super 8 leader film with coloured inks triggered by a photo-electric cell which responds to the approach of people. The result is projected onto the wall.
Chris says that they too are extremely happy with the exhibition guide which instead of looking like a glossy guide to high art has been designed to conjure up the look and feel of a 1960s manual. “It looks like the sort of thing that you would have got with your very first Super 8 camera. I love it. I gave the copy and the photographs to the designer and it came back looking like this amazing exhibition manual.”
The gallery is also linking up with the Abbeygate Picturehouse in Hatter Street to screen some Super 8 movies free of charge tomorrow and on Sunday February 17, March 10 and 17. Screenings start at 6.30pm.
In addition, tomorrow, there will be a documentary double-bill with a live director’s Q&A which will examine the impact and continued allure of Super 8 from the 1980s through to today. Super 8 (1986) is a seminal documentary produced for Channel 4 Television by Jo Comino and James Mackay. Super 8: Mon Amour (2011) directed by Rémy Batteault is a French fantasy documentary told from the point of view of a camera.
n On February 16, there will be a talk on Derek Jarman followed by a rare screening of Glitterbug (1994) - a montage of the acclaimed film director’s personal Super 8 footage set to a soundtrack by Brian Eno.
n Flicker: Artists and Super 8 at Smiths Row until March 23.