The 8 Fest highlights the strange afterlife of a once-popular film format.
Much like 8 tracks and 3.5-inch floppy disks, Super 8 film seems like a relic from another era, but it turns out that’s not totally accurate. While it may have lost its status as the favoured medium for home movies some time ago, Super 8 has found new life among visual artists, who love its ease of use and its distinctive grainy aesthetic.
Super 8, for anyone not old or arty enough to know, is a type of film originally released by Kodak in the early 1960s. It’s called “Super” because it was an upgrade over traditional 8mm film. It was a favourite of amateur filmmakers until the rise of video in the late 1970s.
The 8 Fest, an annual local film festival, is dedicated to Super 8, as well as other “small gauge” film types, like 8mm and 9.5mm. Now in its sixth year, the fest showcases the full breadth of what one can do with these seemingly obsolete formats.
According to 8 Fest coordinator Andrew James Patterson, part of Super 8’s appeal is how it lends itself to spontaneity.
“It’s something you can shoot yourself, or with a friend,” he says. “You can do a lot of editing in camera…Or you can improvise in camera, like, ‘Yeah, that’s the shot there.’ It’s very portable and very hands-on.”
He adds that The 8 Fest shows the full breadth of Super 8 work, ranging from short narratives to films that focus entirely on the visual.
“A lot of people who are involved in Super 8 are visual artists,” he says. “They scratch the film, they paint on it. They see the film as canvas.”
The festival will include two screenings of 8mm films from around the world. There will also be a special program devoted to the work of Canadian-born, New York-based film artist Ross McLaren. (One of his films is embedded at the top of this post.) Even old home movies will share the spotlight: a presentation by The Home Movie History Project will show them as found art.
“We’ll have a 1930s street scene, teens in bobby sox, cars on roofs, a 1970s house party,” Patterson says.
There will also be screenings that show the various ways artists can use small-gauge film as a jumping-off point for a larger project.
“One commission is by Sharlene Bamboat, and is called Oxidize,” Patterson says. “This will be Super 8 with live audio, live performers, and a triple projection.” (Which is to say, three projectors pointed at the same screen.)
If just watching small gauge-movies isn’t interactive enough, there will be an introduction to 8mm filmmaking on Saturday afternoon.
“Regular 8 is not just the weird cousin of Super 8, it’s a weird medium in and of itself,” Patterson says. “You’ll get a workshop on film loading, film focusing, and then you’ll break up in a couple of little groups to work on things. It will be very hands-on.”
Overall, Patterson hopes that if audiences take away anything from The 8 Fest, it will be that Super 8 filmmaking is filmmaking in its most populist form.
“There’s that fine line between, ‘Is this high art, or a home movie,’ which isn’t always a black or white distinction,” he says. “You’ve got the home movie appeal, the hands-on appeal and the very DIY appeal. It doesn’t require endless editing sessions. You can just work with what you’ve got on the fly.”