When’s the last time you popped a VHS tape in your VCR? I’ll assume it was around the last time you slipped an Al Stewart 8-track in your Hi-Fi stereo before you rushed down the street to call your buddy on the payphone. Yes, videotapes and VCRs are clunky relics of a bygone era. When I wrote an article on Casa Video earlier this year, I lamented not just the loss of video stores, but also the experiences some of us grew up with.
Thankfully, there’s a vast army out there of filmmakers, archivists, authors, artists, journalists, programmers, curators and other VHS aficionados who won’t let us forget what it was like stumbling across a Dario Argento or a William Lustig flick for the first time. All around the world, VCRs are still being put to good use. Everything is Terrible, a website and touring collective based in Los Angeles, specializes in various gonzo clips culled from thrift store finds, yard sales and from the murkiest depths of bad movies. The Found Footage Film Festival, also based in Southern California, has a similar concept. A number of international film festivals are throwing together VHS-specific screening parties. In Austin, Texas, the folks behind Mondo are designing film posters, T-shirts and even going as far as releasing vinyl film soundtracks and re-issuing movies on VHS.
Then there’s the trio of filmmakers behind the recently released documentary Rewind This! Josh Johnson, Christopher Palmer and Carolee Mitchell are Team VHS, a collective who found each other over their passion for VHS culture and obscure films. After funding their documentary through Kickstarter, filming throughout America and abroad, the film has finally been released from the festival circuit and is currently touring through various independent theaters, including our very own Loft Cinema. Just a little over 90 minutes, Rewind This! is a love letter to the golden age of videos and video stores, with interviews with former video store employees, film programmers, collectors and filmmakers Lloyd Kaufman, Atom Egoyan and Frank Henenlotter. I spoke briefly with Johnson about the genesis of the film, how it’s been received, the joys of Twitter, and how the film attracted filmmaker Panos Cosmatos, the director of 2010’s surreal mindbender Beyond the Black Rainbow.
How did the project start?
It start off as a discussion between myself and two partners about a possible documentary concept. What we had discussed initially was two key ideas: one was the fact that the home video revolution had never been documented on film even though it was a revolution that completely changed our relationship to movies; to people of a certain generation it largely inspired them to make movies. The fact that that hadn’t really been documented properly seemed really surprising to us. The other aspect that we discussed was the current archival demand for videotape, because there’s so many tens of thousands of films that were only released that way that were in danger of being lost to history. The fact that there was a valuable historical account to be told and also a contemporary relevance that has meaning right now, those two things combined made sense for the framework for our film.
When did the film premiere?
It premiered at South by Southwest in Austin back in March, and then it’s gone on to play a lot of international film festivals. This past week it launched on iTunes and as part of that launch we scheduled a lot of theatrical bookings as cross-promotion. It’s currently on tour of the U.S. and other English-speaking parts of the world in conjunction with the digital release.
How has the audience reaction been? From what I’ve read, the film seems to packing them in.
Yeah, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. I’m very curious to see how the response changes or perhaps doesn’t change as it gets out to a wider and wider audience. It’s now available digitally and it’s going to continue to expand to other platforms for online access. It’s really interesting because the screenings that we’ve done I think bring out a lot of people who are already predisposed to like the film. As positive as it’s been, it’s difficult to evaluate whether or not that represents a more general reaction to the film. What we’re starting to be able to see now with the digital watching and that it’s playing more and more theaters across the country is that people of a whole variety of backgrounds and ages are responding to the film, so it’s really encouraging.
I noticed while watching the trailer that Panos Cosmatos (Beyond the Black Rainbow) is involved. How did that come about?
Panos is somebody that I started interacting with via Twitter after his film had premiered at Fantastic Fest in Austin where I was living. I was aware that he was largely inspired to make that film because of VHS boxes that he would see as a child and in the experiences that he imagined would be contained within those boxes. Because of that piece of information I informed him about the film that I was working on through Twitter, and he started to follow that account. When it came to time for us to get our completion funding and go to Japan to finish the film, we launched a Kickstarter in order to raise that money. Once that happened Panos contributed at the Executive Producer level and as a result, he attached his name to the film.
I imagine Twitter has been a great help for the film.
Yeah, we’ve got a Facebook page and a website as well, but I think Twitter, because of the immediacy of it and the real-time interaction that it allows for has been an amazing tool for us throughout the entire process. Long before the film was even finished, we really gained followers and people that were interested in interacting with us and being a part of the film. We’ve been able to really cultivate an audience that is interested in the film before any footage was delivered and shown to the public. So, I would encourage any filmmaker to be as active as possible in social media, because you’re going to develop an audience for the work that you’re creating before the work even exists.
How did Tucson become a stop on the tour?
The film showed in Phoenix recently, and now it’s Tucson. There’s very few states where we did more than one show. But it seemed to be, for whatever reason, a lot of interest in Arizona. So I’m really excited that there’s now a second show and I hope the turnout is pretty good.
Rewind This! is playing the Loft Cinema on Wednesday, Sept. 4, at 7 p.m. It’s co-presented by Casa Video and the store is running a promotion involving ticket stubs and free rentals! More information can be found at the Loft’s website here and Casa Video’s website here. For more information on Rewind This!, you can check out the website here.