Still from noonwraith blues.
Super 8mm film was introduced in 1965 by Eastman Kodak at the World’s Fair in New York to help the average person document their everyday lives. Super 8mm was most widely used for filming home movies between the mid 1960s till the early 1990s. Today amateur usage of Super 8mm has been replaced by digital video but the format is still regularly used by filmmakers, artists and students. Some hope to imitate the look of old home movies. Others want to create alternative looks for flashback sequences and altered states of consciousness. Some just like the idea of creating images in the classic style of using actual film. Super 8mm is a relatively inexpensive film, making it popular among filmmakers working on a low budget who still want to achieve the look of real film. Super 8mm has become quite common in theatrical features. J.J. Abrams 2011 film Super 8 pays homage to the little film format. Guy Maddin’s surreal 2006 film Brand Upon The Brain and Jim Jarmusch’s 1997 film Year of the Horse -- a documentary on Neil Young’s band Crazy Horse -- use it too.
I fell in love with Super 8mm when I started making films in 1982. I liked the fact that you were pretty much in control of every aspect of the filmmaking process. I could even develop the film myself. So it was the DIY aspect of Super 8mm that first lured me in but it was the grainy, oneiric (dreamlike) quality of the film stocks that sold me on this format. I have since made over 30 short (mostly experimental) films using Super 8mm. I started touring my work and showing it all over and then met two of the biggest Super 8mm film supporters in the USA. They are the husband and wife team of Bob Brodsky and Toni Treadway. They founded and ran the International Center for 8mm Film and Video in Massachusetts for over 30 years. Through their non-profit organization they subsidized many Super 8 filmmaker by sending them to film festivals in the USA, England, France, Venezuela, Brazil, Canada, and others. It was thanks to them that I got to visit so many wonderful festivals and countries. The largest United States-based Super 8mm Film Festival in the 1970s and 1980s was the one in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Bob and Toni sent me there to show a package of experimental films that I had curated in 1986 but by 1988 the people who ran this legendary festival decided they were going to cease operations. Bob and Toni suggested that I create one at Rutgers University since I had set up the Rutgers Film Co-op/New Jersey Film Festival back in 1982. So I did and called it the United States Super 8mm Film Festival. The first of these was a curated program where I invited Super 8 filmmakers that I admired to screen their work but the 32 that followed were juried festivals where a panel of judges picked the winners. The Festival has changed over the last 3 decades going from screening Super 8mm films exclusively to then including Hi 8mm videos and now digital videos. Also for over the past two decades Pro 8mm based in Burbank has been a major sponsor of this Festival. They provide a wide variety of Super 8 services and film stocks for filmmakers. I thought it would be nice to ask some of the filmmakers who are finalists in the 2021 United States Super 8mm Film and DV Festival to talk about Super 8 and the films they are showing at this year's program. The filmmakers that I spoke to are Kamila Kuc, Director of noonwraith blues and Ed Sayers, Director of 3 Sons. Both live in the U.K. I also spoke with Rebecca Tiernan and Mike J. Nichols. They both live in California.
Still from lat.Copiare.
Nigrin: Tell us about your film that is an Official Selection in the 2021 United States Super 8mm Film & Digital Video Festival and why you decided to make it.
Kuc: The starting point for noonwraith blues were 35mm cinegrams of Albrecht Dürer's engraving Melencolia. I created these as part of a workshop delivered by Kerry Laitala and held by Basement Films and Experiments in Cinema in Albuquerque. At that time I was reading Erwin Panofsky's The Life and Art of Albrecht Dürer and became fascinated by Panofsky's in depth analysis of Melencolia. This connected with my explorations of Slavic mythology and the myth of Noonwraith who frequented fields during harvest. If you were stricken by her, you could die, or at the very least, descend into madness. In the film there is also a latent character of my grandmother, her connection to the land and the fact that much of her life was dictated by the rhythm of the harvest. I then collaborated with Rob Godman, who created his soundtrack based on this quite aggressive rhythm of optical sound that accompanied the original screening of the 35mm cinegrams.
Sayers: I stated the Super 8 competition ’straight 8’ in 1999. One super 8 cartridge, no editing. The first time you see your work is at its public premiere. In the old days everyone who made a film had it shown. Then we had to start making selections as the numbers were high and we started to show the best ones at the Cannes Film Festival, still sight unseen for the makers. So as we started to select, and the standard got higher, I stopped making them. Then my friend Michel Antoine-Chappuis who runs a similar event in Switzerland invited me to make a film in the same way for his event. I nearly said NO, but flipped it to YES and it made me do something I’d wanted to do for years - try to make a film about my Dad on Super 8, editing only in the camera.
Tiernan: Narcisi is an experimental psychodrama about the creation and phenomenon of Narcissism. Although this film can be seen as a direct interpretation of the myth of Narcissus, I made this film to visualize how Narcissism is experienced and perceived. By using alluring visuals such as vivid colors, creative lighting techniques, water, and glass, I sought to create the hypnotic, magnetic draw of Narcissism so that I could understand why this was an obstacle within my own life and also a reoccurring obstacle within society as a whole. While I believe that “healthy” Narcissism (i.e. self-love and self-compassion) is a good thing as we need to understand and accept ourselves and the needs that we have- it is important to see that for it to be “healthy” it has to be rooted in an honest reflection and acceptance of one’s own identity. Honesty is the most important antidote to Narcissism since it’s in honesty and in Truth where we can exercise our empathetic muscles and demonstrate unconditional love. This delicate balance of self-love and love for others goes awry when one’s own image or identity is rooted in a lie, hypocrisy, emotional insecurity, or an unhealed wound. A misstep occurs when one tries to avoid their past suffering or true self and instead becomes manipulative to evade all accountability and introspection. It’s because of these experiences I have had interacting with Narcissism that I decided to make a short film about it.
Nichols: The film itself references the WHY Super-8 — In fact, it is accidentally very meta about the why and the how of making it because THAT becomes the story. I had worked for 5 years on documentary film called, ZAPPA. It was set to World Premiere at the 2020 SXSW festival in March. As we know, COVID cancelled many things in the world including this festival. I sat in my apartment and wondered what to do. I had spent so much time going through Frank Zappa archival that a quest to locate some of my own had become a hobby… and an adventure. In that process discovering once lost Super-8mm film… THIS short film "World Premiere Video…” emerged. Thinking back I realized I wasn’t getting a World Premiere of my work at SXSW so somehow I guess I was trying to create my own World Premiere in lockdown.
Still from World Premiere Video.
Nigrin: Why did you use Super 8mm for your film?
Kuc: I tend to work with film, be it Super 8, 16mm, 35mm, and for this film I already had some footage of my grandmother, that I'd shot in her village in Poland quite a few years ago. I then had some 50D Super8 film stock that Reed O'Beirne and I filmed the images of myself in the fields. I love working with film and this was what I also had at home, what was available to me at the time. I don't actually own a digital moving image camera and if I want to use it, I have to borrow it.
Sayers: My Dad who is the subject of the film ran out the house as I was leaving for a ski-trip with friends waving his Super 8 camera and some film and said I could take it. A lot happened because of that, so it was the perfect medium to make this little film on. Also the format fits the feeling of the film which is 100% in the present, now, but also speaks in a nostalgic tone. Anyway because I’m always provoking people to shoot Super 8 with ’straight 8’, it had to be done this way. I also wanted to blindly find the story in the audio based on what I thought I had shot, as the audio was added without me being the film first.
Tiernan: I chose Super 8 film for the color grading, the aged and cinematic aesthetic, and for the tighter aspect ratio to enhance the psychological aspect of the film.
Nichols: As you will see, it is a film based on archival media in the Super-8mm format. Super-8 literally is a character in the film. Steven Spielberg had made his early youth movies on the 8mm film format and when my group of childhood friends found out that fact, we were digging for and acquiring old Super-8 cameras to make our own films. Sure, there was videotape and video camcorders and rightfully many people were making “movies" using VHS and Hi8 tape formats. They were quick and easy AND they had sound attached to picture right in the camera. But the video camera filmmaking didn’t LOOK, MOVE or FEEL like a real movies. It felt cheap. Super-8 film although lower in frame size and resolution from the 35mm big brother, was FILM. Editing Super-8 was non-linear and tactile. Razorblade the film and splicing tape it together. Pretty time consuming for sure but it was straight forward and inexpensive. To edit using video tape was outside the realm of regular filmmaking for kids and adults even. The technology wasn’t quite there yet so video tape movies tended to be these more like recorded plays with dialogue and Super-8 filmmaking had shots using direction and editing. It felt like cinema and it really was…
Still from 3 Sons.
Nigrin: Do you find getting Super 8mm materials and film more difficult these days?
Kuc: I don't find Super 8 materials difficult to get but working with film is becoming increasingly more expensive. As I am writing this, I am pleased to see that there are still so many artists working with film. As I am writing this, Kim Knowles new book Experimental Film and Photochemical Practices is being promoted. The book is devoted to the work of artists working with film and it is an important intervention into all these discussions about film being dead, which, as we know, isn't. Your Festival is also a testimony to this.
Sayers: Super 8 is readily available if you know where to look or ask the right people.
Tiernan: It can appear to be difficult given that there’s a higher upfront cost when shooting on film rather than on digital. With digital, you end up paying more along the way and in post to make it more cinematic and professional, whereas with film those expenses are usually covered in the beginning.
Nichols: I had faithfully kept using Super-8mm up until the year 2000. I would make TV commercial pitches using Super-8mm. The cost of the film and the developing was still reasonable vs 16mm but it was the film to tape transferring that was the high price point. Pro8mm (formerly Super-8 Sound) in Burbank, CA was the place I was getting equipment and services from back in middle America. They were using a RANK CINTEL adaptor to get Super-8 transferred using the Hollywood type scanner and I was so impressed with quality look of it - unfortunately it was usually out of my price range. We had to do a lot of projected on the wall transfers and then add in Pro8mm transfers as a process to be done later when approved. Into the 2000’s, Camera repairing and the film and processing became more of price point that prevented using it more often. Jobs now don’t want to wait for the processing and transfers so, unfortunately, I get to use it so rarely on a film.
Still from Narcisi.
Nigrin: Will you continue shooting in Super 8mm in the future?
Kuc: I still have a fridge full of Super8 film and I have some ideas for a new piece. This will be ablack and white film and part of the work will be me experimenting with its development.
Sayers: I love Super 8 as a medium. You do get surprises but more often than not, they’re nice ones - and we all prefer that type of surprise as creatives.
Tiernan: Hell yes! I usually have several rolls sitting in my fridge and am currently planning another Super 8 film shoot.
Nichols: I will. I just love how it looks and feels. Even when I can’t get it approved into a project, I will try to even emulate the look that I love so much.
Still from Out In The Sky Nobody Sleeps.
Nigrin: Are there any memorable stories while you made this film or any other info about your film you can rely to our readers?
Kuc: I made the film while in between two large and challenging projects (which I am still working on). I needed to make something shorter and something that did not require complex set arrangements and a large film crew. You could say that in many ways this work came out of my frustration of not being able to move forward with the other, longer projects at the time. I am now very grateful for this struggle with the other works and for this creative frustration that caused me to make noonwraith blues as the film has travelled really well and became the cause for many brilliant conversations with festivals, other filmmakers and audiences. I am very honoured that the film is part of your Festival, too.
Sayers: I decided to make this film in a really unplanned way and have faith that the shape of the story would emerge - as that’s so important if you want anyone to enjoy it! (I’m really delighted that you selected the film for that reason.) So, I took my son, Louis, my trusty Canon 814 and one roll of 50D Super 8 and went to my Dad’s golf practise ground to shoot the whole roll in no less than a couple of hours. While I was shooting I recorded some random documentary style audio which ended up being the thrust of the film in the end. When I heard back how bossy I was with my Dad who is one of the bossiest people I know, it made me laugh a lot and I knew it had to be included in that raw state in the audio. And I’d been thinking a lot about how the baton gets passed and I’m sure my son would challenge about who is the bossiest Dad… so then the name presented itself: 3 Sons. We’re each of us the son of someone and for better and worse. I loved the fact that Louis got more into driving the buggy than the filming after a while and so ended up in the film, which I’d had a feeling might happen.
Nichols: I think the responses to my film has been overwhelmingly positive. So many people made movies when they were kids and this film presents not only that “nostalgia" that clicks into their own heads but it also brings forward the consciousness of today. Digital is clean and easy…. but we are finding it not lasting. It’s ability to just disappear like that…. Deleted… damaged. happens to everyone even on their portable phones. Analog even when damaged STILL holds the reality of the time period and intent of that archival. I had videos I shot with my iPhone last week just get corrupted and disappear but I’m looking at chemical images of myself, my friends and my family from many, many years ago and it’s STILL there. I’ll use Super-8 any chance I get…
Still from Judy vs. Capitalism.
Here is more info on the 2021 United States Super 8 Film + DV Festival Screenings:
Saturday, February 20, 2021 - $12=General
Films will be available on VOD (Video On Demand) for 24 hours on this show date.
Saturday has two parts:
To buy tickets for Part 1 go here:
To buy tickets for Part 2 go here:
Sunday, February 21, 2021 - $12=General
Films will be available on VOD (Video On Demand) for 24 hours on this show date.
To buy tickets go here:
(848) 932-8482; www.njfilmfest.com