Originally built in the 1960s to satisfy a subur-ban occupation with capturing little Johnny’s birthday and the family trip to Disneyland, Super-8 cameras are now enjoying a second life as an alternative filmmaking tool. On Sunday night at One World Cafe, a screening of local and international short films will show off the potential of the clunky hand-held cameras.
While the rest of the city sleeps off its weekend hangover, Super-8 enthusiasts Shaun Schmeisser, Stephen Bishop and Francesca Tallone debate where to project the films. The three, along with Jodi McLaughlin, Heather Harkins and Becka Barker, are founders of Flicker Halifax, a grassroots group that promotes and distributes Super-8 films. Unlike other festivals or organizations, there are no applications, no fees or auditions to sweat over. In fact, there isn’t really a membership—Flicker is better classified as a movement.
Flicker was started in the late ’80s in Athens, Georgia, by Michael Lachowski, bassist for new-wave band Pylon. There are Flicker chapters in cities such as Prague, New York and Las Vegas. McLaughlin, a former member of the Austin chapter, brought two of her cameras when she moved to Halifax. She discussed starting a local group with Schmeisser, who had no experience with the camera, but was intrigued by its potential.
Talk turned to action with encouragement from Los Angeles chapter founder Norwood Cheek, who visited the Atlantic Film Festival in September to teach an intensive Super-8 workshop. Schmeisser posted an open call on halifaxlocals.com, attracting interest from Tallone, who’d inherited a friend’s camera years before, long abandoned in storage. A photographer who experiments with toy cameras, Tallone found the shift to film intriguing. “It was like seeing if I could have the same relationship with moving pictures as I do with still pictures, using alternative and kinda crappy sources,” she says.
Crappy is part of the Super-8 aesthetic appeal. It’s grainy and scratchy. There’s a dream-like quality, and for some, an emotional association with childhood and family. “You’re going to hear the projector too,” says Schmeisser. “I guess there’s some kind of nostalgia, but you can still make something completely modern and experimental.”
The experimental nature of Super-8 is also inherent in its processing. When the Flicker group first met, they brought their cameras to Barker’s apartment, shot footage and processed it themselves in buckets of chemicals provided by Barker. The film picks up scratches as it makes it way through the process, drawing dust particles as it dries, causing variations in patterns and texture. As Tallone describes it, “It’s like getting into a car and not knowing how to drive it.”
Although the film can be sent away for processing, Super-8 is not cheap. Each film cassette, which looks similar to an eight-track tape, is only three minutes long, and costs approximately $15, plus another $13 to process. “It’s not the most practical film in the world,” Schmeisser says. “You can’t really waste it. It’s kind of precious.”
All the filmmakers agree that the hands-on approach is a refreshing change from the instantaneous nature of digital technology. After the screening, Flicker Halifax wants to host a workshop where people can come shoot a film, process and screen it—all in one day.
“Anyone can pick up a camera,” says Schmeisser. “You’re always going to see things you’ve never seen before.”
The group is also hoping to use their website, flickerhalifax.org, as a means of distributing and promoting local films, and attracting other filmmakers. The new site, designed by Bishop, includes links to other chapters, who immediately welcomed their new Halifax friends into the community. At the One World screening, there will be films from Los Angeles and Las Vegas Flicker groups. There will also be a collection from Polyester Prince, a California-based tour of Super-8 films, who made their mark with monthly spontaneous guerilla screenings across LA.
For now, Flicker Halifax is encouraging everyone to bring their films to One World, even if it is found footage, gathering dust in an attic.
“We’re the generation of kids whose parents filmed our family vacations,” says Schmeisser. “I’d like to encourage people to bring in any found footage, as long as it’s not 20 minutes of being bathed.”