VIDEO IS NOT FILM!
by John Porter 2005
Video is not film! Yet even people working in film
and/or video don't distinguish between the two. This creates confusion.
When we talk about "film", are we really talking about video?
There is growing discussion in the arts and business
worlds today about the
different look, feel and response when shooting or showing film
or video. (see "Staying in the picture", Murray Whyte,
Toronto Star, April 12, '05). To facilitate this discussion we need
to agree on what we mean by the words "film" and "video".
Film is a layer of images applied to a strip of
clear acetate or polyester,
usually with sprocket holes and viewed by passing light through it.
Video is a strip of opaque tape, a laser disc, or a memory chip. It's
You can't put film into a video camera or player, and you can't
put video into a film camera or projector.
If the word "film" commonly refers to both
shadows and electronics, then we have no commonly-used word
referring specifically to light passing through clear acetate.
And there's no need to appropriate the word "film" for both
shadows and electronics. We already commonly use "movie"
and "cinema" for that.
I suggest that the medium-of-record is the medium
in which the work is completed or exhibited. The shooting or
originating medium is merely one of the raw materials
along with effects, titles and sound which are usually combined
in the completed or exhibited work. Often, program notes referring to
a "film (shown on video)" really mean a
video (shot on film) because the video as shown, never
existed or will exist on film.
The recent Star Wars movies were shot and produced
on video, but shown on film, so they were in fact films (shot
on video). Nobody referred to them as videos.
I think the reason people refer to their completed
or exhibited video as "film", is for prestige or respect.
The word "film" sounds better than the word "video",
film has a longer, richer history, and a richer look. It's film-envy!
But videomakers should use and be proud of video's own unique qualities.
Vive la différence!
Below is an excerpt from
"Three Texts on Video" by Tom Sherman
magazine, Vol. 22, # 1, Spring 2005.
Video Not Film
by Tom Sherman
It’s video, not film.
It pisses me off the way video is being called film,
so carelessly. In a review of the recent premiere of a feature-length
work of video art, a newspaper columnist repeatedly stated that the
artist’s “film” was blah, blah, blah. The artist herself
had used the f-word to launch her video feature into the entertainment
section of the newspaper, and thus into the public’s eye. The
columnist wasn’t sensitive enough to make the distinction between
media. Why should we expect him to make the distinction? The artist
herself had decided to promote her video as a film.
Film is the term for all moving pictures in the world
of entertainment. The general public has been conditioned to want to
see film. When the medium of video is used to “film” a movie,
the director is not likely to admit he or she is working in video. Film
has been the modus operandi for more than a hundred years. Film’s
roots are so deep that any kid with a video camcorder will say she is
“filming” when shooting video. Since the commercial success
of The Blair Witch Project (1999), “film” collectives working
exclusively in video literally outnumber garage bands.
Film Act - Opinions
Super 8: The Future
by John Porter, January 2007
Published by de
film krant, Rotterdam,
on the occasion of John's work being shown
at the International
Film Festival Rotterdam.
"One of the most wonderful film experiences of
the festival." (Tonio van Vugt, Zone
Cinema - “the movies” - is more of an industry
than a medium, a business peddling costly stories and documents. It
is bound to find the most efficient delivery system and digital is perfect
- no projection booths or union projectionists. Large screens will be
“flat-screen” monitors with no projector, and movies will
be transmitted to cinemas.
People will continue to pay to see movies shown on large
screens in dark rooms with strangers. That will always be a more exciting
experience than watching movies at home on a smaller screen, especially
movies with vast landscapes, special effects, intricate detailing or
Movie festivals will continue in spite of the increasing
ability to watch any digital movie on a small screen anywhere, anytime.
Festivals are periodic presentations of important work at festive gatherings,
and people will always come just to share in the importance and the
festivities - meeting other like-minded people. Some movie festivals
will even be on small screens, so “large-screen festivals”
will become more rare and therefore more important and festive.
Film (not digital) movie festivals will also become rare,
projecting light through moving strips of clear acetate (film is not
celluloid). They will celebrate the unique experience of film projection
- watching real shadows flickering like a fire onto screens of any size,
including super 8 film projections in small rooms.. And projection is
a form of live performance which can be intervened, improvised or expanded.
As an old performer inspired by vaudevillian and film pioneer Georges
Mellies, I revel in live film projection, immersing myself in the projected
light, becoming a shadow, and dancing with the projector. I get no satisfaction
if my films are projected when I’m not there with the audience.
In a future with countless digital festivals, but few
real film festivals, it will just be like always for super 8 film people
like me. In my city of Toronto, Canada, there are at least thirty “film”
festivals but only one or two have ever shown any super 8. So from my
perspective, little will change, and in the end super 8 may be the last
film format made, because it’s the least expensive to make.
Film Act - Opinions
2011 IN HAMILTON, ONT
Artists Inc. presents
Box, White Box, Small Box, No Box
4 screenings, a workshop and a symposium
with six Canadian media artists, concluding with
John Porter: Odyssey in Eight (mm)
Super 8 films & live performance
Friday, October 21, 7:30pm, free!
Media Arts Symposium
Deanna Bowen, Carl Brown, Jubal Brown,
Jess Dobkins, Bruce Elder, John Porter.
Saturday, October 22, 1-5pm, free!
126 James St. N., Hamilton, Ontario
Media Arts Symposium Presentation
by John Porter, Hamilton, Ont, October 22, 2011
The Status of Media Arts in Canada Today?
It's equal to most other sectors in Canada today - capitalist,
corporate & conservative.
It shouldn't be a surprise if artists reflect their country's
character, and Canadians are known world-wide for being polite and boring.
And we have ALWAYS been capitalist, corporate & conservative. After
visiting Toronto in 1842, Charles Dickens wrote, "Toronto is full
of life and motion, bustle, business and improvement. The streets are
well paved, and lighted with gas; the houses are large and good; the
shops excellent, but the wild and rabid Toryism is, I speak seriously,
appalling". The whole western world has been this way at least
since the Mulroney / Reagen / Thatcher years, and it's been getting
worse ever since.
Another reason Canadian artists are this way is our healthy
arts funding. I'm not against grants - I apply for and receive them
myself. But we should openly acknowlege it's effect on our behavior.
Like true capitalists we compete with each other for limited funds,
so we don't like to share what we know. We don't publicly critisize
each other's work because we're afraid of offending someone who may
end up on a future arts council jury judging our grant application.
So we have no public peer review platform like the medical journals
to ensure that we don't end up in a rut. I would like to see a Canadian
arts listserve or forum online. When I suggested this a few years ago
at a public media arts meeting in Toronto, John Greyson said "But
John, everyone would just argue!" I said "Yes!", and
he said "Oh, so you WANT people to argue!" Yes! Let's kick
up some dust among ourselves!
Another very Canadian institution is the artist-run centre
(ARCs). Almost all of them are proud corporations, as in Hamilton Artists
Inc. - so proud of being incorprated that it says so in its title. But
artist-run corporations aren't proud because they're required to hold
Annual General Members Meetings (AGMs) and Elections. The ARCs I know
hold as few members meetings as possible - one per year, and make them
as short as possible because nobody's interested in lengthy discussions
of sensitive subjects like internal politics. And efforts are made to
avoid actual elections, by presenting a slate of board-selected candidates
in hopes that they will be acclaimed w/o any voting.
No, the reason ARCs are proud to be incorporated is because
it qualifies them for ongoing operational government funding. It's all
about money. Everything is about money. It's mercenary. We've become
so dependent on that ongoing operational funding that we believe we
can't survive w/o it. ARCs have forgotton their roots when they had
to survive w/o funding for at least a year before they could even apply,
and even then their first application wasn't necessarily successful.
Media artists in particular like to think that theirs is an especially
costly practice, but I say it doesn't have to be. I make my films for
less than $50, so I can make them w/o funding. Artists who do make costly
films or videos, CHOOSE to do so.
And our dependence on funding makes us very cautious -
conservative. We're afraid to take risks. Originally I was supposed
to do some of my film busking outside here last night as part of my
performance, but the Board of Directors of Hamilton Artists Inc. nixed
that because they would've wanted to get insurance at a cost of $1,000.
I've been film busking for years in many different locations in different
cities and never encountered that fear before.
Another level of financial respectability that ARCs are
proud to achieve is charitable status. I recently attended the AGM of
the film co-op LIFT and asked them to take a public stand against Ontario's
Film Classification law. But they said that as a Charitable Organization
they are not allowed to do any lobbying, and that their charitable status
has earned them $20,000. So they sold their right to protest, for $20,000.
And this brings me to my personal favourite test of who
is conservative in media arts in Canada, and how conservative they are.
Every province in Canada has a Film Classification law which, unlike
the American voluntary system, is cumpulsory. Anyone and everyone exhibiting
or distributing a film or video must have the work classified, at their
own expense. This even applies to ARCs - the so-called "non-profit"
sector which ironically makes work mostly containing no sex or violence,
including abstract work, unlike the "for-profit" sector. If
work cannot be submitted in advance for financial or logistical reasons,
the work is automatically classified as "Restricted" to minors,
regardless of content. But minors SHOULD see most of our work, more
than most of the movies they ARE seeing in cinemas and on television.
In spite of this we are required to get permission from our local Film
Review Board before we can show anything to minors. In other words we
are being treated by our own governments - the same ones funding us
- as if we are convicted child abusers on parole, even though we have
never been so much as charged with any such offence in the past.
This is offensive, and hurtful. My films are perfect for
children, but once my 9-year-old nephew was turned away from my screening
because my films hadn't been submitted to the Review Board. And I have
seen other under-age friends or relatives of media artists turned away
from their screenings many times. And it's discrimination because this
law is not applied to any other arts, including television.
Some non-profit organizations comply with the law, some
lie and pretend to comply, and others ignore the law, often out of ignorance
of the law, but for the last 20 years virtually nobody has been publicly
protesting this disgraceful form of arbitrary censorship. People are
afraid of the risk of losing funding. What they do protest against,
is funding cuts. Again, it's all about money. I even get critisized
by my fellow media artists for merely raising the issue of compulsory
classification at Q&As after screenings. Critisized by people who
once many years ago led protests against censorship, like Lisa Steele
who once called me a moron in public for complaining after a screening
that nobody has been protesting.
A few years ago the Glad Day Bookshop in Toronto took a
very brave stand. They challenged the law in court, costing them $100,000
and years of stress, but they won. Sadly, they received virtually no
support from the media arts community. That was a shameful chapter in
the history of our community.
The IMAA is a national umbrella organization representing
80 artist-run media centres across Canada and 12,000 cultural workers.
If you search deep into their website you'll find that they are opposed
to the compulsory prior approval or classification of media arts, but
there is no regular, loud & conspicuous public protest from them
or their member organizations at screenings. During IMAA's national
conference in Toronto last year they programmed an illegal public screening
of unclassified members' work at the AGO's Jackman Hall. They published
a thick catalogue of conference events but nowhere in it, or at the
screening, was there any mention of this issue, let alone any protest.
This series in which we are speaking here today, included
4 illegal screenings, but there was no protest from Hamilton Artists
Inc. at any of them, and I dare say that most of you here cannot say
any better about any screenings involving you or your organization.
One rare exception is Scott Berry at the Images Festival
and at the Parkdale Film & Video Showcase, both annual events in