Super 8 Filmmaker John Porter, Toronto, Canada



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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. It's shadows.
Video is a strip of opaque tape, a laser disc, or a memory chip. It's electronics.
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", because
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
Canadian Art magazine, Vol. 22, # 1, Spring 2005.

Video Not Film
by Tom Sherman 2005

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.


Ontario Film Act - Opinions - Histories - Reviews

Super 8: The Future is Here
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 5300)

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 “big” sound.

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.


Ontario Film Act - Opinions - Histories - Reviews


Hamilton Artists Inc. presents

Black 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 Toronto.