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Film Wed Jun 06 2012

JB Mabe and the Super 8 Film Festival

by Harrison Sherrod


One of the most exciting (and much needed) grassroots film projects in recent memory is the Chicago 8 film festival, which is devoted to exclusively showing Super 8 and other small gauge format films. After a successful fundraising campaign, the fest is gearing up for its second run in October and currently accepting submissions. I sat down with co-programmer JB Mabe for a chat about the festival's origins, the ongoing analog VS digital feud, and STEP UP 3-D.

JB Mabe, I know you primarily as a fellow CINE-FILE scribe, but you're also an accomplished filmmaker and programmer. Tell me a bit about your background and how you got involved in Chicago 8.

From age 12 on, I was a film-mad kid. I saw everything at the multiplex, I was a video store clerk, I drove 45 minutes to go to the independent art house theater in Charlotte, I made my dad take me to regional film festivals--I'd watch anything. At 17 I saw my first "experimental" or "avant-garde" films (whatever you'd like to call them) at the Virginia Film Festival, including work by Andy Warhol, Peter Kubelka, Sadie Benning, and Christopher Maclaine. From that point on I was obsessed with making/showing/seeing these kinds of films. It took me a long time to start making complete films that were worth showing publicly, but a couple of years ago I started having a bit of luck screening my work in festivals.

 As for my involvement with Chicago 8: two years ago, I was having lunch with a brilliant local Super 8 filmmaker named Karen Johannesen during the Milwaukee Underground Film Festival and she mentioned how hard it was to screen Super 8 properly at festivals and how she had always wanted to start a Super 8 fest herself. I said: "OK, let's do it!" And it was (basically) as simple as that. Last year, we were all co-equals along with another Super 8 filmmaker named Jason Halprin (who has moved on to a teaching gig at Colgate University), but this year Karen is the executive director and I'm mainly co-programming and handling press. Super 8 is Karen's passion--for me it's a lovely format that I still I have difficultly getting my fat fingers around.

This is the second year since the festival's inception--how is it evolving?

Well, we learned a lot last year. We discovered a lot about our audience, the technical needs of the Super 8 format in a festival setting, and just how vital this format remains internationally. We saw so much Super 8 coming from Canada, Japan, and Ireland--it was really a surprise how many little pockets of Super 8 passion there are in the world! This year we'll take those lessons and hopefully make an even more entertaining, global festival.

What makes Super 8 (and other small gauge formats) so endearing?

First and foremost, it's film. There's still so much life and depth and beauty in the photochemical frame. And there's so much active interaction with your eye and your mind as the images flicker by in a darkened room. Today, the difference between Super 8 and the larger gauges of film are less important than the differences between film and video. Video has almost entirely won the commercial battle and it might get harder and harder to see real film. It's a bummer, but video has its own great properties and I think film will continue to be used as an artistic medium for a long time.

Do you fear that the charm of Super 8 is lost on younger generations who grew up with the convenience of being able to instantly record video on their cell phones?


Not really. I had a daily video project for a while, so I can say that instantly shooting, editing, and uploading videos has its own charm. Super 8 has wonderful qualities that I think any sensitive viewer can pick up on. Younger folks are plenty sharp and they get what's special about watching Super 8 Kodachrome home movies from 1968 or watching lush, intense Super 8 films made by Paul Clipson or Helga Fanderal in 2012.

Will Super 8 experience a renaissance like Polaroid film? Is it part of this backlash against digital technologies in favor of more "authentic" analog modes?

I'm not sure if Super 8 will experience a full comeback where people film on and project in the Super 8 format (which is what this festival focuses on), but Super 8 has always been a great originating format for a variety of projects. There are still plenty of music video directors or wedding photographers who shoot on Super 8 before transferring their work to video. In that respect, the medium is still really quite active. In fact, it wasn't long ago that Kodak released a new Super 8 stock, so that shows some commercial confidence in its future.

How does being a working filmmaker inform your curatorial decision-making? Do you feel an obligation to select films that are radically different from your own?

I love films that are radically different than my own. All I'm looking for is evidence of passion and evidence of a film having needed to be made. Lusty films. Boiling films. Agitated films. Sometimes even desperate films. Accomplished academic work can be pretty boring, but a maddeningly amateurish thing that aches at every edit with the passion of the filmmaker behind it can be life-changing. 

Do you think of the festival as counter-offensive against the rising tide of digital projection and 3-D technology?

As a counter-offensive to the lack of Super 8 projection possibilities? Yes. We started the festival to share great Super 8 work that other festivals didn't want to (or couldn't) put the effort into showing. There's still so much brilliant work being made and decades of brilliant Super 8 work to revisit that an entire Super 8 festival really was necessary.

Speaking of 3-D, in the past couple years we've seen less commercial directors like Wim Wenders and Werner Herzog embrace the medium. As an independent experimental filmmaker, do you look forward to 3-D technology becoming more readily available to the public?

Absolutely. 3-D in commercial cinema might ultimately be a fad to suck an extra three bucks out of the theater patron, but any creative tool is exciting! Personally, I'd love to shoot something in 3-D. I really loved Step Up 3-D, and I heard nothing but great things about the Herzog doc.

I haven't seen Step Up 3-D. Sounds like it might be an interesting contrast to PINA. Maybe a dance off is in order. JB, thanks for your time and insight. We look forward to October.

For more info on the Chicago 8 film festival or to contribute your own work, visit their website.

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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »


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