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Nostalgia for Old Film Technology Reins at SXSW

SXSW is hosted each Spring at the Austin Convention Center in downtown Austin, TX - photo by Ed Schipul.

SXSW is hosted each Spring at the Austin Convention Center in downtown Austin, TX – photo by Ed Schipul.

Retro video production is back! At least it is at the South by Southwest® (SXSW®) Conferences & Festivals, where old new meet news!

According to reports from the festival, which is going on right now – March 8-17 for the overall event and March 8-16 for the film-related sessions – has screened films that are very nostalgic after the older technologies, such as VHS.

According to an article by Mekado Murphy posted yesterday on the the New York Times  Arts Beat blog, the old tech is in full swing at the festival. Even though latest technologies still rule the screen, several old fashion-themed films were screened.

These included horror anthology sequel “V/H/S/2″ and “Rewind This!” – a documentary by Josh Johnson that looks at how VHS laid foundations for the digital age of film and video production. You can read the full article to find out more – Video Nostalgia at SXSW.

One film producer did not have to travel far to visit the festival – Andrew Bujalski, a film producer  from Austin, TX whose drama entitled “Computer Chess,” sounds most intriguing. His film has been shot in black-and-white, using old equipment from the crazy 70’s! While shot on video, the approach taken was rather challenging. You can read more about the project on the film’s cinematographer Matthias Grunsky’s blog, where he confesses that he “had to adjust the video levels with a screwdriver into a healthy spot with the help of the waveform monitor.” More details on Mr. Grunsky’s article “Computer Chess”: a more detailed look at the tube camera.

A shot from Georges Méliès Le Voyage dans la Lune (A Trip to the Moon) (1902), a classic black-and-white film.

A shot from Georges Méliès Le Voyage dans la Lune (A Trip to the Moon) (1902), a classic black-and-white film.

So, why this nostalgia for black-and-white movies, low-quality VHS formats, and big, clunky VHS cassettes with limited storage capacity? Younger generation that grew up in the world of Wi-Fi, high-definition, and everything digital might not understand it but the older crowd surely will.

The depth of colors and sharp picture of HD has the WOW effect, no doubt, but all that crispiness can be distracting and take away from other qualities. Besides, black-and-white has its charm too. Same with roll film or even VHS – both formats have their unique feel that digital video simply lacks and could only try to imitate with special effects.

Moreover, it is simply in human nature to miss the things that have passed, we oftentimes feel nostalgic about things that were not necessarily fully positive. Eastern Europe is a perfect example of that sentiment. Ostalgie, a German word derived from Ost (east) and Nostalgie (nostalgy or nostalgia), refers to just that, the nostalgy of Germans (those who used to live in East Germany) after the times they were trapped behind the Iron Curtain. During Communism, all they wanted to be free of the Soviet yoke, when they gained their freedom, they started reminiscing about things from that period.

Similarly, video production professionals and filmmakers in the 70’s would kill to be able to shoot their videos in 3d, use digital format and CGI – think George Lucas and Star Wars – and now that they can, they want to go back to when they din’t have to. And as we’ve seen at SXSW, some decided to protest!

Anyhow, I’m getting teary eyed now, so lets at least watch a trailer for “Computer Chess” – tell us what you think!



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