The first Super 8 picture show

Sat, Jun 19, 2010, 01:00

The inaugural Super 8 Shots festival, which runs in Galway next week, will showcase the medium’s attractive authenticity for fans old and new, writes IAN KILROY

THE 8MM FILM format became iconic when Abraham Zapruder caught the assassination of JFK on it in 1963.

Its lurid colour heightens reality. It endows even contemporary events with the aura of nostalgia. On super 8 film stock, it’s always the wonder years and even old home movie footage of rained-on St Patrick’s Day parades looks warm and attractive.

“The look of super 8 is still very much sought after,” says Julien Dorgère, the French founder of the new Super 8 Shots film festival in Galway. “People shoot digital and they all complain that it’s flat. It is very hard to make digital film footage look good. But with super 8, it has a charm. There’s something aesthetically pleasing about it,” he says.

Like that niche of nerds or enthusiasts (take your pick) that won’t walk away from vinyl, like those people still shooting 35mm photographs and hiding away in darkrooms, the 8mm film fanatic hasn’t given way to the changing tide of technology. In the 1960s idyll of super 8, it is always the Summer of Love and the drugs still work.

Remarkably, this is despite the fact that super 8 cameras have not been made since the 1980s. Around the time that uncles everywhere started to shoot weddings and baptisms on clunky VHS cameras, Kodak and others decided the days of super 8 were numbered and halted camera production. It was a premature move, says Dorgère.

“In the mid to late 1990s, early 2000s, there was something of a revival,” he says. “It was used in a lot of movies – JFK, The Magdalene Sisters, Natural Born Killers– and it is still used in a lot of music videos and documentaries.” It is also a medium frequently turned to by artists – and with the continuing demand, it’s no wonder that the film stock was never discontinued. Indeed, super 8 film manufacturers have reacted to the revival, making a choice of black and white and various colour grade film stocks available. As for the cameras themselves, if you want to track one down, you’ll need to find one second-hand.

“In the 1970s, what was built was built to last,” says Dorgère. “Now if you buy a digital camera, it’s made for you to buy a new one in a few years. Super 8 cameras made in the 1970s look maybe five years old today, not the 40 years old they are.” With that 40- to 45-year history behind it, it means the format has a lot of social history recorded on it. And it is to that social history that homage will be paid in the Galway Wonder Years section of the programme, where old home-movie footage of the city and the west of Ireland will be screened.

But professional artists such as Vivienne Dick, who had a retrospective at the Crawford last year, and who will be showing at Tate Modern in September, and New York-based Moira Tierney are also part of this festival.

Closer to home, Galway-based artist Mike Smalle, and Dorgère himself, will also be showing their work, as will Donal Dineen, the well-known DJ, who is also a super-8 film-maker and technically accomplished photographer.

“There’s a huge variety of events to appeal not only to the artist and the film-making community in general but to the wider community,” says Dorgère.

Indeed, if you’re interested in starting making films yourself (and if you manage to pick up an old camera in an antique shop or on eBay), a whole strand of the festival programme is designed to get you started.

There’ll be film-making masterclasses and training in how to develop the film yourself, as well as a shop for equipment in the festival box office, in the Bell, Book and Candle bookshop, near Sea Road in Galway city.

“What we’re trying to do is promote the super 8 format,” says Dorgère.

“We want to show people that it still exists, show people that you really can make incredible things with it, at quite an affordable cost, unlike 16mm and 35mm, which are very expensive to work with.”

Maybe it’s that affordable aspect to the format that has meant the competition element of Dorgère’s festival has attracted so many entries from Ireland, the US, France, Britain and Germany – there are just so many people out there shooting this format, for aesthetic and economic reasons alike. A niche interest it may be, but super 8 has seen its own dedicated film festivals emerge in the US and Europe in recent years.

Now, with this inaugural festival, Ireland has its own outlet for those serious about super 8.

“For now, super 8 has many years ahead of it,” says Dorgère. “Small formats have a place in people’s hearts. Ireland really needs its own super 8 festival, and now it has one.”

The Super 8 Shots festival runs in Galway from June 23rd to 27th. See http://festival.

Donal Dineen and Mr Weasel will play at the Body and Soul festival in Ballinlough Castle, Co Westmeath, tomorrow