Monday, June 18, 2007

About This Site

Today, at Causeway Film and Video Forum, Diana King has an interesting write up on a video short called The Bachar Tapes. But what struck me equally was her rationale for a pending series of posts:
Many films, especially educational documentary and video art pieces, are simply not available for inexpensive home rental from Netflix and other sources. In an effort to provide an entry point to some of these titles, the Forum welcomes descriptive entries of the relatively hard to find.

Being a film scholar (currently a lecturer at Temple University) who has written on film availability and 16mm distribution at my blog and at the group site Dr. Mabuse's Kaleidoscope, this sentiment struck a chord. Diana's idea is something that meets an unfulfilled need in the film blogosphere and something that would benefit from the collective energies of multiple contributors (the wisdom of crowds, to use a cliche). An email or two later, Diana and I agreed that a group site devoted to materials not on commercial DVD could be a beneficial resource for film scholars, educators, librarians, and cinephiles. Hence the present site.

Of course, there's so much material that has not seen the light of day in the home video market. Works meant for the art market. Much of post World War II experimental film. Films forgotten and television broadcasts not meant to be more than ephemeral. For the purposes of this site, works released with institution-purchase-only policies or with institutional pricing (say, more than $75 a tape or DVD) will count as "not on DVD."

The actual films or media works discussed will be left up to contributors, but the site provides an excellent opportunity to discuss experimental film; video art; political, experimental, and educational documentary; and feature narrative, including works whose canonical status or national cinema importance has not translated into availability. The focus, that is, leans distinctly toward highbrow film culture and the institutional/educational milieu, but it need not preclude consideration of orphaned films, historical television texts, recent undistributed American independents, forgotten commercial cinema, or cult cinema.

Some ends to discussion, and why a group blog might be particularly effective:

Curatorial. One goal of writing about titles that are institutional rentals or on institutional purchase-only DVDs is to help scholars identify titles they really do want to rent or request for institutional purchase without being disappointed, since the vendor catalogs can be more than a little obscure.

Practical. Film markets are rapidly changing. Tracking down even rental copies can be difficult for many titles. The appearance of gray market and import video sources has been a boon to film and television studies scholarship and teaching, but brings its own problems and issues. By sharing information or serving as a place to ask for such information, Not on DVD can complement existing resources like the Frameworks discussion forum.

Pedagogical. Where for a host of reasons, widely known narrative films (released on DVD) will continue to be a mainstay, but many teachers want to include a broader range of material, whether as a one-off week on experimental film, a course on video art, or an integration of shorts into a film history course. I would love to know what contributors and readers teach.

Film Culture/Promotional. As the writing online film journals and the ever-expanding cinephila blogs show, there's considerable interest in the range of cinematic expression. By highlighting otherwise overlooked works, Not on DVD can participate in and hopefully add to this discussion.

Those who wish to become contributing members can email me. Or folks can send news and queries my way for posting here. And for those works whose exile in obscurity is over, I am setting up a companion site, Now on DVD.


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