Twenty-five years ago, the Dallas Museum of Art invited Bart Weiss to present a program of video art. It was called “Video as a Creative Medium,” and it ran for two nights in 1986. “It went way better than expected,” Weiss says. He was known for running videos at Lower Greenville’s On The Air and later, Video Bar in Deep Ellum, as well as for his reviews of music and home videos in the local papers. Weiss, John Held and Melissa Barry decided to turn the thing into a video festival the following year, and the Dallas Video Fest was born. “I never thought I wanted to do this, it just seemed like a good idea, and I had the opportunity,” says Weiss, who has lived in Kessler Park for 15 years. The festival turns 25 this year and goes home to the DMA, Sept. 27-30.
What is different about the festival now as opposed to 25 years ago?
In those days, it was complicated to project video. If you turned off the projector, it took two hours to get it going again. So if you turned it off, the show was over. Film festivals didn’t know how to show video. Sundance, for example, would not show video. There was all this work out there that I thought was very interesting. So we found a way to project it and project it well. For the first two years, there was no organization. We just did this festival. I would go to the museum and send a fax to Europe about the program, and I would come back the next day to see if there was any response.
What’s the difference between a video festival and a film festival?
That’s an evolving target. In the early years, it was very clear. There was stuff being done all over the world, using handheld cameras. People talking about stuff in their community that was very important, social issues, social justice and things like this. It was also on us to show African American titles, Latino titles, gay and lesbian titles, women’s titles. We showed the depth and breadth of everything that was out there. Now all those groups have their own film festivals, and we don’t have to cover those bases as much. Now we don’t have to do all the anime titles because those get shown at the Asian Film Festival, for example. So we showed things you might not see at a film festival. But the New York Underground Film Festival, and some others, those are kind of similar to what we do now. It’s all in the way that we look at the medium, how technology impacts us and how we do our business.
Technology has always been an important factor?
The first year, we thought, “There’s this new thing out there called desktop publishing.” So we created the program books ourselves. And it was painful. It was horrible. But we kind of paved the way for people to do it. Later, we said, “What if we had this thing on our website, where you can put in all your information to sign up for the festival, and you won’t have to send in a form. And we can create a backend database.” Now, of course, that’s what everyone does. This year, we’re going to have an iBook and an eBook, along with paper, as our program book. It will have clips you can watch of the filmmakers and festival programmers saying why you should see this film.
How did you get involved with video?
I’m a filmmaker as well, and I’m a film teacher at UT Arlington. My love of film started through experimental films. Back in the ’70s, experimental film was really cool. There were a lot of people interested in it. My early films were all experimental films. Then went to film school and studied documentary film. Then in grad school, at NYU, I learned about dramatic films. I was a music-video critic, and I was even syndicated for a year and a half. I would call up video stores to find out what are the top five home videos in rentals and sales, and I would have these top-five lists.
You must have watched a lot of bad music videos.
Style was so important. Haircuts were so critical. The way they looked was so important. One thing MTV did, which we don’t even think about now, is that it was national. So if you lived in Charleston, W.V., and they didn’t play Devo on the radio there, you could hear it on MTV, and that was really important to culture. You could also see what these people were wearing and emulate that.
It seems like there are lots of talented video artists in Dallas, right?
There are all kinds of people who do video art in Dallas. There are people who get shown around the world who make videos here. UNT teaches it, UTA, TCU and then Centraltrak, the UTD program in Expo Park. So there are schools teaching it.
Why is the festival still relevant after 25 years?
The basic point of why there should be a festival about video is that we all spend too much time in front of screens. We’re obsessed with digital images. Ninety percent of those experiences are less than fulfilling. When was the last time you turned off a TV and said, “Wow, that was really great”? Usually, you say, “Wow, I just wasted an hour of my life.” The problem is we settle for mediocrity. Video has a way to make our lives better. That’s why our tagline is “Better living through video.” Video can be inspiring, and it is clearly the medium of our generation. My hope is you come and get excited about the possibilities. Then you go home Monday, and you sit down at your computer, and you don’t settle. You realize there is work out there that can make your life better. —Rachel Stone
Learn more at videofest.org