Andrew James Paterson
The 8Fest Small-Gauge Film Festival
Andrew James Paterson is an interdisciplinary artist based in Toronto. He serves at the coordinator for the 8Fest small-gauge film festival.
Interview conducted on 01/26/2017 (401 Richmond Street, Toronto, Ontario)
throwdown815: So is organizing 8Fest a full-time job for you?
Andrew James Paterson (8Fest): No, it's a contract job throughout the year. In addition to being the person who coordinates the festival, I write the government grants - the government of Canada, the government of Ontario, the municipality of Toronto. We get funding from those three levels as we're not a for-profit organization. And aside from 8Fest, I'm an independent media artist and writer.
td815: I know that 8Fest was started in 2008, were you involved with the festival right from the beginning?
AJP: No, the 8Fest came after the demise of a festival called Splice This, which involved small-gauge film. It was run by Laura Cowell and Kelly O'Brien and it ran from 1998-2006. Their demise left a void so a group of people - Jonathan Pollard, Milada Kovacova, Scott Miller Berry - they decided to get a small-gauge film festival organized. The first two years they held it at what used to be the Trash Palace. It was good, but we needed to move to a bigger venue and the Trash Palace could be bloody cold and the festival tends to be at the end of January or beginning of February. One year, it was at the Legion Hall on Niagara, and in 2013, it was at the Workman Arts Centre (just north of Dundas), but then in 2014 we moved to the Polish Combatants Hall, which is this great brutalist modern building. This is our fourth year there, and next year will be the festival's 10th year, so this year we've made it a bit bigger.
td815: Bigger in what way?
AJP: We're commissioning 10 new works. Usually we commission a few works from artists, and we aim for 5 with the funding, but sometimes it's 3 or 4. This year, our priority is we're commissioning these 10 works. There's two programs we put together called Bagerooo, so this year we've got 5 pieces for each of the Bagerooo programs.
td815: Before we go into the rest of this year's program, for someone who isn't involved with the small-gauge community, is it possible to see small-gauge films outside of a festival like this?
AJP: Oh there's some programming, but not that much. Maybe you'll see the occasional super 8 at the images festival, but not often.
td815: So there aren't venues that screen small-gauge films throughout the year?
AJP: Well, you know Pleasure Dome? Pleasure Dome has been around since 1989 I think, and they're an artist film group and one of our sponsors. Their name is from the inauguration of the Pleasure Dome by the legendary queer occultist filmmaker Kenneth Anger. Pleasure Dome, sometimes in their program will have super 8 because their mandate is to have 50% on film and 50% on video, although maybe they're not that literal with their mandate all the time. But Pleasure Dome will sometimes have super 8 in their programs. Then Madi Piller who runs the Pix Film Gallery up on Dufferin just north of Dupont, she'll show super 8 as well. She used to run the the Toronto Animated Images Society, but now she runs the Pix Film Gallery. And there's also the Home Video History project - they do a program every year for 8Fest. They'll show things on regular 8 mm which is not super 8, but they have events throughout the year. And that's where they have an intersection between people's home movies and art movies, or some people's home movies might become art movies. Every year their presentation is very interesting, you get a mixed audience. You get the art audience which is fascinated by details, and you get these people who are older who are like 'I remember that parade George' or 'I was there Helen'.
td815: So with 8Fest, would you say it's more about promoting artistic works, or more of the home videos you just mentioned?
AJP: Well, it's a mixture, but we're pretty art oriented. We're oriented towards artists, and we exist for artists working in small-gauge film, to provide a forum for them. There isn't really a forum for them in North America. Like it's hit and miss with a lot of film festivals. For a lot of festivals, it's like, oh it's super 8 we have to setup a projector. Can't they digitize it? Can't they stream it? Well no, we don't do that.
td815: So outside of 8Fest, there's really nothing else like this in North America? I know it's the biggest in North America, but is it the only festival of its kind?
AJP: It's the only one of its kind in North America.
td815: Now, knowing that there are so many different film festivals all across Toronto, where do you think 8Fest fits in Toronto's overall film culture?
AJP: I think it's unique because it's a specific focus. I mean, some people might not be interested in that focus. One thing that's interesting about the 8Fest is that it mixes contemporary with historical programming. People with very modernist takes - like everything has to be new, new, new - they're not interested in our festival. And, they don't see film as being a particular material. Meaning they don't see it as celluloid. There are people for which film is a generalist term meaning all moving pictures. But that's not us. So you know, we have that niche. But we deal with other festivals and organizations like the Images Festival, who's sponsoring a program. The Pix Film Gallery is doing a program and Trinity Square Video is sponsoring a program too, even though the last thing we show is video.
td815: One interesting thing I've noticed about film festivals is that there's often a leaned focus on promoting culture versus promoting film. As an example, the Reel Asian Film Festival operates as a film festival, but its programs are always heavily structured around promoting and discussing Asian culture in an North American context. And other film festivals tend to focus more on the films themselves. Where do you think 8Fest fits?
AJP: Well, 8Fest is also a social festival that's geared towards filmmakers working in small-gauge to meet each other, interact and to make connections. So the social aspect of 8Fest is actually very important. I mean, it's maybe more social than say the Images Film Festival, although there's a social aspect to that festival too. Festivals have a theme. The Reel Asian, for example, that's fairly broad and it's not that art oriented. That's not its mandate. I mean the Inside Out Festival is not that art oriented either. As a matter of fact, last year, a few people started the Toronto Queer Film Festival as an alternative to the Inside Out Festival because they didn't want something that was so concentrated on formally conservative features.
td815: And what's your most memorable screening experience from 8Fest?
AJP: Oh that's hard to say, I'm going into my 7th year. I don't know if I can narrow it down that way. One thing I will point out with the 8Fest is that we do go into what people call expanded cinema, which is film not necessarily projected onto the screen, but film is considered environmental. So we've had projector performance work that is great. Like in 2015, we had one by David Anderson at the Polish Combatant Hall, where he used the walls. This year we're having one by John Porter - who is in some ways the face of super 8 small-gauge filmmaking in Toronto - always has been. He's doing a projection performance at the top of the first Bagerooo every year. But I mean, I can think of individual films that are great. I can think of the first year I did this festival, we showed Lost Book Found by Jem Cohen, who is American, who is actually quite well known for doing R.E.M. videos. But this film is this great walk through of New York, and I remember - wait, Lost Book Found wasn't at the 8Fest, I'm thinking of a film that reminded me of Lost Book Found by an American artist called Stephanie Gray, which was great. But that first year, I also remember us having a live screening projection piece by a guy from San Francisco called Paul Clipson, who's got a reputation. And we had a live musician working with him, we do those crossovers. It's pretty hard to single out one or two highlights.
td815: One final question. Given the format of small-gauge films, do you think 8Fest is more about preserving the past, or promoting the future?
AJP: It's both, because there are younger artists working with small-gauge formats. Some of the younger artists are not necessarily oppositional to digital works in that they work in digital formats and they work in very hands on formats too. It's not about nostalgia for history, although it's about highlighting these histories for educational purposes and there it is. And providing through lines to historical work to contemporary works.