Fair and Unfair

From: David Tetzlaff (email suppressed)
Date: Wed Nov 19 2008 - 15:29:17 PST

Brook points out that under US law, a classroom screening is NOT a
public performance, and Pip is quite incorrect about necessity of
schools to acquire public performance rights for works shown in class
or included in a library collection.

How, Fred asks, " is no one on this list interested in the question
of *actual* fairness, to anyone who cares about moving image art?"

And I would reply, I think everyone on the list is interested in
actual fairness, it's just that some questions posed to the list are
framed in legal terms and generate answers in those terms. I would
venture to say that people who point out what the law allows as fair
are in agreement that this is actually fair. I care very very much
about actual fairness, I just may have a different idea of what is
fair and unfair than Fred does.

> Why not, instead of looking into what you can "get away with" under
> some
> univeristy lawyer's interpretation of copyright law, do what the
> film or
> video artist, or their estate, asks you to do?

Among other reasons, because I care about movie image ART in a broad
context. The artist may care more about his or her art, or more about
money, or more about some Phil-Dick quality conspiracy theory. And
the casual slip from the artist to the artist's ESTATE is rather mind
boggling. I'm supposed to constrain my teaching at the wishes of the
lawyer who wound up handling some deceased artist's affairs? Please.
Since we've been talking about Conner here, as in think everyone
knows, shortly before his death Conner withdrew his work from Canyon,
and it it now officially unavailable in any form. If anyone wants to
make some convoluted argument about how this reflects 'caring about
moving image art' please go ahead, but just know in advance that I'll
be ROTF laughing my ass off reading it.

Or consider this hypothetical: both Fred and I have a great
admiration for the films of Christopher Maclaine. Maclaine was an
amphetemine junkie who tweaked his fertile mind into oblivion:
"incapacitated body and mind by his long-term addiction, he spent the
last six years of his life in an asylum, unable to care for himself."
Had he babbled at some point during those six years, "Burn the films!
Burn them all!" should we respect that? Or a non-hypothetical: Jack
Smith did not want his films shown absent not just of his presence
but of his control of the projector. Should we pack away 'Flaming
Creatures' and never let it hit the screen again because Jack is
dead? Are we to have absolute faith that the choices of his executors
represent Jack's wishes as opposed to their own interests?*

And to connect the issue back to the legal realm for a moment, the
fact of the matter is that NONE of the legal movement in this area
has come from university lawyers interpreting copyright law as to see
what faculty can get away with. First of all, the adminstrations of
most schools don't give a damn about moving picture art in any sense.
They tolerate film curricula because it brings in students, but they
consider the field illegitimate. You know just watching movies. So
they don't give a damn what you show in class or if you show
anything, unless it would potentially get them in trouble or cause
them to work harder. As such, whenever you ask a university attorney
a question about whether this or that is allowed under copyright law
they automatically say 'No.' If you press them harder they might
check the most conservative precedent available, which means they
still say no.

All of the people pushing to expand the copyright envelope are
OUTSIDE the established power base. They are independent artists who
want to make films that talk back to mass culture, teachers who think
a film class should involve more than looking at the pictures
reproduced on the pages of Bordwell and Thompson, attorneys working
pro bono for organizations like the EFF that are trying to protect
first amendment rights against corporate encroachment of everything.

> Why not avoid showing videos of films whose filmmakers have *never*
> authorized their works'
> transfer to film based on their own aesthetic principles?

First, no one has been talking about that in the recent discussion. A
bootleg would explicitly be exempted by coverage under the Teach Act.
And Conner had authorized videos of his work. (The fact that they are
now out of print matters not.)

But speaking just for myself, I have shown bootlegs in my classes.
Unlike most film faculty, who simply limit their screening schedule
to works available on video. I show a mix of legit videos, film
prints, and bootlegs. Why bootlegs of works that are available for
rent? Several reasons:
a) least importantly, but budget does not allow me to show everything
from prints, so I'll show work 'X' from a print one time, and from a
bootleg the next.
b) far more importantly, as a teacher I am asking students to study
the films, and since most of my students have no background
whatsoever in experimental work, they tend to get very little out of
first viewing of any new genre of experimental work. (Just as they're
beginning to wrap their heads around Anger, they have to deal with
Michael Snow, and they freak out all over again.) I can stick a
bootleg on short-term reserve in the library as FILM STUDIES DVD #7,
and they can watch it a few times, maybe even get familiar enough
with it to WRITE A PAPER about it, or some other radical anti-artist
c) any one faculty person can only do so much to paddle upstream
amidst the raging rivers of cultural history. As I have written here
many times before, in broader cultural terms (a few outstanding
venues in particular subcultural enclaves notwithstanding) public
performance of non-blockbuster cinema is all but dead. People don't
even go to see serious Hollywood dramas in the theaters anymore, they
wait to put them in their Netflix queue. Young people, of course, are
the most attuned and therefore habituated to the new technolgies.
Their expectation is that media will be available at their demand and
on their schedule: when they click a YouTube URL, or go the local
Blockbuster, go to the reserve desk. The students don't even watch TV
anymore, they get on DVD or on the Web. In terms of the topic at
hand, it means they routinely skip scheduled film screenings with the
expectation they'll be able to see the required material in the
library. When you tell them: "it says on the syllabus that it's a
film print, which means the ONLY way you can see it is in the
auditorium, they look at you like your from Mars and talking in
tongues." just as, after you exhort them until you are blue in the
face that they have to see cinema on a big screen, in the dark, they
go ahead and watch it on their iPhone because it just doesn't make
any difference to the culture in which they are enmeshed.
d) video bootlegs are safer than prints. a 16mm projector is a print-
destruction machine. if you've got a nice-newish projector in tip-top
condition, it only does a wee bit of destruction on the print but who
has such a projector. the first paging job I ever had as a student,
37 years ago, was as a 16mm film projectionist, schlepping film cans
and a trusty Pagaent around campus to various venues. (pre-video,
pre-web, students actually showed up for public performance
screenings in those days and would sometimes even pay a little money
for the priviledge; nowadays, even when the film is free and you
bribe them with free food before the screening, you're lucky if as
many as five people show up... but I digress). So, trust me, I know a
LOT more about projection equipment and the material qualities of
film prints themselves than most faculty. In the last several years,
my record of hitch-free screenings of prints rented from the co-ops
or MoMA is maybe 30%. I don't have time to put the prints on rewinds,
get a light source and a magnifying glass, and go over their physical
condition slowly and carefully before projecting them. I pop them out
of the can, and onto the projector. Over 50% of the time, there's a
bad splice or sprocket damage in the first minute of the print, and
it pops out of the film path. Luckily for me, I was trained as a
filmmaker and i know how to make a proper splice, repair sprocket
damage with splices, etc.,. Once i started showing rental prints of
experimental stuff, i equipped the screening room with a decent
splicer. There are several problems this presents. First, it takes
times to fix the films, and in a teaching situation this means the
students are sitting on their hands while you fiddle with the
equipment. The instructor looks like a schmuck while the younguns get
distracted, and suddenly the run-time of the program is not going to
fit in to the time block allotted. Second, when that print jumped the
film path, it may have run for a foot of so with the sprockets going
through the middle of the frame, and or broken with several yards of
the print winding up in a pile on the less than surgically clean
floor. So you have to face the guilt of having damaged the print even
further, albeit due to no reasonable fault of your own.
But It can get worse. A couple years ago I rented a couple Landow/
Land prints to show in class. One was Remedial Reading Comprehension,
which I feel to be a truly great film. The print arrived with the
most dire warnings on the can "THE RAREST OR ALL EXTREMELY RARE
PRINTS! HANDLE WITH SURGIGAL CARE!" I imaged that i held in my hand
the last distribution copy of this great work of art. I cleaned the
projection patch with anal retentive fervor, then cleaned it again,
Hands shaking I threaded the film and projected it. It survived. I
breathed a sign of relief. I cleaned the projector again, and
threaded up New Improved Institutional Quality, which also had a
warning on the can, but one that seemed much less dire. The film
began projecting, all appeared well. I walked out of the projection
booth so i could hear the soundtrack and better see the film for
awhile. Then I began to notice a rather bad tramline scratch appear
in the image about halfway through the film. I thought to myself,
that's odd, the co-op rarely send out prints in this bad a shape.
Another minute or so passed and then it occured to me 'what if this
scratch is happening NOW." I glanced into the booth.The film was 2/3
to 3/4 of the way through. It was the last film on the program, and
had i gone in to stop the film and check, the student's experience of
the film would have been totally destroyed... in fact I would have
had to dismiss them without finishing the film. As it was about to
end i went back to the booth with a sick feeling in my stomach. I
almost wretched as i began hand rewinding the film and examining the
projector. There was some brown goop in the gate, the color of oxide
abrasive, and had rubbed off onto the last half of the film, clearly
causing the nasty scratch i had just seen. It was a twilight zone
moment. I had cleaned the projector before threading the print. There
was no sign whatsoever that a contaminant of this sort could have
somehow already been on a bit of the stuff on a spot of the print
itself from which it got stuck in the gate and spread its
destruction. I looked up at the ceiling for assign of any kind of
leak or debris that could have dropped something into the projector.
Nothing. I wondered if (as in Brazil) some hapless flying insect
drawn toward the light of the projection lamp had kamikazied into the
gate, but the goo didn't look particularly organic. I carefully
cleaned the print as best I could and sheepishly sent it back. Well
over a year later I figured out what had happened. I had been using
an Eiki SSL projector. The SSL focuses by engaging ribs on the lens
with small rubberish idler at the opposite end of the focus knob.
When this plastic pseudo-rubber on this idler perishes it doesn't get
hard and brittle, it breaks down, essentially beginning to liquify.
That part on our SSL had chosen that moment to decompose, drip out of
the lens housing, somehow get kicked up by the motion of the
mechanism back into the gate in the middle of New Improved
Institutional Quality, and ruin the print. I was left only with the
small consolation that had this rube goldbergian accident happened a
few minutes earlier, it would have destroyed the more precious
Remedial Reading print.
My print rentals went way down after that. I was stretching our
little budget to rent prints in the first place, and there was no way
i could afford print replacement. But worse was the thought that
these prints cannot be replaced at any cost, and it was just too for
me to hold that sort of responsibility toward the moving image about
about which i care so deeply in my own fallible hands.

> Yes, whine whine, the school will not provide money for rentals, whine
> whine.

I have had enough of this kind of ad hominem attack. Neither Fred nor
anyone else on this list who would call me a whiner has any idea what
it's like to walk in my shoes, knows how hard I've worked, knows what
sacrifices i have made, or what those have cost me in human terms.
You have no right to judge me, and that you do so in ignorance is
unconscionable arrogance and cruelty.

> Why not try pushing harder?
Again, for the I don't know how manyeth time, I shall remind the list
that only a few academics at the major research universities or the
at fewer smaller colleges who maintain niche-focused programs are
specialized in experimental/avant garde/fine-art filmmaking. Most of
us have far more general briefs, and a wide range of
responsibiltiies. In my current position I teach documentary theory
and practice on a rotating basis with screenwriting, intro to film,
intro to narrative production, senior seminar, and a seminar on
postmodernism on a rotating basis with my experimental class. Each of
these classes have demands, and each requires hard pushing against an
administration that doesn't give a fuck about what's in the classes
or how well they are taught. I had no technical support at all for
the first 6 years of my appointment, and while there is now a tech
who supports the program part-time he doesn't know anything about
16mm film. Do you have any idea how hard I had to push, how long and
what cost in terms of political capital to get that tech support
help? No, you don't.
Like virtually every other small college that teaches film, we show
the narrative feature films that comprise the vast body of the
screenings in most of our classes via video projection. When i got
here in 2000 the video projection was wretched. Do you have any idea
how much hard pushing it took to get this adressed? No you don't.
After three years of repeated urging on my part, the college invested
in a new projector. It sucked only slightly less than the first one.
The thing is the AV market in our area is a functional monopoly, so
our AV department only has one company that will come out and service
us. As it happens the people who work for this company are totally
incompetent in terms of cinema style video projection (they do most
of their business in conference rooms supporting projection from
computer screens), and we're not a big enough account to get any
special attention. So when they were engaged to address the video
projection for DVD issue, they moved like molasses, and then got it
wrong when they finally came up with something, in part because they
insisted on selling us a projector they had on hand from their major
line (spiff! spiff!) rather than actually looking over the market to
see what might suit our needs. Which resulted in more very hard
pushing on my part to convince the college that the expensive
projector they had just purchased was a piece of crap for our
purposes and we needed something else. When they finally agreed, they
turned over the choice of the projector to me. Fine, except I don't
anything about the projector market. So I have to do tons of
research, and that's only going to yield answers on paper. I'm not
going to have the school actually plunk down money until I can see
what the projector will do. Actually getting to see an expensive
video projector on display turns out to be something like one of
Hercules' labors. It took me countless phone calls to months of
waiting to arrange a demo, and I had to drive to Boston,
But wait, the story doesn't end there. The audio system in the
auditorium where the video projector lives is also a dysfunctional
nightmare. After months/years of pushing I finally got the AV guys to
go take what is for them a long look at it. They used all the limited
knowledge they had, and nothing got significantly better. So I kept
pushing and finally they hired some outside consultants to come
service the installation. But, (you may already be ahead of me here)
the only 'experts' available are the same clueless AV monopoly (HB
Communications of New Haven CT, to name names), and they charged us a
bunch of money and left things worse. Now, as it happens, I do myself
have a background in audio electronics, and the ability to do
research to figure out what I don't know, so I set about untangling
the mess and putting together a proper functioning integration of the
components on hand with minimum replacement where totally wrong stuff
had been inserted. This has taken me, in my 'spare time' no less than
a year, as i have had to keep the system working to some degree at
all times since the facility is in regular use.
A few years back, i made the decision, again fairly unusual for
faculty in my sort of position, that our production students should
have some exposure to 16mm as opposed to working entirely with
digital video. Having no real budget to support this, i began buying
cheap 16mm MOS cameras and cheap projectors on eBay. I hooked up a
trailer to my little Toyota, drove down to NYC and picked up the last
two surplus Steenbecks from Columbia as they took their post all-
digital. After more hard pushing I got the admininstartion to give us
a small room to put them in, and hired Dwight Cody to come down and
put together one working unit out of the two. I set up a jerry-rigged
film-chain in my basement, so i could transfer the student's 16mm
footage to video for the purpose of online editing adding sound and
having something they could take home and show their folks. i spent
countless hours down there, just as i spent countless hours trying to
get.and keep the ancient cameras running, etc. I was only pushing
hard at myself, but it was a significant effort nevertherless.
And all of this is a mere footnote to the primary hard pushing of my
job: trying to push students beyond a simplistic descriptive approach
to film studies so that they might engage the critical ideas of the
likes of Robin Wood, Laura Mulvey, Linda Williams, etc. and trying to
push their production work beyond the usual undergraduate exercise
cliches into actual substantive short _films_.
And, oh yeah, I'm basically running a whole major program, with a
studies side and a production side, by myself. There's one other
faculty person who teaches a bunch of film studies classes, on which
the major heavily depends, but her official appointment is in German,
and when she retires, German petitions to have her replaced with a
german literature specialist who won't know dick-wad about film,
which means our little program will get squeezed out of existence. So
I do some extremely hard pushing, piss off all sorts of colleagues
across the college, but succeed in getting them to hire a new tenure-
track studies person in Film to replace the classes we lose by the
retirement of the German professor. This still leaves me and the new
person carrying the heaviest load of majors and minors per FTE of any
remotely similar program in the college, and by a lot. So I push very
hard to get authorization for another hire, to actually expand our
teaching resources to match our enrollment levels. The proposal is
denied. Despite the fact that Film has graduated 31 majors in 3
years with 2 FTE, they award an open line to Classics, which has
graduated 9 majors over the same period with 3 FTE. I continue to
push, filing a lengthy appeal. It receives a one sentence denial, I
continue to push, filing a formal grievance, as the process by which
the faculty lines were awarded is in clear violation of the written
policies for staffing procedures. I get another one sentence denial.

And in the midst of all this you think I'm a lazy-ass whiner who is
too much the dilettante to go push for a big film rental budget for a
class that enrolls 12 students, and presents the work in a form they
can't go back and study? GET A FUCKING CLUE!!!

Do you want to know how hard I've pushed? Do you want to know what it
has cost me to put all this shit on my back and build a succesful
program out of nothing only to have the college greet it with a
dismissive shrug? i will tell you. i have pushed things to the point
where my mind body and spirit have become first exhausted, then
collapsed, then broken. Two years ago this Fall I had a nervous
breakdown and spent a month in Extensive Outpatient Therapy at a
mental hospital. I returned to teaching last fall, only to discover
as this year rolled around that my recovery had only been contingent
and partial. This semester I have crashed and burned to the point
where, despite all the meds and counseling, my anxiety attacks are so
bad i can't function as a teacher anymore. I can't do my prep, i
can't do my grading, and the long term prospect is just a recurring
cycle of more of the same: recover, crash, recover, crash... So I'm
going to have to leave my job. The school's long term disability
policy covers people with physical problems until they reach 65, but
limits payment for mental health disabiltiies to 24 months. So unless
POTUSE Obama transforms the economy to the point where 57 year old ex-
an-assortment-of-physical-limitations are in high demand in the job
market. I figure to be propped up on the streetcorner somewhere with
a styrofoam cup in my hand in a couple years.

Sorry I couldn't have rented more prints while i was here.

Oh yeah, the odds are well over 99 out of 100 that whoever they hire
to replace me will take one look at all that 16mm gear I so
laboriously acquired, refit and maintained, go "what the fuck is that
crap?" and it will all wind up in a dumpster.

> Does no one think of the artist, unless that artist is you yourself?

Well, I am a practicing filmmaker, trying to hang-in there on some
works-in-progress. Whether my work constitutes 'Art' I'll leave for
others to decide. But what I think, as a filmmaker myself, is mostly
about the content of the work, and the implicit desire to share that
with others that goes into the making. I do not think about money. i
learned long ago that it was simply not the way of the world for the
kind of films I wanted to make to generate even subsistence economic
return, nor for the kind of filmmaking that generates even a
subsistence return to offer work i was much interested in doing. I
don't know why other people don't get that. You can rail all you want
against some academic straw man who is supposedly well-off enough to
channel substantial income to film artists, as long as you live in a
dream world and ignore all the relevant facts (say including the
continual defunding of education, especially arts education since the
rise of Howard Jarvis and Ronald Reagan). But the reality, as
virtually all Frameworkers know, is that the only way to be an
independent film artist is to have some sort of day job. So for
myself, and all the other filmmakers, who are not me, i would like
there to be decent jobs, with dignity, a modest living wage and
health benefits for us all. As for my work, I'd like people to see
it, preferably in the best technological presentation possible but i
won't quibble. And if they have to beg, borrow, steal or use an
iphone to do it, I would feel honored that they found my little
contributions to the medium worth the effort.
> Fred Camper
> Chicago

* Here I mean to take no position in the Smith squabbles, or impute
any wrongdoing to Hoberman or Arcade, but merely to note that
legitimate questions have been raised .

For info on FrameWorks, contact Pip Chodorov at <email suppressed>.