The Home Team
Written by Francine Latil | Posted by: Anonymous
Supposedly it’s as tough to complete independent work in Boston as anywhere else. Supposedly. For nearly 25 years now, the Boston Film/Video Foundation has provided local filmmakers with invaluable services, from low-cost technical support and a wide range of workshops and master classes to screenings and exhibitions of work by members and local artists. Encouraging extensive interaction among video and filmmakers, BF/VF has perhaps single-handedly nurtured the growth of a noted independent filmmaking community in Boston.
Boston has developed a strong identity as a hotbed of independent film and video activity, particularly in personal documentary and animation, and more recently in narrative film. Today local artists work in an environment with great recognition and growing opportunities. But it wasn’t always such a healthy time. Early voices on the film scene recall that it was harder to do independent work several decades ago: Not only was equipment more expensive, but no one really had a clear idea of what it meant to be an independent filmmaker — beyond the fact that it apparently involved contacting one’s acquaintances to borrow equipment every time a new project got started.
A group of filmmakers decided to change all this and collectively formed the Boston Film/Video Foundation. The fledgling BF/VF worked to define itself as a community of independent filmmakers, building resources of equipment, labor and other support services.
BF/VF executive director Anne Marie Stein explained that BF/VF began with the goal of encouraging video and filmmaking while influencing a broader public understanding of film and video work as art, not just commercial product. The first part meant providing a home for film and video artists to work and learn techniques and skills; the second part meant educating the public. Stein declares that these two goals are really one: promoting education means supporting artists.
Soon after its formation, BF/VF used equipment donated by WGBH to create a curriculum of workshops and classes that encouraged both amateur and professional locals to learn film and video skills while helping support BF/VF activities. BF/VF now offers workshops in documentary, film production, editing, new media, cinematography and lighting, video production, producing and directing, screenwriting, and animation. Offering classes was not the organization’s primary goal at the outset, but has since become an integral element of its comprehensive goals.
Originally created as a screening group, BF/VF provided rentals of film and video equipment at prices tailored to an independent budget. BF/VF continues to offer a variety of tools, including film and video cameras, sound and lighting equipment, grip and electrical, post-production and sound transfer, excellent offline editing facilities, and screening room rentals.
Many people in the Boston area take advantage of BF/VF offerings, from experienced professionals looking to learn specific information or take master classes to first-time filmmakers, to people who have never laid hands on a camera before. Devon Damonte, program director at the BF/VF, says, "Some people make it into their own film school, since it’s an affordable alternative to a full-fledged university curriculum."
Others develop fond attachments to BF/VF, including Mary Jane Doherty, a filmmaker who teaches at Boston University and formerly served on BF/VF’s board of directors. "[It’s] the oldest, most respected local home for aspiring filmmakers," she has said. "It’s the place you go when you’re just starting out, the place you find peer support once you become a ‘somebody,’ and, finally, it’s the place to which you give back when your day is over. There is no more devoted, more passionately involved filmmaking center in our area."
The world has changed a great deal for independent video and filmmakers in recent years. Everything has multiplied; there are more places to learn skills, more cheaper and easier-access equipment, even more filmmakers. BF/VF is no longer alone in providing education and equipment to a Boston community. However, BF/VF remains an oasis, uniquely poised within a growing community of artists who formed networks of personal connections over the years.
Though it’s clearer now what it "means" to be an independent filmmaker, executive director Stein notes that local film and video artists still need a place to come together to share ideas. With special events and exhibitions run by BF/VF, local artists can meet to view the breadth of work produced locally, and to see that they form a significant community.
For the future, BF/VF plans to provide new services for artist support and also to use their Web site to inform and attract new contributors to the foundation. This summer, new programs partnered with local agencies will begin to provide youth education programs. Expect to see larger Web presence, too, as more works become available through video streaming, including short pieces and works-in-progress. As changes sweep through the filmmaking world and the public becomes increasingly open to innovative film and video art, BF/VF is in an excellent position to participate in and influence the future.
BF/VF is gearing up for its 25th anniversary celebration. Check out the Web site at www.bfvf.org for more information about special events commemorating the occasion, plus additional information about workshops, exhibitions and upcoming events and member services.