During Fall 2021 Catalyst acquired a collection of Super8 equipment for specific workshops in the first year of Film Production. This includes a Super8 projector, Super8 cameras and some basic Super8 development equipment. We caught up with Juli Saragosa, Certificate Lead for Film Production, who talked us through some finer details of Super8 at Catalyst.
Super8 is motion recording technology which has now been superseded. At one time however, they were ubiquitous. So what is Super8? The “8” in Super8 refers to the width of the film. While the 8mm format has existed since the 1930s, and was much more affordable than its predecessor 16mm, the Super8 film was introduced in 1964. It was designed to remove barriers for everyday filmmakers. While 8mm film requires manual rolling, Super8 is packaged more conveniently. Increasing accessibility was an essential aspect of the Super8 product design. More often than not, software is designed to replicate physical realities. By engaging in the technology that defined these realities, makers can uncover new insights into their craft.
How wide is 8mm? see in the photo above, as some film students inspect their freshly developed film. One is holding it up to the light to see the recording better, another is using a magnifying glass to see their recording.
What do we stand to gain from engaging with analog film processes?
The fact that we can touch the film with our hands, and see the frames by holding it up to the light, gives students a deeper understanding of how moving images work - the concept of frames per second becomes material, less abstract. Digital editing can function much like online teaching. Everything is two-dimensional and disconnected from the body. Working with film is a tactile process that involves the whole body. The filmmaking process is alive and in person.
Can you tell us a bit about the history of analog video?
Filmmaking started out with celluloid material in the late 1800s. In the 1970s, analog video made filmmaking and video art much more accessible to lower income groups. Those who felt disenfranchised or oppressed were enabled to get their voice heard through a less cumbersome, more affordable medium. In the late 1990s, digital video took over the analog video practice and became even more accessible - finding wide use with smartphone technology.
Working with celluloid film was - and still is - expensive compared to analog and digital video.
So does Super8 use analog or celluloid film?
What people call “analog film” is technically not analog. Analog refers to “information represented by a continuously variable physical quantity such as spatial position.” Celluloid film does not have a continuous stream, there are frames and within those frames individual grains of silver halide (which is the magic of photosensitive image making). Analog video, on the other hand, does transmit and record a continuous electromagnetic stream to and from magnetic material.
Sounds like there is a whole world to explore. Where can I meet like minded people?
Filmmaking of all kinds exists all over the world. As digital video is more affordable and accessible, the use of celluloid material has become rarer and therefore even more expensive - both the material and the processing of it. Access to celluloid material is limited to areas of the world where hobbyists can afford it, and artists with DIY practices share skills and resources.
For instance, here in Berlin there is a collective of filmmakers called Labor Berlin that share resources in working with celluloid material - processing and re-printing their own film. There are numerous artist-run collectives such as this one. On this site you can see how they are spread throughout the world.
What do I need to record and develop Super8 films?
We have a couple of Super8 cameras and some hand-processing supplies in the Film Tech shop. Super8 camera models are not like digital cameras. They were invented for ease of use for hobbyists, those filming family vacations and home movies, so the cameras range from having very automatic to more manual functions. The brand does not always reveal anything about what the camera’s functions might be. The camera itself doesn’t tell you much about the quality of the images you will get. The lens, sometimes more, but it also depends on how well maintained the cameras are. They stopped making Super8 cameras in the 1990s. There is one that Kodak has released that is half-digital, but it’s not that popular amongst DIY artists. They use it in Hollywood as a gimmick.
Catalyst film tech shop is well equipped for experimenting with this media. We have a Bauer C Royal 6E, a Braun Nizo s560 and an Elmo 103T to make use of. We also have two film stocks to experiment with and during the induction, students will learn DIY film processing techniques as well as how to properly handle the necessary chemicals.
How has the experience of Project8 informed your teaching practice, given how the place of Super8 has changed radically since then (along with other celluloid film technology)?
In addition to teaching at media arts schools, I’ve given a few DIY filmmaking workshops at various community-run spaces before I started working at Catalyst. I also teach some workshops at the FilmArche eV, a self-organized film school here in Berlin. I try to approach all of my teaching without assumptions of what resources people have access to, and encourage people to tell stories that are underrepresented by the mainstream.
Thank you, Juli.
The expertise and approach that Juli adds to Catalyst adds directly to an idea we weave throughout Catalyst, building it from the ground up as a safe space to dream big. You can find more information about super8 on this expansive wiki, or nerd out on this super8 database hosted on filmkorn.org. To finish off this article, we’ve added a few projects Juli believes to be exemplary.
Photos by “Toronto Super8 legend” John Porter of “Splice This!” Super8 festival. Juli was commissioned by Splice This! on various occasions.
"I feel that community spirit and fun we had in making it comes across in the film and for me, that's what Super8 filmmaking is all about."