Nothing pointed up the built-in conflict of a rapidly expanding Video Mondo more than the two keynote speeches that kicked off the American Film Institute's second National Video Festival last night. It was the difference between observer and participant, between the agony and the ecstacy of this new technology.
Anthony Smith, director of the British Film Institute, delivered a discourse on "The Tyrannies of Abundance: National Cultures Under Pressures From the New Technologies." Describing himself as one of those "who've been only too pleased to enchant the world with their dark mysterious glimpses into what is now the obvious--the information technology of abundance," Smith trotted out key phrases and concepts--"channel plenty," "pressure for a new information order," "text and moving image media" and "cultural impact."
In contrast, filmmaker-director-writer and video-visionary-come-lately Francis Ford Coppola walked onto the stage with abundant energy and the kind of encompassing vision that suggests that, like Columbus, he may not have been first but he'll be the most widely remembered. Recalling his late college-era coming to film ("I used to believe that 'lips that touch film will never touch mine' "), Coppola described his own journey from traditional filmmaking toward a still evolving video-based system, a greater difference, he insisted, than the obvious one between electronic and chemical images.
"It became evident that it was going to be related to some future form of television," Coppola said, an insight possibly helped by the myriad problems of his project at the time, "Apocalypse Now," described in unflattering terms that seemed borrowed from that film's critics. Insisting that the challenge was no longer in "mining the familiar stories once again in a new context . . . I had to admit something to myself: I am more interested in the technology than the content, the contemplation of a new set of rules made possible by a technology that didn't even exist a few years ago."
Showing a silent documentary on the making of "One From the Heart," Coppola talked excitedly about his experience with that film (the first electronically edited and composed feature) and described the subsequent evolution of the movie-making system in the soon-to-be-released "Hammett" and the recently completed "Outsiders." He implied a future in which reduced financial pressures resulting from low-cost "video studio as electronic systems" would free artistic invention. In traditional filmmaking, "we operate in a spectrum that's not even the size of purple," Coppola said.
Awards were given to winners of the festival's Student Competition: Marlon Riggs and Peter Webster for their documentary, "Long Train Running: The Story of the Oakland Blues"; Kenn Beckman for his experimental "Song of the Street of the Singing Chicken"; and Judith Pomer for her information film, "Pregant, But Equal: The Fight For Maternity Benefits."
The festival, which is delving into the relationship between video and television, runs at the AFI through Sunday.