Breaking down the loneliness of the independent filmmaker.
.BY JANE COLLINGS.
When is a SWAMP not a swamp? When
it's the South West Alternate Media
Project. Southwest is a key word. It's part
of a national network to develop media
participation on a regional basis.
Tom Sims, assistant director of
SWAMP calls it "a spin-off from the Rice
University Media Center." A conflict fermented within the Media Center in the
late 70's over its future direction: was it
to be a film program strictly for Rice
University students or would it be a community media center. Or both?
The resolution was to continue the
community access program through
SWAMP-and so it took its offices off
campus, in the upstairs of a garage apartment across the street from the Rothko
Chapel. It's an informal setting from
which you can rent film- and video-
making equipment cheap. Canon and
GAF Super 8 cameras for $4 a day, tripods and light kits for $4 a day, mikes at
$3 a day and % inch portable video production units at $3 an hour or $15 a day.
You must pay an initial $10 membership
fee. They also have 8 mm and 16 mm
projectors and editing facilities.
If you don't want to make films you
could always just watch them. Carefully
filed in a big wooden box is a collection
of some important avant-garde works.
Meshes of the Afternoon, by Maya
Deren; Touching, by Paul Sharits; Window Water Baby Moving and others by
Stan Brakhage are only a few. The public
is invited to see these films on an informal basis (set up the projector and turn
off the light). It's the only place in Houston for experimental films.
SWAMP also has access to grant
money. Applications are flooding in for a
$30,000 production fund to be allocated
this fall. Awards of varying amounts will
be given to independent Southwest film
and video makers. "We find people here
are doing a kind of film we didn't even
know about! And these people, the
people who are really committed to the
idea of making a film have something
unusual to say," says Sims.
SWAMP does not have satellite access
facilities yet. However, they do show
films made by southwest independents on
Territory, a television program aired at
10:30 on Monday night on KUHT-TV.
Says Sims: "On Territory there isn't a
form or genre we haven't put on—documentary, narrative, experimental, animation—and even things that don't fit into
any of those categories. The weekly program has been running for five years and
represents a very rare opportunity for a
regional film or video maker to broadcast
to a mass audience.
"The beauty of Houston," states
Guillermo Pulido, an artist from California working here, "is that you can approach the people who make programming decisions and simply say, 'I want
something put on the air,' and they
The existence of such public access
demonstrates how wide-open the possibilities are in a developing center like
SWAMP. "Texas film and video is less
like-minded [than in other areas], exceptional when banded together," says
Pulido. In the loosely-knit film world
here there is room for fresh and original
ideas to grow whereas cohesive groups
tend to adopt one theory and ignore
other possibilities, he feels.
Some people, however, think that the
Houston film community is too loosely
knit. "Right now in Houston," says Helen
Foley, a local filmmaker, "you work in
absolute isolation." What seems to be
lacking in the city are informal screenings
of current local work. It would be an opportunity for filmmakers to get together,
discuss each other's ideas—add fuel to the
"We're training filmmakers to make
films they watch themselves, then put
away in the closet," says Ed Hugetz, the
director of SWAMP. A filmmaker himself,
Hugetz identifies with the "isolation" of
the independent. "In our culture the ultimate test is facing people. It's no good to
produce stuff if people don't see it, if you
can't share with them what you believe
and listen to their challenges. This is
something we at SWAMP must work out
or this whole business of independent
media is a farce."
All in the SWAMP family (seated) Fletcher Mackey, Don Quaintance, Tom Sims and (standing) Tina Brawner, John Techman, and Laurie McDonald.