>>> Indie Film Spotlight: Before YouTube, Videofreex loved their Portapaks

The documentary recalls radical videographers

HERE COME THE VIDEOFREEX (Jon Nealon, Jenny Raskin). 79 minutes. Opens Wednesday (April 6). See Listing. Rating: NNNN

Here’s a documentary that’s about as indie as they come. It’s 1968. A pack of radicals get their hands on cutting-edge technology: a Portapak video camera that records sound and images at the same time and can play them back immediately.

Directors Jon Nealon and Jenny Raskin, using contemporary interviews with the Freex and footage shot of and by the collective, paint a vivid portrait. The Freex shot everything from conversations with Hell’s Angels to the hippies at Woodstock. Soon they were attending rallies, getting up close and personal with protesters who spoke openly about their alienation from America’s racism and war culture. Their coverage, all recorded on the fly, stands in sharp contrast to the way the networks – if they bothered – were covering radical politics. Conservative newsrooms sought quickie sound bites and wouldn’t dream of stepping onto the street with dissenters.

Don West, who worked at CBS, noticed. He knew that American television, with its westerns, inane sitcoms and cursory newscasts, was failing to reflected the growing political opposition.

He hired the collective to record events for the newsroom. But the network got more than it bargained for, including incendiary footage of brilliant Black Panther Fred Hampton and charismatic Yippie leader Abbie Hoffman. CBS didn’t like or use the tapes, so the Videofreex stole them. 

Perpetually dogged by financial difficulties, they moved to upstate New York and started a DIY TV station and, through their loopy production strategies, got into the good books of a community that had been extremely hostile to the invading longhairs.

Here Come The Videofreex winds up being a savvy, messy meditation on the beauty of advocacy journalism, the failure of the TV networks and the power of the media – especially when it gets into the right hands.

Of course, we can all shoot video now, but that doesn’t make this history less interesting. 

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