I’ve known Bart Weiss for nearly 20 years — dating back to my days editing the movie critics at The Dallas Morning News. North Texas has known him for twice as long, though, thanks to VideoFest, the annual, many-tentacled festival he founded in 1987 which opens its final edition tonight.
Notice I didn’t call it a “film festival.” When Weiss started VideoFest, in some ways it was the anti-film festival.
“In the early days, film was for people who could afford it,” Weiss said when we talked last week (listen to the conversation above). “People being empowered to tell stories outside of the mainstream was really the heart and the focus of what we’ve done.”
Arguably the biggest development in visual storytelling since VideoFest debuted has been the democratization of filmmaking — that narrowing of the gap between the people who make movies and the people who watch them. And VideoFest has consistently embraced the technological advancements that have put cameras into the hands of a more diverse collection of filmmakers. When an established festival shows movies shot completely on an iPhone or — as is happening this year — a program of videos made for TikTok, it grants legitimacy to that work by unreservedly screening it alongside films by Frederick Wiseman, Albert Maysles and other masters of the form.
That scrapiness has always been part of VideoFest’s appeal. For an event that’s been around for nearly four decades, it’s maintained a certain DIY, outsider vibe. I can’t think of a more nomadic festival or one that has screened in more venues in this town — from proper theaters, to the Dallas Museum of Art, to the side of the Omni Hotel, to a basement or two. (In a fun twist, the last VideoFest film ever — a documentary about the rock group Fanny — is playing on a drive-in movie screen.)
And while we may not have VideoFest around anymore to mark the beginning of fall, Weiss says he’s not going anywhere. He’s planning to expand Frame of Mind, the series he curates for KERA-TV. His beloved CatFest will pop its head up down the road. And, he says he’s got a film or two that he’d like to finally finish.
Whether they’ll be shown on your phone, in a theater or maybe even the side of a building is still to be determined.