The duo of Antoinette "Toni" Treadway and Bob Brodsky, a married couple from rural Massachusetts, are the eminence grise and grande dame of the Super 8 film format. At one time the preeminent format for home video and even some Hollywood movies, Super 8 has now gone the way of the dodo, the Edsel, Betamax, and even VHS – obsolete and on its way to extinction.
Treadway and Brodsky are among the most passionate advocates of the Super 8 format, which, although it is becoming more and more obscure by the day, continues to have a passionate, if cult, following. Although the vast majority of film shot in this era is done on some type of digital format, Super 8 continues to surface in music videos, art films, experimental works, and even in some television shows.
Rutgers University’s annual United States Super 8 Film and Digital Video Festival celebrates its 20 anniversary this year, from Friday through Sunday, February 15 to 17, on the Rutgers campus in New Brunswick, in Scott Hall, Room #123. Films will be shown beginning at 7 p.m. each night.
Treadway and Brodsky operate a business (www.littlefilm.com) that transfers and preserves 16mm, 8mm, and Super 8 film from home movies, art films, industrial films, and other types of works from decades ago. They actually take old Super 8 film that people find, for example, in homes and schools, and help process it into viewable form, either in the old style or on digital film or DVD.
"We’re the weird film guys," Treadway says in a phone interview from her home in Rowley, Massachusetts. The couple writes books and articles, consults with people looking to find or repair cameras or other equipment, and has so much preservation work to do for others that they can’t make any films of their own.
"We believe in Super 8," says Treadway. "We are the technicians who help maintain this film format."
"Some of the (festival) films are just amazing," says organizer Albert Gabriel Nigrin, a professor of film at Rutgers and executive director and curator of the Rutgers Film Co-op/New Jersey Media Arts Center. Twenty films have been culled from the 180 submitted to the festival from all over the world, including Venezuela, Canada and Britain.
Although the festival was started originally to shed light on the Super 8 format, all formats, including digital, are welcome, Nigrin says. The Super 8 name is still at the festival’s forefront because the term and the format are associated with an ethos of creativity and entrepreneurship.
`Half of the films (in the festival) are on digital video, and half are on film. A lot of them are being made by emerging filmmakers, but we are always impressed with the quality of all of the submissions," Nigrin says. Some of the films, he says, "are slick, kind of like ads, digitally edited pieces," while others "are abstract and experimental."
He singles out a few films for mention, some of which may indeed end up with prizes from the judging panel: "My Name is Pochsy: An Industrial Film," from Canada’s Karen Hine, caught Nigrin’s eye, as did "This Is My Cheesesteak," from Philadelphia’s Ben Daniels, and "Keys," from Christopher Babers of Los Angeles. Another submission, called "D.O.P.E.," from Dennis Martinez of Spring Valley, CA, profiles four legends of professional skateboarding.
According to Nigrin, the grandparently duo of Treadway and Brodsky are two of Super 8’s most important figures, partly because they are among the format’s most prominent advocates. They write and speak about the need for families and others to preserve the old images and the memories these images can help maintain.
In the age of YouTube, digital video, and cell phones that can record video with the click of a finger, it is hard to imagine the origins of home film or home movies. The first cameras that were relatively portable were 16 millimeters, says Nigrin. By the 1930s, George Eastman, the photographic pioneer and founder of Eastman Kodak, developed an eight millimeter camera and film stock that was aimed toward the nascent home movie market.
"The eight-millimeter film was basically the 16-millimeter split in half," Nigrin says. The most famous eight-millimeter film we may have seen is the Abraham Zapruder film of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, he says.
It was shortly after that, in 1965, that the Super 8 format came into being. "What Super 8 did was shrink the sprocket holes" on which the film fit on the camera and the projectors, Nigrin says. "It increased the image size by one-third." Super 8 also made home moviemaking more accessible to the general public by making it easier to handle and process the film.
Super 8, says Treadway, "was half improvement, half marketing strategy." There are almost no Super 8 cameras being manufactured now, save for one or two hobbyists who make a couple a year, but there is, like for American cars in today’s Cuba, an active secondary and tertiary market for cameras and parts.
Treadway, in her late 50s and Brodsky, in his 70s, met in the late 1960s through their mutual interest in Super 8 filmmaking. Brodsky has two children and four grandchildren, which Treadway proudly acknowledges with her "step" status.
Brodsky, born in Summit, graduated from Princeton University in the Class of 1958, where he studied English literature and was a member of the a cappella singing group the Nassoons. He later earned a divinity degree from Princeton Theological Seminary and was a minister during the 1960s, which his wife says was "an incredible time to be alive." Brodsky enjoyed showing films in his church basement during that time.
Whether online or via film festivals or publications, such as the Ohio-based Super 8 Today, the couple encounters people who need to get their old home movies, either eight millimeter or Super 8, preserved. Treadway encourages people to get this done. "There aren’t enough film archives in the world to archive all of this stuff. It’s like what happens when one of your parents passes away. Someone has to go through all of that stuff up in the attic and write down what everything is. But you have to do it. Future generations of your family will thank you."
2008 United States Super 8 Film and Digital Film Festival, Friday through Sunday, February 15 to 17, 7 p.m. New Jersey Film Festival, Scott Hall 123, College Avenue, New Brunswick. $10. For more information visit www.njfilmfest.com/super8.html or call 732-932-8482.