deserted islands

Milos Stehlik (milos@interaccess.com)
Thu, 6 Jan 2000 19:08:38 -0800 (PST)

Dear Friends;

I hope that you will indulge me in this list of musings which were sparked,
this morning, on a treadmill, as I was trying to chase away fat which
insists on adhering to my ageing body (it likes me, I don't like it - why,
then, does it want to stay?), and as I was suddenly bothered by the rather
vehement response in EXCLUDING distributors from participating in compiling
what is certain to be an impressive list of video titles you're all going
to take to a deserted island. I had thought that librarianship was about
INCLUSION not EXCLUSION, but this is a new millennium, and therefore,
obviously, a brave new world.

Then it dawned upon me: of course, only librarians will survive the deluge
and be saved - the distributors will all drown while pursuing their "dream"
acquisition which no one, except them, really wants, and which comes
attached with a greedy producer who asks, always, and sometimes gets, too
much. Therefore, having distributors participate in compiling a list of
videos to take to a deserted island (though most of them, I would venture
to say, see more films each year than most librarians do) is a moot point -
they would not be there to enjoy them anyway.

I realize this list will, in any case, be very selective. Its contributors
are only those who subscribe to Videolib, but these are the librarians in
the know, and I was reminded by Gary's remark, sometime back, that about
600 subscribe - and this is somehow shocking. Because how do the OTHER
12,000 something public libraries and 3,000 + something academic libraries
- MOST of which purchase video - KNOW what to buy? Which leads to Jessica's
point sometime back. I am often amazed at the knowledge and cinematic
sophistication of librarians who purchase from us at Facets or who read
this list, but I am also sometimes shocked when I walk into a public
library in a neighborhood or small town and am irresistibly drawn to their
video collection, where the HIGH point would be a mediocre Stephen King
adaptation or "How to Grow Geraniums and Build Inner Happiness".

Why aren't there 20,000 subscribers to Videolib? It's FREE - and few things
in the world are - it's "democratic" - and if you collect videos, you can
learn things and get answers to your questions from a lot of other people
in-the-know.

Why is the American Library Association NOT throwing hundreds of thousands
if not millions at video librarianship at a time when publishers would love
to save the costs of printing and paper and just have you donwload an
"electronic"book? Why, when children are growing up in a media-saturated
culture, is video librarianship NOT a top issue, when it IS a top issue
with the American Association of Pediatrics and (slow-moving that it is),
with the AMA?

I am also sorry to report also that the very presence of video at the NEXT
ALA convention is in serious doubt, because National Video Resources, which
helped subsidize the - not insignificant - cost of exhibiting at the ALA
for video distributors - decided to pull the plug and will NOT contribute
(last year's contribution of $5,000) in the future. It's a big question
whether without the subsidy, small distributors can frankly afford it.

The re-release of SORROW AND THE PITY, of SHOAH, our own upcoming release
of THE DECALOGUE were mentioned here in the past month. Did or will these
titles SELL 13,000 copies to public libraries and 4,000 odd copies to
academic libraries? I doubt it. Yet by all standards, they are
indispensable cultural artifacts - be it, that they are "audio-visual" and
NOT print - any library which carries video and does not carry these titles
is a poor library.

How DO these librarians who buy the geranium tapes GET their information?
Do they all subscribe to Video Librarian? Why is there NOT a decent
accessible bibliographic medium - STILL - in a field which prides itself on
CATALOGUING? Someone suggested a while back Books in Print. After many
false attempts, I finally received a free trial access to the web site. I
was shocked by the shoddy research - purely garbage in and garbage out.
Many titles were falsely ascribed to sub-distributors (including us)
without an attempt to identify and credit the manufacturer - I found it
both useless for video (and VERY expensive -- $1800/year).

Yet why is there not some fund of $2-$3 million a year and a foundation
which ACCURATELY catalogs and disseminates information about video, DVD,
laser disc - a field which obviously desperately NEEDS bibliographic help,
which is separate and apart from the knowledge in the heads of many of
those who subscribe to this list?

How, in this new high tech millennium, do we insure that the art of the
audio-visual image survives and makes it to the library shelf? How do we,
in a culture of the conglomerate, insure that the independent, diverse
film or video IS accessible at the library when it will likely NOT be in
the local video store. I'm not speaking of those independent voices which
break through - the occasional Hoop Dreams - I'm thinking of the hundreds
or even thousands of independent films with something to say which need
SOMEONE to understand them, save them, help give them a public. Who else
but the library?

After Tarantino's Pulp Fiction, people kept referring to a second kind of
film school: the video rental store. Indeed, film-knowledgeable and
film-loving video rental clerks (like lovers of books at bookstores or
libraries) have done much to help spread film culture - to get customers or
clients to try films they would otherwise have never seen. Yet who is
training - and how - the librarians who deal with the public (not
necessarily those who do acquisitions) at being the vanguard of an
independent media culture?

That's as far as I got. If I went any further, I would probably still BE on
that treadmill - though I doubt I'd still be standing up. I apologise for
the intrusion.

It is that I see the potential and don't know how it can be actualized.
Sixty odd years ago, when Jean Renoir could not find the money to produce
his La Marseillaise, he financed the film "by public subscription." Why
couldn't 20,000 libraries, all buying ONE copy of a new film, by say, Mike
Leigh or a Native American independent, for $50, FINANCE that film (that's
a budget of $1 million). Now there's a thought!

All the best for the millennium ---

Milos Stehlik
Facets Video