Who Are/Were The Videofreex?

This month’s doc night presentation is HERE COME THE VIDEOFREEX, screening on June 22, a new film by Jon Nealon and Jenny Raskin that tells the fascinating story of a collective of early video users who helped to pave the way for a more democratic approach to media. There are interviews with the surviving Videofreex and their cohorts and, most importantly, footage of astonishing historical import, such as a passionate and inspirational interview with Black Panther leader Fred Hampton, who was assassinated by police soon after. It’s a really interesting film, particularly for those who are concerned with the history of the era, and the history of ideas.

Founded in 1969 by a group of friends who met at Woodstock, the Videofreex used the new Sony Portapak video camera to document their times. They applied for a grant from the New York State Council of the Arts and added a high-tech bus to their arsenal. At this point they were basically a standalone television network. After a brief flirtation with CBS news, who wanted a youth-appeal program but couldn’t abide the group’s leftist politics, they went on the road, making programs of their work along the way, and, eventually, founded the first pirate television station in 1972.

It’s intriguing stuff. Below are a few samples of the Videofreex work. Hopefully much more of it will be made available in the years to come. Currently the digitized files reside with the Video Data Bank, where they can be licensed.

Here is a very early Videofreex excerpt, featuring freak-folk icon Buzzy Linhart singing a Fred Neil song in a living room while the turned-on cameraman makes video feedback with a television set.

And here is a chaotic hour of Lanesville TV, the first pirate television station.

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