count   info articles artists


Surveying the Scene: Excerpts From the D.I.Y. Distro Resource Guide

Tara Mateik

The year was 1993. The place, the Institute for Contemporary Art in Boston. Tina Spangler, creator of Femme Flicke, attends the “Rebels, Irreverence and Girl Power” screening. She sees Benning’s Girl Power.

I really like the work I’ve seen by Sadie, but I feel this weird contradiction between message/messenger... by making her videos available only through a distributor for $35 or whatever, she limits her audience to those who have the money and access to “high culture” magazines and art houses... The real problem I think is that there’s no independent film/video scene like there is for music. So I think it’s time to create one!! 1


Since then, others have responded to Tina’s frustrations. The year is 1999, the place indefinite. From Toronto to Missouri, from Portland to North Carolina, D.I.Y. (do-it-yourself) distribution projects have extended undetermined borders. Sadie’s work can now be purchased for $20, mail ordered by an audience of her comrades.

Finding its roots in both early video art, activism and punk rock, D.I.Y. is a movement free from juggernauts and jurisdictions. There are no rules and no infrastructure. Distribution parallels that of zines (like Tina’s) and independent record labels (like K Records and Dischord). With a low cost, high dedication “we will show the stuff we like!” motto, D.I.Y. offers endless possibility for getting work seen.

The purpose of this work is to get people off their asses, not to see how long they can sit comatose on the couch. While the mainstream caters to a watered-down homogeneity with the formulative slick narrative, the focus here is political and personal, the form experimental and raw. These are uncensored works created by people with definable styles — those who’ve seen a void and fill it without compromising any artistic or intellectual pursuits.

D.I.Y.ers don’t just respond to the aesthetics of mainstream, we pattern ourselves in response to this world’s consumer passivity. The work is bought cheap, by mail order, shown in basements/bars, accessible to and addressing the concerns of our peers. Though Duncombe was speaking of zines, the same can be said of our video work: “We are directly connected to our work, the work we distribute and the audience who consumes and watches it.”2 Whether it be geographies, gender or ethnicity, or topics like masturbation and train-hopping, what brings people together and what’s of primary concern is not only a dedication to transform and redefine systems that already exist, but to create the ones that aren’t there!

At a time when the lines between independent and Hollywood cinema become increasingly blurred, we return to the point Sherry Millner makes in her article, “Taking Control of our Images — And Lives:”

... to encourage people to take control of their own lives, their own images, to begin representing their own struggles without a high degree of technical expertise, to become speaking subjects, makers of meaning, active participants instead of passive consumers.3

What follows are profiles of twelve distribution projects who do just this. The breadth of their efforts is expansive. They are feisty, dedicated, youth positive, speak-what-they-believe, take charge, no gloss, sometimes loud mouthed and sometimes soft spoken. They explore every medium, approach varied topics and use whatever means necessary to get IT out there. Here is a look inside at the projects that begin (and sometimes end) in the basements of America. Where production proudly takes place on the kitchen table and in your local copy shops.

Thank you to Felix and to the participants of this article.
To submit contact:
Tara Mateik
Paper Tiger Television
339 Lafayette Street
NYC, NY 10012

1. Femme Flicke, Issue # 1, Tina Spangler, 1993
2. Notes from the Underground: Zines and the Politics of Alternative Culture, Duncombe, 1997.
3. “Taking Control of Our Images—And Lives,” by Sherry Millner, Roar, Marcus, published by the Paper Tiger Television collective in association with Wexner Center for the Arts, 1991, p. 18.


Mr. Lady Records + Videos
P.O. Box 3189
Durham, NC 27715-3189
Tel: (919) 682-1150
Fax: (919) 682-1150
Staff: 2, we do everything, plus have real jobs, occasional intern Tammy Rae Carland + Kaia Wilson
Established: 1997

Mr. Lady Records + Videos is both an independent record label and video art distribution company. We started Mr. Lady because we felt there weren’t enough options in terms of both independent music labels and video distribution, specifically options that are queer and/or women operated. Mr. Lady is entirely women and/or queer focused (in terms of both music and videos). We primarily distribute the tapes through mail order.

What types of films/videos/media related art do you handle?
It’s mostly video work, all independently produced and experimental (for lack of a better word) in form and content.

What qualities do you look for in productions?

Well, we are a decidedly queer business, so most of the work is by and/ or about queer culture and identity (and we are evolving in our definitions of identity and
culture). We have a loosely articulated agenda that involves inventing and nourishing a community space and aesthetic that is lesbian identified and crosses generational, pop/media, cultural and gender borders. We believe that production qualities can be, and should be, creative decision. I have a soft spot for extremely well crafted work that is smart and didn’t cost a lot of money to make.

Do you have regular screenings? Where?
Yes, though this is something that we have just started doing: ATA in San Francisco; Lump Gallery in Raleigh, NC; at Bard College, and I’m working on booking a bunch of screenings for next fall.

What are your most effective venues?
In terms of distributing, we are mostly just mail order at this point. In terms of screenings, we would like to do more events that are a combination of live music and screenings.

What do you do/offer in terms of publicity/promotion?
We get most of our sales through mail order from the catalog and from bands and video artists going on tour and promoting the business. We placed a few ads and have recently got our web page up, though it’s still under construction.

Why did you decide to get involved with such a project?
Well there are a lot of independent music labels and a handful of alternative video/film distro ventures, but none that combine the two, and only a few that are focused on lesbian/queer work. We decided that that wasn’t enough. When Kaia wanted to put out a record there were literally no options for her, it was important to her that it be on a queer label. And I had always distributed my own work because no one wanted anything to do with it. So we mostly started MRL because we had to. We decided to combine a record label with a video art distribution service because it would serve us both in terms of our own art/music, and we saw the potential for a lot of cross over in terms of audience and production. Also there are hardly any options for independent video makers to distribute their work at a price that is affordable and aimed at an audience of peers.

Peripheral Produce / Rodeo Film Company
P.O. Box 40835
Portland, OR 97240
Tel: (503) 282-6082
Staff: Matt McCormick + volunteer help
Established: 1996

Peripheral Produce is a roving and spontaneous screening series and distributor of experimental film and video. Seeing a need for non-academic, non-film festival venues for short film, Peripheral Produce challenges pre-conceived notions of how film and video is to be viewed and created. Based in Portland, Oregon, Peripheral Produce has been promoting personal, low-budget “auto-cinema” since 1996. Screenings are selective. Peripheral Produce is 100% science action pop bomb... (abstract aesthetics) not to be confused with the entertainment industry.

What types of films/videos/media related art do you handle?

Short experimental stuff, no real limitations, but focusing on short stuff made with no commercial intentions.

What qualities do you look for in productions?
Personal investment, whether it be emotional, opinion, historical, etc., and exploration of the craft. looking for stuff that is made for personal and artistic reasons, not
commercial or resumé reasons.

Do you have regular screenings? Where?
Yes, every third month in Portland, Oregon at various theaters. Peripheral Produce has also screened nationwide at various festivals, museums, and other venues.

What do you do/offer in terms of publicity/promotion?
Send tapes to magazines for review, set up tours for artists, set up screenings, send compilation tapes to different venues. Mailings, posters, lots of word of mouth.

What are your sources of funding?
Revenue from ticket sales. Attendance at shows in Portland has been excellent. Also revenue from tape sales, personal investment, and recently the award of a small grant from a local arts group called the Regional Arts and Culture Council.

Do you follow a model for your project?
Craig Baldwin’s Other Cinema screening series is certainly an inspiration in that it is
consistent and rock solid. It survives purely on Craig’s dedication to it, and is artistically successful because he puts a lot of himself into it. (It’s not just another screening.)
Also, the catalog put out by K-Records is also inspirational because it is as much of a news letter and a document of the activities of a group of artists as it is catalog... It is artistically made and gives insight to the personality and intentions of the artists behind it.

Bitch Nation
G.B. Jones
P.O. Box 55, STN. E
Toronto, Ontario
Canada M6H 4EI

Bitch Nation handles work made by and for queers. Bitch Nation newsletter serves as a catalog and as a way to get in touch/keep in touch with a whole bunch of queer zines through direct access listing. And it’s a viable trade for other people’s zines!

What qualities do you look for in productions?
Everyone who has videos or zines or anything distributed by Bitch Nation is interested in making queer stuff accessible to people everywhere, but perhaps especially to kids in Wyoming, or where ever, who don’t have a queer “scene” of their own. So, people who want us to distribute their stuff are part of the queer scene, generally, and want to get in touch with others who are.

What do you do/offer in terms of publicity/promotion?
When you ask, “what do you offer...” it suggests the we’re a “real” company hoping to convince career-oriented filmmakers that we can cut the best deal for them. It’s not like that at all. What we can offer is the chance to wallow in the mire and perversion that is Queercore, with all the attendant glamour that brings.

Does your project bring in profit?
Well, enough to keep Bitch Nation going! And enough to be able to pay most people up front, cause that’s important to me. I want to make sure all the zine editors and musicians get money, so they’ll be able to make more stuff and keep the queer punk thing going. So, Bitch Nation buys the zines, and records, and tapes and takes responsibility to sell them. I’m not down with that paper pushing consignment stuff.

Kinofist Imageworks
PO box 1102
Columbia, MO 65205-1102
Tel: (573) 875-7151
Staff: David Wilson
Established: 1996

Kinofist is a project of synthesis. Kinofist strives to be the infinite extension cord connecting artist to audience and bringing together the still disparate works of DIY films, video and music. Without million dollar budgets or $200 video tapes we will turn on our cameras and transmit to the playgrounds, clubhouses and rec-rooms of America. The youth are plastic and they’ll live forever.

On (Ama)teur film... We will reclaim the word “amateur” in all its filth and glory from the idiocy of America’s Funniest Home Videos. Acknowledging that the most important film of the 90s may have been the videotape of the Rodney King beating, we seek to make movies capable of inciting riots and full of riotous insights. We are voices that have been silenced, but our secret messages will escape through the scratches in the emulsion; through the static that interferes with tonight’s regularly scheduled broadcast. Ultimately, we will make movies because we do not know what else to do, because they told us that it was too expensive, too difficult and too technical and we want to prove those Fuckers wrong.

What types of films/videos/media related art do you handle?

I handle work which bridges the gap between the worlds of “art” video and film and the independent/D.I.Y./punk music community. Ideally, through Kinofist, I will be able to bring the two worlds closer together.

What are your most effective venues?
I’m a big fan of basements. I like to screen at shows with bands.

What are your sources of funding?
Whatever money I have left over after I pay rent.

Do you follow a model for your project?
I am inspired by a number of independent record labels and distributors. Dischord records out of Washington, D.C. is a great model for any D.I.Y. business.

Why did you decide to get involved with such a project?
I wanted to make the experimental and activist film and video work that I was exposed to through my studies available to the kids who were cut off from it. There exists an entire subculture of youth willing to purchase independent records and buy zines, but still relying on the local multiplex for their movie entertainment. By offering work that appeals to the punk/hardcore community, I’m providing an alternative.

Are there people within the film/video/media arts community that you look to for inspiration? Who?
As a distributor and a maker I really admire Miranda July. Her writings and her catalogs always inspire me and push me to make my own that much better. Her video chainletter is a great example of successful D.I.Y. distribution and her own work is right on.

An Unfixed Point & A History of Rats
75 Eagle St.
Box 1
Providence, Rhode Island 02909
Tel: (401) 521-1851
Fax: (401) 521-1851
Staff: Erin (Erhin) Rosenthal & Roby Newton
Established: 1998

Roby Newton and I are not distributors. We are individual artists who booked a tour of 14 cities from the east coast to the midwest to show our latest work. It is a real bare bones operation. We handle our own work, which includes my short experimental 16mm films and Roby’s live puppet show involving handmade puppets, portable/collapsible theater, and sound effects. On tour we screened my films An Unfixed Point and Growth with Roby’s puppet show titled A History Of Rats.

Do you have regular screenings? Where?
Our screenings were plotted out on the map so that we wouldn’t have to drive more than 5 or 6 hours a day. But then that didn’t always work out. Roby started in New York City and I joined her in Baltimore, where my projector’s electrical guts failed. We continued on to Columbus, OH, Bloomington, IN, Madison, WI, Chicago, IL (where the brilliant and kindly Twig repaired the broken wire), then onto Minneapolis, MN, Lincoln, NB, Kansas City, KS, Columbia, MO, Lexington, KY, Knoxville, TN, Asheville, Winston-Salem, and Chapel Hill, NC.

What are your most effective venues?
Well... the most effective venues... probably the Social Hall in Lincoln. It was a benefit for a new independent label, with 6 bands and us. Pretty tough punked out kids. The response was really encouraging, mostly because the audience was unaccustomed to having film and puppetry part of their scene. Roby’s show, which deals with gentrification and alienation, connected with people. I think people were surprised to see two young women bringing in their own ideas expressed in different and challenging media. One guy gave me a hug.

What do you do/offer in terms of publicity/promotion?
For publicity we relied upon the individual organizers of the events for promotion,
fliers, word of mouth, etc... Roby spent a month booking the tour, connecting us with people she had met on a previous tour with a band, people they knew and thought would be interested, etc.

Why did you decide to get involved with such a project?
Why? Roby and I are addicted to traveling. It is such a thrill to see new places, meet new people, and experience the creative energy and dynamics happening there. And for the media we are working in there is just no way to get the work out to people, except to do it yourself. We have both entered our film work in festivals, but that is such a
limited audience of arts supporters.

Are there people within the film/video/media arts community that you look to for inspiration?
Inspiration for the project, I think, is really derived from the desire to be independent and to have control over your work, and to make direct contact with the viewer.

Blackchair Productions/“Independent Exposure”
2318 Second Ave., #313-A
Seattle, WA 98121
Tel: (206) 568-6051
Staff: Joel Bachar, owner/director
Established: 1992

Seattle video and film artist Joel S. Bachar founded Blackchair Productions in 1992. Due to the overwhelming lack of independent-oriented screening venues, Blackchair Productions began the Independent Exposure program in 1996. This program, held every month at the Speakeasy Cafe, has gained an enviable reputation in the network of microcinemas around the country as well as around the world.

1998 will begin the third year of the program and it will be funded by the King County Cultural Arts Commission, which means the artists whose works are shown will be paid an honorarium, a gesture that is practically unheard of in the independent film and video arts.

Do you have regular screenings? Where?
Yes. The Speakeasy Cafe in Seattle. Plus many other microcinemas around the country and the world, including Prague, New York City, Winnipeg, Thailand, Croatia, Belgium, Japan and many others. Also on the Internet:

What do you do/offer in terms of publicity/promotion?
I send out regular press releases to local papers for local screenings plus put information on my website. When I do screenings in other cities it is up to the local organization. I have a weekly ad in a local paper for my Seattle program.

Does your project bring in profit?

Yeah, right.

Do you follow a model for your project?

Only the one I created myself.

What have been your greatest successes/defeats?
Greatest success has been becoming recognized on an international level as one of the
leading microcinema curators in the country. Defeats: getting continually “beat-out” by film purists.

Ladies Art Revival
P.O. Box 217
Moorestown NJ 08057
Tel: (732) 373-5999
Staff: 1, Jill Walsh
Established: 1997

Ladies Art Revival is a feminist art project aimed to screen, sell, and promote women’s films. In an effort to make women’s art more accessible to the feminist youth culture, I distribute women-made videos at affordable prices. Through women’s point of view, the films/videos explore topics such as: father/daughter relationships, masturbation liberation, young women artist/activist communities, dyke history, and punk rock dyke youth culture.

Do you have regular screenings? Where?
About every 6 months, never at the same place, usually at east coast colleges and universities.

What do you do/offer in terms of publicity/promotion?
Mailing list, run an ad in a women’s magazine, fliers, catalog.

Why did you decide to get involved with such a project?
I saw an absence of such projects and a general need for these particular movies to be screened and promoted. I mean, we need to start representing ourselves, since we as women have been so misrepresented in pop culture. Art and film should not be inaccessible to us women. Especially films that were intended for ladies to see.

Danny Plotnick
P.O. box 460472
San Francisco, CA 94146
Tel: (415) 821-9322

Danny distributes his own work and does not consider himself a distributor, but his model of touring is replicated by many of the participants of this article. He is considered an inspiration and many people look to him as a model D.I.Y. figure. Initially he did a lot of shows in local clubs and bars. Some were exclusively film nights, while other nights her screened between bands. He also sent his work to Jim Sikora in Chicago, who would likewise program film shows in bars. His first tour came shortly after the release of the Small Gauge Shotgun Tape. By 1993 he and Jim had a solid 90 minute program and were ready to take it on the road. His work is shown irregularly at Artist Television Access, warehouses, cafes and bars.

What types of films/videos/media and related art do you handle?
I distribute both films on film and film on video. I also sell T-shirts and CDs and singles by musicians who have helped me out.

What are your most effective venues?
The Artist Television Access and bars when people have drunk enough to lower their defenses, but not so much that they start blathering throughout the films. Europe is also effective as a venue, because they pay guarantees. None of this splitting the door nonsense that goes on in America.

What do you do/offer in terms of publicity/promotion?
I usually work with the venues. Make sure that they’re doing publicity, but I also do publicity. When the press receives multiple press releases on the same show, they tend to think it must be important. For the video release I handle my own national publicity... with some degree of success actually.

What are your sources of funding?
My wallet. I try to leave singles and fivers in rarely worn coats. It’s sort of a nest egg. It’s not as effective as a savings account, but I can always desperately scrounge together money for a project that is incredibly deserving.

Do you follow a model for your project?
It’s sort of an amalgamation of record, video, and zine distribution rolled into a learn-as-you-go mess.

Are there people within the film/video/media arts community that you look to for inspiration? Who?
Jon Moritsugu, The Kuchars, Jim Sikora, Alex Mackenzie.

What have been your greatest successes/defeats?
Touring Europe was great. An all ages show in Shreveport over Thanksgiving weekend was great. Booking a midnight Wednesday show in Olympia was bad.

Station Wagon Productions
P.O. Box 471807
San Francisco, CA 94110
Staff: 2, Sarah Jacobson, Ruth

Station Wagon’s distribution is handled by filmmaker Sarah Jacobson, and her mom, Ruth. She’s traveled cross country and in Europe promoting Mary Jane’s Not A Virgin Anymore. Her “unusual” distribution tactics have been mentioned in Paper Magazine, December ‘98 by noted cult film author Maitlin McDonagh. She usually accompanies the film at its various screenings and has been able to create quite a following.

do you follow a model for your project?
My first film, I Was A Teenage Serial Killer was made for $1600 and I sold it mail order like a record, sending out copies for review to different magazines.

What do you do/offer in terms of publicity/promotion?
I put up fliers or get people to help me put up fliers and that was the main strategy of our distribution. Fliers work but it’s a hassle because it takes so much time and effort and it’s competitive out there. Some asshole with a Marilyn Manson flier, paid real money by the clubs, is right behind you and will cover your posters so you have to go back and rip them down when they do. You also have to learn to fliers in unusual places so to not be covered up. Tip - it is illegal to put fliers on lampposts in NYC so if you do, don’t include any kind of contact info. (Fascist bastards!)

Are there people within the media arts community that you look to for inspiration?
I took inspiration from people like Jon Moritsugu and Danny Plotnick who packaged their films to the punk music scene.

Why did you decide to get involved with such a project?
When Mary Jane got into Sundance, it seemed like my status would rise from underground to full-on indie, but it was not to be. Distributors didn’t believe in an audience made up of young straight girls and the boys who love them. After seeing Mary Jane do well on the festival circuit and after a whirlwind two month tour in Europe where I made money for the first time, my mom and I decided to release the film ourselves. My mom had come out from Minnesota to help me finish Mary Jane and was seduced by the glamour and intrigue of the film industry. She stayed on and became such a powerhouse in the scene that other filmmakers keep trying to hire her away from me. Luckily, she has stayed.

Big MissMoviola

P.O. box 14284
Portland, OR 97214
Tel: (503) 248-6339
Staff: 1, Miranda July + a lot of volunteers/interns
Established: 1995

Big MissMoviola has only one criteria: that the films and videos are made by women.
It’s now a two fold operations, distributing both a Chainletter and Co-Star Series. To be included on the Chainletter, you send in a copy of your movie and something for the Chainletter’s companion Directory (anything you want) and include $5 (to cover both dubbing and postage). Then you sit on the curb and wait for your Chainletter Tape & Directory to arrive. It will have your movie as well as 9 others. The Co-Star series is a compilation tape that’s curated by Miranda.

What are your sources of funding?
Grants. I’ve been pretty lucky. Regional Arts and Culture and Andrea Frank (she’s Robert Frank’s daughter). I use that mostly for the Co-Star Series. For the chainletter, I can have dubs made really cheaply at Vaughn Communication. They give me a big discount.

Do you have regular screenings?
Yes, but I never plan it that way because I perform so much. I usually take it to a handful of colleges and guest teach or just do screenings.

What are your most effective venues?

A.T.A. in San Francisco, 911 in Seattle and Blinding Light in Vancouver - it’s brand new and really great.

Do you follow a model for your project?
Not specifically, but my dad’s got a small press and it all happened in the house. I helped do bulk mailing. I wouldn’t cite him as a role model but it influenced me. And K Records. I think of Big MissMoviola not so much as a business but as a service.

3 minute rockstar
47 Northcote Ave. Apt #5
Toronto, Ontario
Canada M6J 3K2
Tel: (416) 531-5634 (Jane), (416) 516-2516 (Allyson)
Fax: Same as above. Just call before (allyson) (jane)
Staff: 2, Jane Farrow and Allyson Mitchell producers
Established: 1996

Armed with just one day and one 3-minute long roll of super-8 film, forty hand-picked misfits, nerds and freakazoids ranging in age, size, orientation and planetary origins jumped at the opportunity to don a rockstar-sized ego and mastermind their first work of cinematic genius. The forty 3-minute rockstar films are all edited in-camera, have only a cassette tape soundtrack, and were each made for under $50.

3-minute rockstar is a no-tech filmic feeding frenzy that aims low and inside at the need for a big budget and film degree before making your first gritty, greasy mark on the hallowed halls of cinematic history.

Mitchell and Farrow bought an old super-8 camera and tripod, then wrote up a couple pages of technical information on filmmaking called “what the knobs on the camera are for.” One meeting was held to explain the project and show the prospective 3-minute rockstars how to load a camera and presto, a stunning and outrageous array of films and stories began arriving at the production office (a.k.a.: their respective kitchen tables). The 3-minute rockstar films can be screened individually or as a program in film/video festivals or events.

What is the most recent development with your project?
We have gone on to do three minute rockstar projects with queer youth, economically disadvantaged kids and, starting tomorrow, street-involved youth.

What are your most effective venues?
Bars and low-tech film festivals.

What are your sources of funding?
We got a $1,000 production grant from the lesbian and gay community appeal here in Toronto, but besides that it is out of pocket.

What is the price for your videos/zines/shows?
Free to screen and 20 bucks to buy a copy.

Do you follow a model for your project?
We just played it by ear and put as much time into it as we could while we still loved it.

Fever Films
23 E. 10th Street, #PHG
New York, NY 10003
Tel: (212) 780-0493
Fax: (212) 475-1399

This small company is dedicated to getting experimental work seen! We are committed to the titles we handle, and only take films we believe in. Shorts are our specialty, although we occasionally consider features.

What qualities do you look for in productions?
Something that stirs me, something that I feel I can get behind and defend. Production values are not the issue here.

What do you do/offer in terms of publicity/promotion?

Depends on the screening. Larger festivals we may do a postcard mailing. Smaller screenings may just get a mass e-mail announcement. In NY we send press releases to all publications and preview tapes to many reviewers, especially those we have a relationship with. This can result in articles or mentions in the Voice, NY Press, NY Blade, LGNY, and others.

What are your sources of funding?
Rental fees.

What is the price for your videos/zines/shows?
Shows: $5-8. Home sales of video: $20-150. Rentals: $35-95 for shorts, $250+ for features. Packages for schools run higher.

Are there people within the film/video/media arts community that you look to for inspiration? Who?
Well, for people who don’t seem to compromise their aesthetics, Emily Russo and Nancy Gerstman at Zeitgeist, Marcus Hu at Strand for proving that “unmarketable” work has an audience. But also Danny Plotnick for his touring, and Tammy Rae Carland of Mr. Lady for getting up and running with such a polished look.