Film Festivals Should
Save Video Shops

by Mike Retter

Film festivals and screen bodies shouldn't allow the last video shops to die.

Picture Search in Melbourne (click to enlarge pic!)

Video shops were once as important and functional institutions as public libraries. But despite this, they are not old enough to have heritage listing. Does that mean we should let them completely disappear and remain only as a fuzzy nostalgic memory?

The catering budget of one bad film could save one of these great video shops for an entire year, like Galactic Video in Adelaide or Picture Search in Melbourne. Something to help them pay ever-increasing rents and purchase new interesting stock. These specialist video rental shops often run at a loss, the owners running them out of pure love and altruism. But unlike the catering budget of a film, a video shop will remain open to the public year-round and provide access to culture for all classes of people.

Video shops have been intertwined with filmmaking for their entire existence. Tarantino had his film education working in one and Mark Cousins built much of his landmark documentary The Story of Film from access to such video shops as he gathered rare movies, including some from the third world. Video shops are part of the glue that makes up film culture.

Video shops have the ability to rent out titles not currently available through streaming services. There are always gems in their archives, always something undiscovered. Because playing a DVD or VHS can be simpler than using a computer, video shops create access to film for people with disabilities. They can also be a safety-buffer against censorship by providing alternative access to content. It's also a way of life. Have you ever had a cool chat about music in a record shop? Well the same thing happens in video shops, increasingly so as they have become more specialist.

To think Melbourne, the centre of Australian screen culture and proclaimed capital of hipness, will allow its famous multi-storied Picture Search to be under threat of closure is incredibly sad and short-sighted. Decades have been spent building this collection. It has one level of the building entirely devoted to VHS titles currently not released on DVD. It's a mammoth labyrinthine shop and a real experience being there. They even have a cat. Does the Melbourne International Film Festival care?

Same for Galactic Video in Adelaide: the red-carpeted bunker is one of the key alternative hot-spots in Adelaide, specialising in sci-fi and cult titles. Video rarities, a real sense of community and there's something Dario Argento about that Red Carpet ... Stephen works mighty hard to keep the doors open and serve the public. To pay the rent, he sometimes roams large open fields, collecting old broken fridges for scrap metal. This is almost a science fiction tale in itself. It's time to reward this hard work. Does the Adelaide Film Festival care?

I think it's in the interests of film culture that we save one or two of these magnificent and special institutions from closing. It would be an embarrassment for either city's screen culture to lose their most special video shops. Trust me, we won't be losing arts bureaucrats' annual international travel perks in a hurry, that funding is solid as a rock.

Film festivals and screen funding bodies, instead of funding some rich kid to make another lame Australian film nobody watches, just this once, shave off a wafer-thin slice of your dough as an annual endowment to keep these special places open before we lose them forever. If we lose these special institutions, with their heritage value, it will be on your watch and ultimately be the legacy of your vision for film. All kinds of money is thrown at the arts, literally splashed against the wall, often in a crazy and undeserved way. I know of two places where it wouldn't be wasted: Picture Search and Galactic Video.

Picture Search - 139 Swan St, Richmond VIC 3121 - (03) 9429 5639

Galactic Video - 102-104 Gawler Pl, Adelaide SA 5000 - (08) 8224 0466

Mike Retter is a film director, of the indie feature Youth On The March, creator of the zine "Cinema Now", and the Podcast "Meat Bone Express", and part of the Port Film Co-op.

Published May 4, 2018. © Mike Retter 2018.