The Videofreex were a group of ten young videographers hired by CBS to make a pilot about the youth movement. It was 1969, and the network was anxious to break out of its stodgy newscasting ways. Video was a new medium, and the handheld cameras were perfect for capturing the antiwar demonstrations, feminist marches and Black Power movement as they were happening on the streets of the nation.
When the work of the videographers turned out to be too edgy for the network and they were fired, they decided to continue, living and working communally in a SoHo loft, where they hosted weekly screenings. In 1971, they left the City and moved to a rambling farmhouse in the Catskills hamlet of Lanesville. Initially greeted with suspicion by the locals, they ultimately won them over and covered local events after starting the nation’s first pirate TV station. By 1976, the group had disbanded, but the model for public access TV had been established.
In 2004 Jon Nealon and Jenny Raskin were showing Nealon’s film Goodbye Hungaria in Saugerties when they learned about the Videofreex from former member and Saugerties resident Bart Friedman. They decided to make a film about the group and have launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $15,000, which will both finance the project as well as raise money to preserve the hundreds of fragile tapes exhumed from the former members’ basements and attics.
The grainy tapes “have an immediacy and presence that is like a time machine,” said Nealon. “The production values are low, but you sense there are curious people behind the camera.” Plus, there are some gems of history, with footage of some of the most riveting figures of the time, including Abbie Hoffman (talking about how to prepare for the revolution) and Black Panther Fred Hampton, a few weeks before he was killed.
Nealon and Raskin, who are married and live in Brooklyn, have interviewed five of the former members, with four more to go, two of whom live in California (one member has since died). Besides Friedman, who does public access TV in Saugerties (“He’s continuing the legacy,” said Nealon), former members Parry Teasdale and Carol Vontobel also reside in the Hudson Valley. Teasdale once edited Ulster Publishing’s Woodstock Times, and now runs a newspaper in Columbia County.
Nealon said that the couple plan to craft the film mostly from existing video footage. “It’s a process of discovery,” said Nealon. “What’s inspiring is they weren’t doing it for the money. Today you can’t even picture that. They were doing it for the exploration, the love for the community. It was so pure.”
So far, he and Raskin have raised over $12,000. They hope to have the film done by next spring. Visit www.kickstarter.com/projects/1579219342/here-come-the-videofreex-save-the-tapes and www.videofreex.com.