If you’ve spent even a little time in the Daily Grindhouse offices (note: may not actually exist), you’ll know we’re huge fans of Josh Johnson’s 2013 documentary REWIND THIS!; which spotlights the history of the VHS format and tape collecting. Irreverent, passionate, and packed with interviews with genre luminaries, the film manages to explain why so much love still exists for the often-derided format, while leaving room to showcase clips from a variety of videotape-only oddities. It’s supremely entertaining, and now you can take home a copy of YOUR VERY OWN!
QUITE appropriately, the Amazon-exclusive home release includes both a DVD *and* VHS copy of the film, and that’s not all! It’s packed with bonus features, including commentary, additional footage, original animations, a special music video, and over an hour of bonus interview footage on laserdisc, remix culture, video panic and more! AND YOU CAN GET IT RIGHT NOW.
Josh was good enough to take a little time out of his increasingly packed schedule to chat with us about the continued popularity of VCRs, his favorite interview subjects, and what he’s working on next.
Sweetback (SB): With its VHS/DVD release, REWIND THIS! appears to be reaching its final – for now – destination. A culmination of years of hard work on the part of yourself and others. How much of a whirlwind has the last few years been, and how heartening is it to see this project come in for a landing?
Josh Johnson (JJ): The last few years have been overwhelming in almost every way. This project took us around the globe, both during production and during our festival tour with the finished film. We’ve made significant friendships and creative partnerships along the way, all while having experiences that would never have been possible without the driving force of the movie. After all that, it’s a great relief to finally be delivering it to people’s homes the way we always envisioned.
SB: Last week the results of a Gallup poll about Americans and technology showed that 58% of Americans still have a VCR in their homes. Despite a steep drop from 2005 (when it was 88%), it’s still a bit of a shocking statistic. What does the continued prevalence of VCRs say about the enduring nature of the format?
JJ: I think it speaks to the fact that the tapes are durable, and continue to work many years down the road. Disc formats are very easy to scratch, and the damage can be difficult or even impossible to repair. That isn’t always the case with a videotape. That said, I think the statistic probably has less to do with the enduring nature of the format and more to do with a reluctance on the part of a certain segment of the population to get rid of any of their possessions.
SB: How important was it for you that REWIND THIS! would be available on VHS? And how surreal is it to hold a copy of the VHS of your own film in your hand?
JJ: It was extremely important that the film be released on VHS, because it is a natural extension of the film itself. We knew there would be people eager to own it that way, in fact it has been the most frequent thing we’ve been asked about since we began working on the movie. We were initially unsure about what sort of distribution we would get, and if any contemporary distributor would be interested in producing a run of videotapes. Fortunately, we were able to find the right partner to get the movie out there in multiple forms. The feeling is indeed very surreal. Even though I knew it was coming, it still feels a bit like a dream.
SB: What actually is the process of distributing a film on VHS in 2014? How do you even get such a thing produced?
JJ: Our home video distributor is MPI, and they’ve been in the game since the early VHS days. They have a relationship with a manufacturer that is still able to produce the tapes on demand. We were very fortunate to partner with a company that has been a part of the business for so long.
SB: Re-watching the film again lately, I was struck by how certain interviews seemed to provide the glue which held the central “story” together. In particular, it seemed like Frank Henenlotter provided a wonderful thorough-line for the documentary as a whole. Who were some of your personal favorite interview subjects?
JJ: I agree with your assessment. Frank gave us so much more than we ever could have anticipated. His generosity, knowledge, and sense of humor really elevate the entire movie. I don’t have any favorite interview subjects, but I will say that the most enjoyable aspect of all the best interviews was the passion and enthusiasm of the person on the other side of the conversation.
SB: For those who’ve already checked out REWIND THIS! in cinemas or on iTunes – what’s the best reason for them to shell out for the DVD?
JJ: For starters, there are a ton of bonus features and additional interview material. It adds up to more than the running time of the actual feature. There is also a new commentary track, recorded specifically for this release. Beyond these perks, there is also the added bonus of being able to own the movie as a physical object. I know that means a lot to me, personally.
SB: I know your CANUXPLOITATION documentary was announced as part of the Frontières International Co-Production Market at the Fantastia festival in 2013. Can you speak briefly about what makes Canadian exploitation films worthy of a documentary, and what sort of progress is happening with the film?
JJ: Canadian exploitation films are perfect examples of the identity crisis that the Canadian film industry has been facing for decades. There is a desire within the Canadian film industry to resist any type of project that is too similar to Hollywood and its populist objectives. As a result, the majority of what is thought of as Canadian film is serious arthouse fare. The exploitation films that actually brought a lot of money into the country over the years have always been buried or ignored. It’s time to shine a light on them for being the important piece of cultural history they are. As for the progress on the film, we have our interview subjects attached and we’ve submitted to funding institutions. We should hear back in the coming months.
SB: For those looking to keep up on your current and future work, what’s the best way to do so?
JJ: The best way to follow what is happening with me to is to follow me (@IPFjosh) on Twitter.
SB: I’m a massive fan of REWIND THIS!, and I’m overjoyed that everyone now has a chance to check it out. For those looking to pick up a copy.. Where should they go?
JJ: If you’re looking to rent a copy, it should be available at your local indie video store right now. You can also order it from a variety of online retailers, from Diabolik to TLA. The VHS/DVD combo is an Amazon exclusive. You can also purchase the film digitally on a variety of VOD platforms, as well as direct from our website: http://buy.
SB: Final question.. You worked on several shorts before moving onto a documentary feature. What advice might you have for a young or inexperienced director who is looking to tackle their first film project?
JJ: The first piece of advice I would offer is to start as soon as you can. Don’t wait for the perfect circumstances. They don’t exist and they never will. If you have a script that is out of scope for the budget you can realistically raise, start writing a new one. If that script is truly ready to go in front of cameras this instant, it will be equally ready when you have access to the necessary funds in the future.
Utilize your available resources, and push yourself to create something that transcends your limitations. If you’re looking to make a doc versus a narrative, just start shooting. The more footage you begin to capture, the more you’ll begin to understand the shape of your film. The beauty of this type of shooting is that you can also fund as you go, piece by piece.
The two most important pieces of advice I can offer are applicable to filmmaking, but are also applicable to life in general. 1) Be kind. Do you want to create something great? Do you want to enjoy doing it? Treat everyone you collaborate with respectfully, and see how much better their work becomes. Marvel at how many people will want to support you and offer you their help. The atmosphere of the production will absolutely find its way onto the screen, so you owe it to yourself to create the best possible environment. 2) Be passionate. Never feel ashamed or embarrassed by how much your film matters to you. It is this quality that will make it matter to others. Attack every day with as much energy and focus as you can muster.
Making a film requires tremendous confidence. Embrace your passion, project it outward, and invite your colleagues to invest in it. Don’t be surprised when they do.
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