Early Video Pioneer: An Interview with Skip Blumberg

By La Rosa, Melanie | Journal of Film and Video, Spring 2012 | Go to article overview

Early Video Pioneer: An Interview with Skip Blumberg


La Rosa, Melanie, Journal of Film and Video


SKIP BLUMBERG IS AN INFLUENTIAL FIGURE in the evolution of independent video documentary and experimental filmmaking. He has produced hundreds of shorts, TV shows, installations, exhibitions, and multimedia performances and continues as an active mediamaker. Beginning in the late 1960s, during the inception of independent video, he collaborated with production groups including TVTV, Videofreex, Ant Farm, and Paper Tiger TV and with many other pioneering artists and independent videomakers, such as Nam June Paik and Shirley Clarke. Blumberg is active in the independent video community, including having served as a board member of the Association of Independent Video and Filmmakers.

From his seminal experimental video JGLNG (1976) to his classic video documentaries such as the triple Emmy-winning Pick Up Your Feet: The Double Dutch Show (1982), to his more recent diaries such as Nam June Paik: Lessons from the Video Master (2007) and experimental nonfiction video On Dream Street . . . (2012), Blumberg brings a distinctive, warm, personal approach to filmmaking. He was one of the first one-person-crew camcorder reporters.

Several hundred of Blumberg's movies are online and in distribution for home viewing and for academic and public screenings through Electronic Arts Intermix, Video Data Bank, and In Motion Productions, Inc. His videos have appeared on broadcast and cable TV and in museums and festivals around the world, with retrospectives in the Berlin Film Festival Videofest, Rotterdam Film Festival, and Dallas Video Festival. He has received numerous awards and grants, including a Guggenheim Fellowship and an Ohio State University Journalism Award; has been named one of Esquire magazine's Best of the Next Generation; and has been screened at the Museum of Broadcasting's TV Critics' Favorite TV Shows of All Time event. He was also artistin- residence at several public TV stations, at the Walker Art Center, and at the 1980 Lake Placid Winter Olympics.

Blumberg has produced for Sesame Street (more than 150 shorts), Great Performances (700,000-plus online views), The 90's, National Geographic Explorer, and MyHero.com, as well as for nonprofits, including the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity and the Twenty-First Century Foundation. Blumberg has been a US State Department cultural envoy in Senegal, Kosovo, Herzegovina, Slovakia, and other countries and a visiting filmmaker, artist-inresidence, and teacher at universities, schools, libraries, and media centers. Blumberg currently is Special Professor in the MFA documentary program at Hofstra University School of Communication.

melanie l a rosa: Let's start with what's happening with your early videos now.

skip blumberg: I just returned from the WRO Biennale in Poland- "the leading forum for new media art in Central Europe"-where there was a lot of exciting work and many inspiring media artists, a week of screenings, installations, concerts, performances-and it was gratifying to see the audience's interest in the early video screening. I was there with Abina Manning, from Video Data Bank. We screened newly restored videotapes from the Videofreex Archive from 1969 to 1971, which are in vdb.org's collection. It was great to see the contemporary audience connect with the work and with the activism of that time period. Videofreex has had a couple of other recent well-received screenings-in Brooklyn at Light Industry and in Washington, D.C. at the DC Arts Center.

I appreciate these screenings-and opportunity to talk to you about the early videotapes, and that era, and the history of video-because it was a rare and exciting phenomenon, a very special time. What's especially important is that it was the beginning of the medium of video, when it was brand new.

And this is also a chance to speak to you and professors about a syndrome now that I've noticed in film schools and schools of communication where the history of video is sometimes ignored. …

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