Great Story, “Meh” Doc

The rise and fall of counterculture journalism

Film by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Here Come The Videofreex
RPL Film Theatre
June 10-12
2 out of 5

Social unrest in the U.S. reached its peak at the end of the ’60. The Civil Rights movement, anger over the Vietnam War and widespread dissatisfaction were palpable phenomenons barely covered on TV.

The main three channels — NBC, CBS and ABC — would rather fill their schedules with mild sitcoms than touch anything from the counterculture.

Around the same time, the first portable video cameras hit the market. A couple of them landed in hands of wannabe journalists who documented events such as Woodstock, Black Panthers meetings and mass demonstrations from within, something ordinary media would have never dared. Here Come the Videofreex chronicles the rise of one collective, including interviews with the surviving members as well as some of the footage collected over almost a decade.

After an ill-fated partnership with CBS (the suits canned the project upon watching the pilot), the Videofreex survived on grants and donations. They were quite prolific and successful in their endeavors, except in one aspect: distribution. Very few people had access to the Freex’ work, and their approach to journalism became unsustainable (business plans are for squares, man.)

Toward the end, they reinvented themselves as a pirate TV station in the Catskills and became pioneers of community broadcasting.

While the story of the Videofreex is fascinating, the documentary itself doesn’t reflect it. The film avoids conflict and the interviews aren’t particularly insightful. The events that led to the end of the collective are glossed over but not developed.

The movie has a ton of value for the quality of the material, but 79 minutes is not enough to do the Freex justice. I hope this subject gets covered more lavishly in the future.