The source material for the films featured on the 11th episode of “Frame of Mind” is housed deep inside a climate-controlled vault at SMU’s Hamon Arts Library.
Reels of 16mm footage are stacked high on metal shelves with only scribbled dates intimating the stories in the celluloid.
The footage covers 18 years of WFAA’s archives from 1960 to 1978, and its part of the G. William Jones Film and Video Collection at the library. From B-roll that never made it on the air to interviews with Muhammad Ali and Jimi Hendrix, the WFAA Newsfilm Collection is a treasure trove of history.
A young Bill O’Reilly interviews ventriloquist and Dallasite Jeff Dunham.
Bart Weiss — who has dual roles as director of the Video Association of Dallas and producer for “Frame of Mind” — says the footage amounts to about 1.3 terabytes of data.
“Just transferring the footage from person to person took about a week,” he says.
He teamed up with the Jones Collection to commission a slate of short films that use the Newsfilm archives. Weiss challenged filmmakers to create original works using the imagery within the archive that spoke to them.
“I think that they came through because what are people thinking about now? A lot of people are thinking about what our current world is like,” Weiss says. “We’ve taken historical work and a sense of looking at what life was like in the ’60s and put it through the lens of today and today’s issues, re-examining what’s going on: issues of race, feminism, abuse … As you look at the films, you can see that many things have changed and many things haven’t changed.”
In “Dallas Circle,” filmmaker Justin Wilson remixes journalism and personal moments to create a strikingly timely vignette of race relations in 1960s Dallas. In the opening scenes, students express dissenting views over a Dixie-themed school event. Weiss says Wilson edited the clip well before the debate over Confederate monuments came to a head.
Carmen Menza’s “Beyond 10” dissects contemporary social issues too. Her film explores sexual harassment and the objectification of women, which she also edited before the recent flood of harassment allegations against high-profile people.
Other stories in the collection use the archival footage to create imaginative narratives. In “The Story of Jane X,” Christian Vasquez stitches together a story about a bandit on the run.
“The story’s made up, but authentic images make it plausible,” Weiss says in Thursday’s episode. “It reminds us how we rely on reports and images to relay what happened. It shows how the distance between an event and its retelling leaves a great void to be filled either by editorial decisions or by imagination.”
Weiss says filmmakers had complete creative freedom; they could even incorporate material from other sources. He says he’s not opposed to compiling another collection
“When we set out to do this, it was kind of a risk because we didn’t know what we were going to have,” he says. “I hope a lot of people get to see this and think about what they see on the new differently and think about the city in a very different way. Even though the footage is based in Dallas, everything that’s in here is universal to the country at the moment. There are so few things that are like that.”
Here are the filmmakers featured in Thursday’s episode.
- “2,000 Hours in Dallas” by Jeremy Spracklen
- “The Story of Jane X” by Christian Vasquez
- “Dallas Circle” by Justin Wilson
- “Lawmen & Cowpokes” by Gordon K. Smith
- “History Lessons” by Steve Baker
- “Beyond 10” by Carmen Menza
- “Glass” by Madison McMakin
- “Poofs are New” by Blaine Dunlap
- “Divided” by Michael Thomas & Dakota Ford
- “The Night in the Last Branches” by Michael Alexander Morris
- “Echoes of the Past” by Jeremy Spracklen