The documentary Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession coined a wonderful term about its subject, pioneering cable programmer Jerry Harvey. They called him a “cinematic midwife”, someone who did not exactly create movie content in the traditional sense, but whose work was an essential part of helping films - especially smaller, more obsure films - find an audience. As the doc demonstrated, Harvey saved several titles from absolute oblivion.
The “cinematic midwife” label is maybe even more apt for the late Mike Vraney. Vraney’s Something Weird Video label rescued hundreds of home-grown nuggets from the dumpster -literally, in many cases. Vraney would scour storage units and warehouses for abandoned film prints, titles which played regional drive-in circuits before being forgotten by their creators. Vraney would rescue these oddities, transfer the prints and release them on VHS (and later DVD). The Something Weird library is vast and varied, and a generation of psychotronic film fans owe Vraney an enormous debt of gratitude.
It is a profoundly perfect turn of events that The American Genre Film Archive (AGFA) is stepping in to continue Vraney’s work. AGFA is building an amazing library of the kinds of forgotten films that were Something Weird’s bread and butter, and anyone who’s seen some of their repertory screenings know just how special and essential their work is. As AGFA board member and advisor Nicholas Winding Refn said in an interview on this site, "once something is gone...it's gone forever." To keep a film alive, it needs to be seen, and for it to be seen, it needs to be preserved. AGFA is putting one foot in front of the other, and today they’ve announced their first Something Weird restoration project, The Zodiac Killer. Below is the full press release, with a link to contribute. The perks are cool, and a small donation can get you in on that sweet “cinematic midwife” action we talked about up top.
AMERICAN GENRE FILM ARCHIVE (AGFA) LAUNCHES NEW FUNDRAISING CAMPAIGN TO PRESERVE 35MM FILM PRINTS FROM THE SOMETHING WEIRD COLLECTION, STARTING WITH THE ZODIAC KILLER Austin, TX - Monday, September 28, 2015 - The American Genre Film Archive (AGFA) announces a new initiative to help preserve and redistribute titles from the Something Weird collection. The non-profit archive - which counts among its board members and advisors filmmakers Nicolas Winding Refn and Paul Thomas Anderson, and Alamo Drafthouse founders Tim and Karrie League - has launched a fundraising campaign via Kickstarter that will enable AGFA to purchase a 4K film scanner. The scanner will be used to create new high definition masters from original film elements in the Something Weird collection, as well as one-of-a-kind rarities in the AGFA archive. Mike Vraney founded Something Weird Video in 1990. Sadly, he passed away in 2014 after a long, heroic battle with lung cancer. Vraney dedicated his life to unearthing and preserving unknown exploitation and horror movies that altered genre film history. Now AGFA has started working with Something Weird's Lisa Petrucci, Mike Vraney's widow and partner, to redistribute titles from the massive 35mm film collection. "Something Weird is thrilled to be working with AGFA," says Lisa Petrucci. "And I truly believe that Mike Vraney would be pleased with this collaboration, knowing that the lost films he rescued from the scrap heap will be forever preserved and shown theatrically to new audiences." The first film that AGFA will preserve is THE ZODIAC KILLER (1971). Shot in San Francisco, the movie was made in hopes of capturing the real-life Zodiac Killer. The plan didn't work. Instead, the most outrageous and compelling "tabloid horror" vortex in the history of planet Earth was unleashed. "THE ZODIAC KILLER is an ultra-bizarro time capsule and a crown jewel in the Something Weird treasure chest that must be seen at all costs," says AGFA advisor Joe Ziemba. "It is a dream come true to be part of the team that is helping Something Weird preserve movies that I've spent my whole life exploring." AGFA wants to raise $30,000 by October 28 to fund this digital preservation and distribution project. Donation levels start at just $5 and go up to a $10,000. Each donation of $15 or more comes with its own unique perk, starting with tickets to see THE ZODIAC KILLER when the new digital transfer screens at Alamo Drafthouse. Depending on the donation level, additional perks range from photocopies of unseen Something Weird promotional materials to the adopting a 35mm film print in the AGFA archive, from the chance to program an Alamo screening to a life-time ticket for Terror Tuesday and Weird Wednesday at the Alamo. Formed in 2009, AGFA focuses on outlaw exploitation movies that were produced from the 1960s through the 1990s - everything from manic hicksploitation epics to bloodthirsty shoestring goreblasts. AGFA has saved 35mm film prints from landfills, incinerators, and from being literally tossed into the ocean. It is a sanctuary for endangered movies. Access is a crucial part of AGFA's preservation mission. Every year, the archive loans hundreds of prints to arthouse institutions, film societies, festivals, universities, and distribution companies for home video release. Every act of heroism that goes into the maintenance of the collection is done by people who believe in AGFA and the future of exploitation film preservation. All of the work at AGFA happens on a shoestring - or no-shoestring - budget. The mission to complete 4K digital transfers of rare movies in the Something Weird library, which can then be easily duplicated and loaned for theatrical use, helps ensure that these nearly-extinct titles can be shared with the largest audience possible and, in effect, truly come alive. For full details, visit: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/agfa/agfa-and-something-weird