Texas natives, David McMichael, 28, and Tanner Hadfield, 29, grew up next to the last video rental store in Abilene, Texas. At the time, it was one of the few places to hang out in their small, conservative town. Now, a decade later, the childhood friends have reignited their love of film through Hyperreal Film Club, a club that creates and features collaborative art experiences, along with fellow curator and film lover, Jenny Kaye, 29, in Austin.
The club’s most recent project, a VHS-Zine titled BABYLON was fully released at Cheer Up Charlies on Dec. 16 and served as a benefit for Grassroots Leadership.
Now going into their 3rd year as an official club, the members of Hyperreal Film Club were not always surrounded by the creative-friendly atmosphere that envelopes them in Austin. Growing up in Abilene, McMichael and Hadfield said they resorted to filming as a hobby to escape the creative black-hole of their hometown.
“Abilene is as conservative as you’d imagine that it is, we didn’t know many people and we went to a super small school,” David said. “So watching movies was our mind-expander and a way to explore ideas that were safe and appropriate.”
After briefly parting ways for college, McMichael and Hadfield found themselves back in Texas, where they had the idea of creating a film club to revisit their shared love of film.
McMichael and Hadfield approached Kaye at the start of Hyperreal Film Club before any content had been produced after seeing her productivity with organizations such as HIVE, a women’s collective in Austin and other film-related organizations.
“I feel so lucky to have met David and Tanner because they’re total yes-men,” Kaye said. “They’re just so incredibly supportive. it’s really great to have a weird drunk 3 a.m. idea and have people that actually go for it.”
Since July 2016 the trio has collaborated with several local artists to create “immersive experiences,” that are not exclusive to film including seasonal series for which they collaborate with local filmmakers, DJs, designers and other creatives that want to contribute or be featured. The film club started in the basement of Co-Lab, a collaborative artist-run exhibition space in downtown Austin but it was closed down due to the building of condominiums, and now the trio works wherever their art takes them including spaces like The Violet Crown and Originator Studios.
“It started originally as just wanting to do screenings and film-related events,” said Kaye.
“Since then it has really been evolving, like in the last year we just threw a bunch of spaghetti at the wall and saw what stuck.”
Although the club is not limited to film, when Hyperreal Film Club started, it was aimed at replicating a feeling that almost palpable in great films but hard to describe; Hyperreal. McMichael said that the term “Hyperreal” describes the feeling of overwhelming one’s senses to create a “phantasmagorical experience.”
We try as much as possible with as much time and money as we have to cater to every sense, and every piece of the experience that we can think of to make it overwhelming. Just all of these things that are immersive.”
Hyperreal film club collaborates with local artists and visionaries to create seasonal series and weekly “immersive” events.
During South by Southwest, the club collaborated with Dan Rudmann of Studium, an arts and education non-profit organization, at Violet Crown to host a three-day long event featuring everything from panels with the city council to film premieres and sound baths, all in the same space. “Film screenings and dance parties or installation concerts with visuals and dancers or like 3-day long festivals, whatever,” said McMichael.
While McMichael, Kaye, and Hadfield are filmmakers themselves, the club’s main goal is forward voices of people that speaking from experience and provide a platform for those whose voices are not normally heard as loud as others. Steering away from movies directed by white men, the club said they want to do their part and work on issues of representation
“As much as possible we try to seek out local filmmakers that are making important, radical, current work and their exploring topics that are on people’s minds currently, especially in Austin,” McMichael said. “For this winter series, they’re all films directed by women.”
The term “Hyperreal” comes from the group’s love for maximalist style movies. Kaye said that while she doesn’t have a favorite genre there are certain “hyperreal” criteria that she feels make up her favorite type of film.
“I don’t think in genre, I think in elements like that, that I really like, like movies about like demented women,” Kaye said. “It’s sort of the same thing of being maximalist but in performance.”
“I love things that are maximalist, so like Holy Mountain or Prospero’s Books,” McMichael said. “Every frame is just so packed full of stuff that’s all glittery and highly choreographed. Films that when you’re watching it, you’re like how the fuck did the director get all of those pieces where they needed to be at the right time to make this thing happen.”
When the trio isn’t fishing through the bins at ILOVEVIDEO for misplaced home videos they call “found footage,” they’re busy filming meme shorts or collaborating on themed shorts.
The group strives to make all of their work as accessible as possible, and the theme of accessibility can be seen in everything they produce. From keeping screenings to five dollar donations and creating an entire series that mindfully avoided films with trigger warnings to creating their pieces on VHS tapes they paid $5 for a “garbage-bag-full” for that otherwise be tossed in the trash.
“Accessibility is a huge thing for us,” Kaye said. “We’re trying to expand that ‘no film school’ mentality and creating a skillshare sort of thing.”
Kaye said that creating accessible viewer experiences is made possible by Austin’s “low-risk” atmosphere for creators.
“Austin is a very low-risk place to try new things, and be experimental and learn,” Kaye said. “I just started making films seriously over the last few years and it was because there were already so many amazing filmmakers here. It can be fairly low-cost to make films here in Austin compared to bigger film cities like New York or LA. That means they have more free time and ability to mentor and collaborate on stuff.”
The collaborations that Kaye mentioned include working with not only filmmakers but creatives across the board. For their first VHS collaborative zine they came up with a topic and opened up the floor for anyone who wanted to contribute videos to the zine, the collaborative effort went so well, they repeated it for their second zine which recently debuted on Dec. 16 at Cheer Up Charlies.
“We asked people to pick from one of three themes; Origin, Apocalypse or Redemption and submit a video of an original work on one of those three,” Kay said, “they could be 15 seconds long, up to four minutes,” “they could be shot on their iPhone, anything. It was right after the election, and it was your sort of reaction, how you were processing this new thing. We got a ton of submissions and Tanner and David hand-dumped them onto old VHS tapes and screened it at Cheer Up Charlies and we raised a thousand dollars for the Austin Justice Coalition.”
The group was recently given a grant to fund their work by the City of Austin Cultural Arts Division. They expressed their excitement to be able to give back to the artists who will contribute to their new winter-series.
“It’s not much,” McMichael said “but we’re able to give everyone a stipend, all the filmmakers, all the DJs, all the people that are doing video work for us. The designers, Eva Claycomb, whose designing all our promo materials, which is great.”
Going into 2018, Hyperreal Film Club hopes to continue expanding their reach and collaborate with Austin creatives with similar goals.
“We are always excited to collaborate and looking for new people to collaborate with, in any way,” Kaye said. We just helped out with a fashion show, and Tanner did the visuals for it, that was something that a year ago we would have imagined doing, but we’re sort of inching our way into a lot of different art scenes here.”
I want Hyperreal to be this umbrella for a lot of other things, and I would love for an arm of that to be a film-making learning collective, and getting anybody to wants to learn to make films or wants to collaborate to make more films, getting together and learning from one another and producing stuff, just putting out a lot of content, and seeing us grow like a production company almost.