Exclusive Interview with Scarecrow Video Part II

By Joan Amenn

This is Part II of my exclusive interview with Executive Director Kate Barr and Development Director John O’Connor of Scarecrow Video (http://blog.scarecrow.com/), a Pacific Northwest icon for nearly thirty years. In the following, we discuss some favorite Scarecrow memories and defying the laws of physics in the pursuit of film archive expansion.

We at the League are focused on women contributors in the industry. In your latest newsletter you recommended a list of 50 films by women directors. Thank you for that recognition and can you talk about your favorite film directed by a woman this year?

John: “First Cow.” I think that was my favorite film of the year. It was hard to enjoy anything in 2020 for some reason but it blew me away. I think it was a big favorite among the Scarecrow employees.

Kate:  This year I’ve become kind of obsessed with pre-code movies. There was a wonderful documentary that came out I think last year called “Be Natural,” which is about Alice Guy-Blache, who is basically the person who created narrative filmmaking. [Ed. Note: The film is titled “Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blache” and was directed by Pamela B. Green.] Except that she got no credit for doing it. It’s usually D.W. Griffith that gets that attribution. He ripped a ton of stuff off of her and she was the one who was the founder of it.

Going back to early cinema, it was kind of a free for all. Because it was really considered very low brow, they didn’t care if women did things like write and direct so women had much more of a hand in the silent era and even into the early pre-code stuff. It was later that they get ignored. In the case of Alice Guy-Blache, she literally got erased from history. The French filmmakers who would record who directed her films would assign it to her cinematographer. It’s astounding!

One of the most amazing things about Scarecrow for me is that by the laws of physics, you should not be able to contain as many titles as you do. How can that possibly be?

Kate: It’s an endless, endless tasks but we have one guy who happens to be very good at Tetris so he helps us figure out how to create more space!

So much history and so many years; do you have a favorite Scarecrow memory?

Kate: Two stories; I was up at the screening room, doing some work and I looked over and noticed that a gentleman was walking in with a little boy, probably about ten years old maybe. They walked in and stopped right in the doorway, which is what caught my attention. They’re just standing there and the gentleman is explaining what we are, and the little boy is looking all around and as he’s looking his eyes are getting bigger and bigger. And he sees the upper level, and then he’s like, “Oh! Its’s a movie palace!” And I was like, “YES! You get it! We’re a movie palace!”

That’s one of my favorites but another one is I was interviewing someone for a position that we had and she had come in with another woman who wasn’t particularly into movies but had given her a ride. She was wandering around just to kill time. As it turns out, she had been named after a character in a Jimmy Stewart movie that her mom saw in the theater when she was pregnant. She was in her late 40’s, early 50’s. Her whole life she had wanted to see this movie and was never able to find it. So, she’s roaming around and she decides she’ll ask, we probably won’t have it. Sure enough, we had a European import of the movie that had never been released in the United States. A couple of years after her visit it was released, but she was able to check it out and we explained to her how to watch an import movie. After forty odd years she was finally able to see her namesake!

John: For me it’s more of a generalized feeling. Whenever I’m interacting with Scarecrow fans, just hearing them say, “I never thought I’d see this again” and it takes them back to a point in their life, it reminds me of the importance of what we do. Personally, a long time before joining Scarecrow, I was a customer. Around 2005, I discovered the Scarecrow Video Movie Guide which as concurrent with my first visit to Scarecrow. It blew my mind. It really changed the way I looked for movies, I read about movies, I learned about movies. Long before I ever became a part of Scarecrow it has been a formative part of my cultural understanding. My favorite memories of Scarecrow are as a customer and how cool the staff are; it’s kind of a judgement free zone. Film itself is a democratic medium and we have it all, the high art, the low art, the whole spectrum. Everybody on staff enjoys pieces of it and they are just excited to connect to people with movies. I was a part of that and I am eternally grateful for what Scarecrow has introduced me to and continues to.

“Whenever I’m interacting with Scarecrow fans, just hearing them say, “I never thought I’d see this again” and it takes them back to a point in their life, it reminds me of the importance of what we do.”

Quick last question, what is the plan for 2021?

John: Well, we would like to build on the success of some of the transitions to online programming. It’s been nice to have people who are Scarecrow fans who are out of the area join us for our film discussions and such. In January we have the new Scarecrow Movie Club, which is kind of like a book club but for movies. The films are chosen by past participants and we have discussions every Saturday in January. In February we are going to continue with something called Scarecrow Academy which started in the screening room by one of our board members who is a long-time film critic, Robert Horton. He picks a subject and then picks a menu of movies on that subject. In the screening room we would show them and have a discussion before and after. Now we’re asking folks to view the films on their own; they can either rent them from us, rent them by mail, or we provide streaming links. In February he’s starting a semester of Scarecrow Academy on film noir. The line up is really cool so folks should sign up for our newsletter to get more information about that. This is all free and open to everyone.

2020 and 2021 feel like huge question marks so it’s really kind of hard to make plans but for the foreseeable future we would like to have some sort of digital analog for the Silver Screeners programming, which would probably be something like Zoom discussions. We are continuing with original content; the staff have been working hard to put together really cool stuff. We just kicked off Scarecrow Radio last year, which is a podcast that is kind of like a “This American Life” sort of thing, only with movies. It’s a grab bag every couple of weeks, fueled by contributions by staff and fans. We have a YouTube show called “Viva Physical Media” which longtime staff members Kevin and Emily do and it also is a grab bag. It’s stuff that if I were not a part of Scarecrow I would just love, because it’s something to expand your “To watch” list. Every time I listen or watch either of those, my list gets longer and longer. We had big plans for 2020 and hopefully we will be doing those now. We will be doing a fundraiser the first quarter of 2021 to build on the things we’ve been talking about. It would expand our rental by mail capacity by tenfold if we are able to do what we are envisioning.

Be sure to check out Scarecrow Video and their programs at http://blog.scarecrow.com/.

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