Access-ive Viewing

TV Eye

The Duke in all his glory: Filmmaker Brian Huberman's documentary John Wayne's Alamo will be shown at ACAC's Main studio as part of their 24th anniversary celebration.

The Stations Formerly Known as ACTV (geez, how long can we get mileage off that joke!), now known less melodiously as ACAC, Austin Community Access Center, turns 24 years old this year. Carried by the local Time Warner cable system on channels 10, 11, and 16, ACAC is planning a two-hour live cablecast from their main studios (June 7, 5pm, Ch 16) to celebrate.

As part of the broadcast programming, winning videos from the Austin Video Awards will be shown and winners will be presented with their awards live - yes, you producers have a little more time before the 5pm May 27 deadline to submit entries. Ten categories for in- and out-of-house programs are offered, and three awards will be presented in each category (judging guidelines state that a minimum of six entries must be present to be judged, a good standard for competition). Submissions must be entered on 1/2" VHS tape with a $5 entry fee; programs must have aired on ACAC channels 10,11, or 16 between February 1996 and May 1997 to be eligible. Awards given will be in the form of Producer's IDs.

Besides honoring the AVA winners, ACAC's brithday programming will include screenings of British filmmaker Brian Huberman's 1992 documentary John Wayne's Alamo, a 70-minute account of the actor's efforts to make the 1960 epic film. Huberman's newest film The Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Documentary, which "follows the production of Kim Henkel's recent, and still unreleased, re-make of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre," will also be presented at ACAC's main studio at 11am and 1pm, and Huberman will be on-hand for post-viewing discussion. (Admission is $2 for the public; $1 for access producers and students. Call 478-8600 for more information.)

Ya gotta hand it to the folks at ACAC for having been so persistent over the years in keeping this vision alive. Before MTV entered our lives, ACAC (then ACTV) gave us music programming such as Videot's Choice and Segway City, and endless short-lived experiemental programs that featured local and national acts in the nascent days of American video. And it wasn't just music - anyone else out there remember the wildly hilarious Carmen Banana Cooking Show?

When I would visit my folks and in-laws in places like Seattle and San Francisco during vacations and holidays, I would search in vain for similar programming - surely the West Coast would have equally oddball public access channels but no, it was pretty dull fare. Oh sure, you could see naked talk shows in New York, etc. but that's what you expect in New York - shock value. What we had (only on channel 10 in those days) was truly unique.

Now, this brave and eccentric vision of television by and for the people has become the standard for other access channels across the country. Sometimes the quality of programming pushes the boundaries of good taste but then, somebody's got to lower the standard occasionally, if only to remind us where we draw the line individually. I have watched some of the most god-awful, moronic programming ever on those channels, back-to-back, with some of the most heartfelt, exuberant efforts seen anywhere. That kind of inspiration doesn't come easily and credit is due to so many people over the years there, it would be unfair to name even a few - it's easier to point to the improvisational spirit of shows like Dave Prewitt's Raw Time and CapZeyeZ as examples.

No one who has followed my writing over the years will be surprised by my music-centric frame of reference for ACAC (or any other TV programming). Austin's vibrant music provided impetus and material for aspiring video producers. When the amount of ACAC's musical footage aired is bolstered with the 24-hour programming of the Austin Music Network (AM15), the scope of talent and performers in Austin and Texas available for television viewing becomes truly astonishing.

This comes to mind because Ester Matthews at AM15 sent me an e-mail in response to my comments last week about their programming. The list of new shows is indeed impressive; Matthews notes more than two dozen shows that have been added to AM15's schedule as well as 11 new shows slated for airing. This adds six new hours of programming betwen May 18 and 31, in addition to the numerous genre video shows (which are among my favorites - lots and lots of hip-hop and alternative videos that will never see the light of an MTV day).

Matthews also points out that the bulk of Armadillo Homecoming and Austin Acoustic Music Festival footage has been "retired." This is good news but also goes to show how lingering impressions last - I often leave AM15 on the two TV sets in my home as I am doing chores and cleaning. It's sort of like visual radio, maybe what MTV was originally envisioned as. And like radio, the shows often fit together in a neat little background until a soaring guitar solo, a haunting vocal, or an irrestible beat make me stop, turn around, and say to myself, "Who's that?"

And that's the good part. It's easy to play armchair critic but it's much harder to recognize the inherent difficulty in putting together programs that will showcase and promote the enormous variety of music within Austin's grasp. Television may be the most common of mediums for our society today - the Internet will have a long way to go to match it.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

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