A husky construction worker pours a foaming liter of Diet Coke all over his hairy chest and yellow hard hat. Girls munch loudly on jelly beans as glops of colorful slime rain down on them. A woman chain smokes while playing dress up with her dog.
These, and many more textural, dream-like videos make up Hyperreal Film Club’s “Dream Dates,” a video zine released in early 2018. Now, just a year later, Hyperreal will release “Dream Dates Two: Reloaded,” its sixth video zine is ready for release.
“Dream Dates Two” video zine release party, 8 p.m. Feb. 14, Cheer Up Charlie’s
The video zine project started out as a way for Hyperreal organizers and local underground filmmakers to cope with their reaction to the 2016 presidential election and has quickly become one of the group’s signature efforts.
“[Zines] have always been a way for people to get out their ideas who don’t normally have a platform to do so,” says Jenni Kaye, one of Hyperreal’s founders. “That’s why (our project) being birthed out of the election was a great opportunity, because the whole world was so saturated with thought, and this was a different way to interact with people’s emotions about ‘the tragedy.’”
The digital video submissions are dubbed onto recycled VHS tapes that are then decorated with original art stickers. And the analog VHS tapes are like candy for nostalgic millennials and almost always sell out, despite the fact that very few people still own VCR players.
Since its start two years ago Hyperreal Film Club has been busy playfully yet earnestly disrupting Austin’s film scene with experiential events including its video zine releases, private home screenings, short film premieres, and most recently, live score pop-up events. For its founders — the 30-year-old Kaye along with David McMichael and Tanner Hadfield, both 29 — the organization started out of a desire for more interactive programming, as opposed to what they call the “sit down, shut up, escapist” model of many film presenting organizations.
“Film is just such a good collective jumping off point. It’s something that everybody is tapped into in some shape or form,” says Hadfield.
McMichael adds: “Each of our screenings is able to offer a dedicated time and space for amateur filmmakers to show their work in front of an audience, which was something that we hadn’t really seen at other types of events here in Austin at the time.”
Hyperreal builds its community around the experience of film viewing, adding social elements to screenings like exhibits of film-related artwork, live original music, and pop-up shopping. The idea, the founding trio proposed, was that Hyperreal itself would become a genre, influenced by art house and genre-based films. Among its first screenings the 1970s surrealist-fantasy film “Holy Mountain,” the 1960s Czech comedy-drama “Daisies” and John Carpenter’s “Prince of Darkness.”
At first, Hyperreal staged screenings in the basement of now-defunct DEMO Gallery, an art space that was operated by Co-Lab Projects, in an empty building on Congress Avenue.
“I think they’ve done a really good job at taking cinematic experiences and bringing them to audiences all over the city, whether that’s downtown in the basement of DEMO, across town at (the Museum of Human Achievement space), or in people’s backyards as private home viewing screenings,” says Sean Gaulager, executive director and curator of Co-Lab Projects, which also serves Hyperreal’s fiscal sponsor. “They’ve really found a way to bring content to all kinds of spaces and audiences.”
Kaye, who is also the founder of HIVE Arts Collective, says cult films and indie movies are more accessible to attendees who may not be film buffs, in a living room environment,. Likewise, Hyperreal has intentionally avoided more traditional screening practices such as reading a detailed biography about the film before a viewing. Instead, they might opt for reading loosely related poems or written ephemera found online. Before the “Daisies” screening, for example, McMichael jokingly read a review of frozen Twinkies from the Walmart website.
“Our goal has always been for everything to have a very low barrier of entry,” he says. “We don’t want to present anything esoteric, like it’s a pedestaled art object. Some people are kind of irritated that we don’t give context for the films, but it’s a choice that we have made.”
As Hyperreal gained initial popularity, film license holders took notice, though. In 2017, the group received a cease and desist letter for attempting to show British noir classic “The Third Man.”
Hadfield, who is in charge of licensing, says locating license holders can sometimes be an overly complex process, but that it’s worth it to help support underground filmmaking.
“We were showing movies in a basement trying to have fun,” says Hadfield. “I think getting in trouble for showing movies is the thing that started us on the path of becoming more organized cause we were like, ‘Oh, fuck, this is getting big enough that people are actually looking at what we do’.”
Now, though, Hyperreal obtains proper licensing while trying not to spend large amounts of money on fees.
Collective and DIY organizations often collapse when the lack of funds or imposition of a formal organizational structure put too much pressure on work/friend relationships. The good-natured Hyperreal trio — who have varied backgrounds in community organizing, grant writing and event planning — say the secret is taking advantage of the opportunity to scratch the creative itches they don’t get to scratch in other parts of their lives.
“I think it’s about not being afraid to throw a bunch of spaghetti at the wall and see what sticks. We weren’t super concerned from the start about, like, what’s our mission statement,” says Kaye. “It was really just day by day decisions of what we wanted to do and what we wanted to try out.”
Adds McMichael: “I think we all very implicitly trust each other’s aesthetics and intention. We have a lot of common threads that run between all three of us.”
In addition to “Dream Dates Two: Reloaded,” Hyperreal will host three screenings of the seventies animated sci-fi flick “Fantastic Planet” on Feb. 9 at The Austin School of Film. Spearheaded by Kaye, the event features a score performed by a live band and a totally immersive experience.
“We picked films that we truly loved, rather than a film that we were like, ‘This could be improved by a better score,’” she says. “It was more just like, ‘We want to get inside this movie and completely live in it.’”
Hyperreal hopes to expand in the coming year, as it files for non-profit organizational status, a move that will free them up to apply for more grants. Programming on the horizon include brainstorming ways to celebrate local female video artists in a gallery show, a dance party series called SimLife, and a dinner party event.
“I want more artistic community here, to make sure Austin stays our city as it gets bigger and bigger,” says Hadfield, and laughs. “And I want a helicopter in the shape of my head.”
“Fantastic Planet Live Score” screens 5 p.m., 7:45 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. Feb. 9 at Austin School of Film