Bart Weiss Looks Back at 35 Years of Dallas VideoFest, Before Its Last Hurrah This Fall

When he launched his first VideoFest in 1986, fuzzy low-res videos required huge shoulder-mounted cameras. Today you can slip a movie studio in your pocket. Weiss has championed video arts for the whole long, crazy ride.

From his days as a “VJ” at On the Air bar on Lower Greenville in the early 1980s, Bart Weiss has been Dallas’ greatest champion of video arts, films, and experiences. In 1986 he gave video’s early promise a boost by launching Dallas VideoFest—an annual showcase of offbeat works of visual art and film.

Now, after 35 years of VideoFests—which tracked the staggering arc of the medium from low-res shoulder cams to movie studios you can slip in your pocket—Weiss has announced that VideoFest will soon be no more. His last, four-day festival will begin its run on Sept. 20th. 

We reached out to Weiss to see how his announcement landed; how video has changed since the days of Devo and the Pet Shop Boys; the moments he’ll never forget; and the legacy he leaves behind.

Throwback photo of Bart Weiss in early days of Dallas VideoFest [Photo: Bart Weiss]

A time when film festivals were rare

When Weiss launched VideoFest in 1986, the Dallas Film Festival was about the only other game in town. Today the Dallas Film Commission boasts 22 local film festivals, from EarthXFilm to Black Cinematheque to the Asian Film Festival of Dallas, as the Dallas Observer notes in its nice writeup on Weiss.

“What we set out to do was seeing things that are beyond the margin, just going beyond the first six pages on Netflix to find something more interesting,” Weiss told the D.O., just after announcing that his next VideoFest would be the last.

Weiss has never met a screen he didn’t like. [Photo: Bart Weiss]

Inundated by best wishes and support

Since Weiss’s announcement, he’s been inundated with best wishes and support.

“I’ve heard from people all over the world, some famous to others, many famous to us,” Weiss told Dallas Innovates. “It’s been amazing and very emotional for me.”

Video has come a long way

Weiss says that back in 1986, he couldn’t imagine the world of video today.

“Small format video was low resolution,” he said.”Now a mobile phone can shoot 8K video. Heck, back in the day high-definition video required a big truck full of gear.”

Behind the scenes at the Dallas VideoFest [Photo: Bart Weiss]

Weiss’s greatest VideoFest moments

We asked Weiss for his proudest VideoFest moment.

“Probably the first time we did expanded cinema, having people create original works for the Omni Hotel wall while playing the sound tracks on KXT radio,” he said.

Other bracing scenes from the last 35 years kept popping up in Weiss’s memory.

“The Metropolis event with live dance and live score at the Moody Performance Hall. Steve Allen and John Wiley Price talking about comedy at the DMA. Getting to know Al Maysles.”

Bart won’t rest on his laurels after this fall. He’ll be teaching a new class on mobile storytelling at UT Arlington, where he’s an associate professor. He’s creating amazing mobile storytelling himself, like his new project Firebones. And he has other films to finish.

Weiss’s advice: don’t settle

So what’s the legacy that VideoFest leaves behind? The idea that people can always find cooler, edgier, more revealing video and film experiences.

“There are more choices than you think to watch,” Weiss said. “Most people settle when turning on the remote. Video should inspire, not kill time.”

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