Film by SF Diggers / Free City Collective
Spring 1968 (Equinox to Solstice)

[Nowsreal, 1968, San Francisco: Free City Collective, run time: 40 min.]

A Filmic Odyssey with Nowsreal 

The first time I saw Nowsreal was at one of the collating parties that Peter and Judy Berg held in their home in San Francisco's outer Noe Valley neighborhood after they had started Planet Drum. This was when Planet Drum was a periodic bundle of printed communiqués sent in from far-flung correspondents to the central burgeoning bioregional network that the Bergs would compile and send back out in odd-sized envelopes always with the iconic Sami shaman figure printed on the outside of the bundle. Later, Planet Drum would become a Foundation and Office with an agenda of projects that (to this day) informs the bioregional movement—itself partly an offshoot of the Digger movement that first coalesced around the daily Free Feeds in the Panhandle—that 10-block long green strip that played a similar role that public commons have traditionally provided in the formation of underground and alternative cultures throughout history.

Over the years, numerous opportunities arose for the showing of the "digger film". When Samurai Bob got back to San Francisco in 1976 with Jane Quattlander, they would borrow Peter and Judy's copy (the only one in existence) and show it on Haight Street at the Red Victorian, that little cinema where the only seating was a series of deep cushion couches, more like an intimate bedroom than a movie house. Or they would take it to one of the anti-nuclear events to raise awareness of the dangers of Diablo Canyon or Vallecitos or any of the other nuclear facilities in California, including Livermore Labs where the latest nuclear weapons were developed. Somehow, the showing of Nowsreal was a catharsis from the frightening idea of nuclear annihilation.

Inevitably at these events, the increasingly brittle film would break in the middle of the showing. Bob would carefully splice the two ends (cutting off a small piece on either side) and tape the whole back together. Slowly over many showings, cherished scenes from Nowsreal were disappearing from historical view. In 1978, after coming into a small windfall of cash, I called Peter and suggested that I would like to fund the printing of a brand new copy of Nowsreal if such a thing were possible. For some years, Peter had called me "digger archivist" so he approved the idea wholeheartedly. I made arrangements with the Hollywood producer who kept the original positive print in his vault to have a 16-mm copy made.

Within a few months, the call came to bring this new copy of Nowsreal out of the darkness and into the light. Country Joe McDonald was planning a film festival on the Cal campus in Berkeley. He had contacted Peter Berg who contacted me to see if I would take the new (complete) 16-mm print to have it shown at Wheeler Auditorium. I'll never forget the event which was one of those moments that the Universe throws each of our ways to keep changing perspectives. The audience was a young Berkeley crowd and all that implies in terms of diverse and vocal frames of reference. This was 1979, barely more than a decade since the events that Nowsreal depicted. Up to this time, all the Nowsreal showings I'd attended had been mostly counterculture crowds. I knew I wasn’t on Haight Street any longer when a slow hissing started in the audience during the scene at the Straight Theater where the camera focuses at certain points on the women dressing and undressing for their exercise class. The biggest reaction was during the scene at a remote garbage dump when some of the men on their motorcycles go for gun practice and chop talk. A sizeable chunk of the Berkeley crowd got up and left the theater at this point. That was the last time I brought the print out to show.

Fortunately the invention of VHS and the introduction of the first commercial VCR by the Japanese corporation JVC in 1976 would solve the problem of scarcity of an archival resource. In the early 1980s Peter Berg introduced me to Kelly Hart, the filmmaker who had done the camera work and editing of Nowsreal. Kelly had gotten a call from a British film group working on a film retrospective of the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album. The film would be released on June 1, 1987, two decades after the original release of the Beatles album. The title of the film, “It Was Twenty Years Ago Today,” referred to one of the lines from the album’s title cut, as well as the planned release of the film. The British producers wanted to look at Nowsreal to see if there was footage they could use (it turned out there wasn’t.) Since I had this virgin (nearly) copy of Nowsreal, it was arranged that I would take it to Diner Studios in San Francisco where the producers would pay to have VHS master copies made, one for Kelly, one for them, and one for the Digger archive. It’s that VHS master copy from which myriad number of copies were made. At one point, as part of the ongoing effort of the Digger Archive to re-release Digger texts, we made several dozen copies of the VHS tape (with specially designed cover graphic) and distributed them by hand at solstice and equinox celebrations. Samurai Bob would have been proud of the effort his enthusiasm had spawned.

Then came the Internet. In 1991, I saw a demonstration of the World Wide Web by Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of HTML, at a professional conference I was attending. When I got home, the first thing I did was to start working on a web page for the Digger Archives. At that point there were maybe a hundred web sites in the world. The idea behind the online archive was to provide access to rare materials to inform and inspire a generation who had never known the Diggers. That’s still its main purpose. Finally after many false starts trying to get Nowsreal converted into web format, it’s done. The quality is not as good as it could be (in my perfectionist's estimation.) This is after all a fourth generation copy of the original. Perhaps someday I'll figure out a better way.

—epn 2014-08-13

Text of the Free City proclamation depicted in Nowsreal on the steps of San Francisco City Hall, Apr 25 1968.


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