Inspired by Jean Rouch and Edgar Morin’s seminal documentary Chronicle of a Summer and the cult TV series An American Family, Cecilia Dougherty’s semi-autobiographical Coal Miner’s Granddaughter tracks the sexual and political awakenings of Jane Dobson, following her from a stifling central Pennsylvania home life to the liberated shores of San Francisco. Yvonne Rainer hailed its nonprofessional performers and improvised dialogue as an epiphany, akin to “taking shards of cinéma vérité and soap opera and trying to fit them together.” The video shares a bill with Tammy Rae Carland’s Jug Town Road, about the artist’s childhood crush on First Daughter Amy Carter that circulated, notably, as part of the first VHS chain-letter release from Miranda July’s Big Miss Moviola (later renamed Joanie 4 Jackie), a DIY distribution initiative for movies made by women and girls. Pixelvision’s boxed-in proportions in both works become, unexpectedly, a fitting frame for grand desires.

Jug Town Road
Tammy Rae Carland, USA, 1995, 4m

Coal Miner’s Granddaughter
Cecilia Dougherty, USA, 1991, 80m

Programmer Thomas Beard on Pixelvision, the “Underappreciated Flipside of ’90s Indie Cinema”:

I bought a PXL 2000 on eBay years ago, back when I was in college, but unfortunately I could never get it to work. The Pixelvision camera was kind of legendary, a plastic camcorder for kids put out by Fisher-Price in the late ’80s that recorded its ghostly, low-res images onto a regular audio cassette. As a toy, the PXL 2000 was rather a bust, yanked from the shelves after only a year—they were too expensive, they were temperamental—but the story of Pixelvision doesn’t end there. It had a look like nothing else, a dreamy visual texture, fuzzy as a faded memory, and the format had a surprise second act in the hands of experimental filmmakers, who used the device to shoot some truly remarkable movies, like Michael Almereyda’s Nadja, a wry riff on the vampire picture, or Sadie Benning’s teenage bedroom tapes, which, in my estimation, are among the most moving and imaginative records of queer adolescence ever made.

Over the years there have been a number of one-off Pixelvision screenings, but nothing this comprehensive, and many of the titles aren’t currently available on DVD or Netflix, so if you’re intrigued by the curious afterlife of the PXL 2000 and the challenging, strangely beautiful films it captured, now’s the time to check them out. Think of this series as the underappreciated flipside of ’90s independent cinema.