Member Spotlight: Beyond Video
We’ve all seen beloved brick and mortar arts and culture spaces disappear. Record stores and bookstores have closed, nightclubs and theaters have shuttered, and indie movie theaters have folded. When these physical spaces close, we lose community centers and places to truly nerd out about what we love. We lose places to discover niche media and art and to connect with one another. That’s why when beloved Baltimore video store Video Americain was closing down, Kevin Coelho, Greg Golinski, and Eric Hatch tried to save it. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to. So instead, they built something else.
Beyond Video is a volunteer-run home-video library with over 21,000 movies, owned and operated by the Baltimore Video Collective. The collective “is dedicated to the continued growth and circulation of a world-class home-video collection representing cinema of all eras, regions, and genres on the DVD, blu-ray, and VHS formats.”
They share the history of Beyond Video, why a physical video store matters in the age of streaming, the benefits of a volunteer-based model, and, of course, what movies they’re watching.
What are the origins of Beyond Video? What inspired you to create it and how did you get started?
We initially formed about 7 years ago in an attempt to save a beloved independent video store here in Baltimore, Video Americain (which you can see here, as featured in John Waters’s film “Serial Mom”). We’d all spent countless great hours there as customers, employees, and managers, and we wanted to keep it going. Our hope was to raise enough funds to buy most or all of the collection at either of their two Baltimore locations, and then continue to operate it as a nonprofit.
We didn’t succeed in making a deal to buy one of those stores, so instead we began building a new collection from scratch, starting with items from our personal collections and then putting out a public call for donations. The crowdsourcing response was overwhelmingly positive, and over time it became clear that we had the core of a worthy new collection. We opened the doors of Beyond Video in 2018 with not quite 9,000 movies, and through both a modest ordering budget for new releases and continuing to take DVD and blu-ray donations to bolster our back catalog, we’ve more than doubled that collection to 21,000+ movies in less than three years. Just as importantly, we feel we’ve done a great job of rekindling the look and atmosphere of a great independent video store, with lots of posters and memorabilia, movie books and zines, intriguing films on the TV, and non-stop movie talk.
Photo credit: Bruce Willen
Beyond Video is operated by the Baltimore Video Collective. What does collectivity mean to you and how does it show up in your operations?
A few things: a recognition that the old-school video store needed a new, progressive business model to reinvent itself for the digital age; that no one person can afford to do all the work or take all the risk of a venture like this in the 2020s; that, in fact, an operation like this needs to be a volunteer passion project rather than a money-making venture; that video stores fulfilled a huge community cultural need that’s been left largely vacant by streaming services; and that filling that need as a nonprofit, volunteer-run library has great value even if it may not seem to compute when evaluated strictly in the context of the capitalist profit motive.
Why is a physical film and video rental place important in an age of streaming and endless content?
For so many reasons! For starters, access to film culture. There’s this false promise that every movie and show ever made is available online at the click of a button, but the reality is that there are so many great works that aren’t available anywhere online. In fact, what’s available on streaming services is just the tip of the iceberg. This is especially true in regards to international cinema, independent cinema of a film-festival profile, and films older than the 1980’s (let alone the silent and classic eras). Anyone who questions this just needs to walk into Beyond Video or any surviving video store; you’ll instantly be surrounded by great movies you forgot existed because no streaming service is plugging them.
Secondly, streaming services are getting more and more fragmented–usually along the lines of which corporation owns what, which is a pretty boring topic for the average consumer. Nonetheless, people without access to a good physical media library suddenly have to educate themselves about whether a title is currently handled by Amazon or Netflix or Hulu or HBO or Disney or Paramount or Apple or Peacock etc. etc. with no guarantee the title will still be there (or anywhere online) the next time they look for it. And the more these streaming catalogs splinter, the higher the cost, because each service comes with its own subscription fee. We gather every single film we can under one roof.
Perhaps most importantly, Beyond Video delivers a fulfilling IRL experience. Browsing for movies online is dreary and exhausting. Who hasn’t had the experience of endlessly scrolling for something to watch, only to settle for something unexciting or even give up completely? That’s wasted time. Meanwhile, browsing in a physical space is exciting and enriching. Just like in a great record store or bookstore, people love spending time browsing in Beyond Video. They usually leave not only with great movies in hand but also ideas of new directors or genres or regions of cinema they want to pursue next time. There’s also the potential for great in-person conversations and recommendations, and we have them in Beyond every day. Every person on both sides of the counter is there for the same reasons: we love movies, and we value spaces like this.
How do your rental and membership operations work?
We’ve tried to remove money from the equation as much as possible; for instance, we have no individual rental fees, and no late fees. Instead, members make donations to maintain and grow Beyond Video through Fractured Atlas, and receive as a perk borrowing privileges from our library of 21,000+ DVDs, blu-rays, and VHS tapes. From that point forward, as long as everyone returns everything they borrow, we’re a cashless library for them–one that looks and feels like an old-school independent video store.
What challenges have you run into with Beyond Video? How have you approached them?
Quite a few! Burnout is real when everyone involved has their own day job(s) in addition to volunteering their time and labor here. We were served a few curveballs during early on: first, the sale of our building (which fortuitously was bought by an enthusiastic Beyond Video member); second, our initial nonprofit fiscal sponsor getting out of the fiscal sponsorship game (luckily, we saw this coming, and had proactively reached out to Fractured Atlas prior to the old sponsor notifying us). Bigger picture, we also didn’t anticipate a global pandemic (not over, y’all! We don’t claim to be doctors or scientists, but we believe in science, vaccines, and masks here at Beyond).
As with anything in life, we just make and execute plans as best as we can, and respond as best as possible when the unexpected does arise.
How has Fractured Atlas and fiscal sponsorship more broadly supported your work?
It’s a new partnership, but it’s off to a great start. With our previous fiscal sponsor, responsiveness was not ideal and it sometimes felt like we had to do somersaults to access our funds. Ideally, a fiscal sponsor gives an organization like ours a stable foundation through which donations flow and those funds are accessed, so we can focus less on red tape and more on our mission. Fractured Atlas has been doing just that.
Kevin and Eric making a guest appearance on the Female Gayze podcast
What movies are you watching these days?
Eric: We’ve recently had a huge influx of titles at Beyond Video from the boutique labels Arrow and Vinegar Syndrome, which specialize in deluxe editions of esoteric cult movies. I’ve really been enjoying exploring their catalogs, and it’s inspiring what care they take releasing films that might otherwise languish. I also recently rewatched the films of two of my favorite directors, Tsai Ming-liang and Bi Gan for podcast appearances, and revisiting their work was very rewarding. Both directors have a very painterly sense of composition and move the viewer through time and space in really unique ways that only cinema can deliver. Finally, I’ve also been going back to the theater after more than a year away, seeing things like “Zola,” “The Green Knight,” “Summer of Soul,” and the Baltimore-made documentary “All Light, Everywhere.”
Kevin: Lately I’ve been deep diving into classic Shaw Brothers martial arts films from the 1970’s and westerns from any era. I tend to designate each month into a different theme. Which leads to some interesting challenges for myself. It forces me to seek out movies that fit that particular theme. It can be very rewarding. Everyone should try it, I guarantee you’ll find some gems! July is “Cinephile’s Christmas,” aka Barnes & Noble’s 50% off bi-annual Criterion sale, so I’ve been going through this month’s haul. Rewatching some absolute favorites such as “The Gunfighter,” “Streetwise,” “Bringing Up Baby,” “Pickup on South Street,” and “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.” Film Movement is another label that puts out some fantastic things. “Ice Cold in Alex,” “Time to Die,” “Passport to Pimlico,” “The Maggie,” and “Once Were Warriors” are all very recommended.
Greg: I’ve been trying to chase a sense of wonder lately. Comfort food and found family goodness like watching a couple of Miyazaki films like “Spirited Away” and “Porco Rosso,” and something big but wondrous like “Mad Max: Fury Road,” but also some smaller things that have some of that magic like Crystal Moselle’s “Skate Kitchen” or Bill Forsyth’s “Local Hero.” Warm favorites in troubling times.
Any upcoming relevant dates we should know about?
We’re about to celebrate our third anniversary! CDC guidelines permitting, we’re going to throw a movie-themed dance party in conjunction with our next-door neighbors The Ottobar and DJ Mills in late November or early December (exact date TBD). We also use our anniversaries as an opportunity to amplify the fact that we’re a crowdsourced library with a national call for donations. Every dollar or disc helps us serve our community even better. We constantly update several wish lists of titles we’re hoping to add to our collection. Anyone reading this can send us one or more of the movies we need, or make it dealer’s choice and donate funds for our project through Fractured Atlas!
Follow Beyond Video on their website, as well as on Instagram and Facebook. To support their work, you can donate movies or support them through their Fractured Atlas fundraising page!
About Nina Berman
Nina Berman is an arts industry worker and ceramicist based in New York City, currently working as Associate Director, Communications and Content at Fractured Atlas. She holds an MA in English from Loyola University Chicago. At Fractured Atlas, she shares tips and strategies for navigating the art world, interviews artists, and writes about creating a more equitable arts ecosystem. Before joining Fractured Atlas, she covered the book publishing industry for an audience of publishers at NetGalley. When she's not writing, she's making ceramics at Centerpoint Ceramics in Brooklyn.