Baltimore Video Collective hopes to start an easily accessible nonprofit video library in the city

With streaming services such as Netflix on the rise and local video stores-including Baltimore's own Video Americain-struggling to stay open, a new group, the Baltimore Video Collective, hopes to start an easily accessible nonprofit video library in the city. Before the group's Dec. 1 launch party, featuring music from Horse Lords, Peals, and DJ Secret Weapon Dave, comedy from Mickey Freeland and Ben O'Brien, and video work by Alan Resnick and O'Brien, we talked to two of the collective's six founding members, Eric Hatch and Scott Braid, about their plans for the project.

City Paper: So if I have this right, this is almost like a video store-library hybrid kind of thing. Is that right?

Eric Hatch: The public will receive it very much like a video store. It's the spirit behind the store that gives it more of a library sense. If you can imagine someone like Red Emma's running a video store, that's sort close to the spirit of what we have-not in the curation of the videos, I'm not saying it's going to be a politically oriented place, but we want it to be a collective.

Scott Braid: We're also taking suggestions from the community and trying to have a very complete library of films.

EH: Basically our fear is that there will be moment where video stores, particularly ones that have an art-house focus, will disappear in Baltimore. We both work for the Maryland Film Festival, [and] I think it's safe to say our well of knowledge of films and our love of films came from both of us working at video stores and being customers at video stores. It's a real loss to the city if they disappear. The financial situation is changing so that, I think, to survive, video stores need to look at a nonprofit model or look at different ways to define themselves to make them sustainable, and that's what we'd like to do.

CP: Was there something in particular that inspired this idea?

SB: Basically the idea sort of came together around the closing of the Charles Village Video Americain. There was a group of concerned people that wanted to jump into action to see if we could do anything to prevent that from happening or salvage the store. Out of that, this idea sort of sprang.

EH: That was a collection-we both used to work there-that was important to everybody in the collective. Working there, you know what a great destination-not just a neighborhood video store, but a destination-for people from Pennsylvania, Virginia, that store was, because it was a collection that was built over 15 years and it was built by people who really care about movies. It was a wonderland, really, for a film lover.

SB: It was also a great place for artists to come together and a great place for an exchange of ideas: impromptu conversations in the store, people recommending films to each other, bouncing ideas off of each other. And we don't want to see the kind of special atmosphere that provides be lost to the community.

EH: We're trying to come up with something that I think would be a sustainable model. With a nonprofit structure, all the money would go back into building and sustaining this collection, which is something that, if you have private ownership, you can't.

CP: Doesn't this put you up against the Roland Park store, though?

EH: It may. Basically, the gist behind this was to build a collection so Baltimore doesn't go without a store like this. Barry [Solan], the owner of Video Americain, will sometimes speculate about the future of Video Americain, and when he does, it's usually not rosy. We're trying to come up with something that I think would be a sustainable model. With a non-profit structure, all the money would go back into building and sustaining this collection, which is something that, if you have private ownership, you can't [do]. There are also neighborhoods in Baltimore, particularly Station North, that are thriving and don't have easy access to that Roland Park collection. If Video Americain continues, which I hope it will, there are ways we can define ourselves, I think, that would be complementary. Everybody would win.

CP: Do you have a space in mind? You mentioned Station North.

EH: We don't have a specific space yet.

SB: We're still a ways away from that. We've just gotten through the process of getting fiscal sponsorship, from the Greater Homewood Community Corporation. This upcoming event is sort of our coming-out party making people aware we're around and starting the wheels rolling on building a collection.

EH: Between our personal donations, an estate sale purchase, and a couple of other things we've done online, we probably have about a thousand titles. And you don't want to open a video store with a thousand titles; you want to open a video store with maybe four or five thousand titles. Setting it up so we can accept donations through PayPal and getting this launch party going could help us, in six-to-nine months, be where we want to be.

CP: Why is it important for you guys to have physical media when, as we in the newspaper business know, everything is going away from that?

EH: Part of it is what Scott was speaking to, creating an atmosphere where people want to be. You see record stores endure. I think about record stores a lot when I think about this project because, in 2000, if you said there were going to be five places selling used vinyl in Hampden, people would say you're crazy. But look at it now, there are so many wonderful places to do that. And I think that's sort of what we want.

SB: You can't replace human interaction. You can't replace the physical object. Some of these companies , like the Criterion Collection, make such beautiful packaging. We want people to not only come in and have interactions with those people [working the store] but also behold what is in itself an art object and just be able to have a physical experience and something greater than sitting on your home computer pushing buttons.

EH: It can be pleasurable shopping online, but it's just not comparable to shopping in person - the random factor of the conversation you might have with a clerk that suggests something that leads you down a whole other wormhole.

SB: The possibility of discovery and the curation are the two biggest things. You just don't get that, not anywhere that I've seen, on the internet.

CP: It seems like you got a lot of different disciplines for the show. It's cross-dimensional.

EH: A reflection, I think, of people being excited about this project, people not wanting video stores to disappear. And also just understanding that it's people in the community who are making this.. The fact that Horse Lords and these people are supporting us shows people want us and trust us to deliver it, I guess.

SB: We want to serve a lot of different areas of the community. I think the response of a lot of different areas of the community is starting to reflect that.

This is a more complete version of the interview that ran on page 25 of the Nov. 28 edition.