Shortly after the 1968 arrival of the first camcorder capable of producing video and sound for immediate playback, a collective of like minded artists, amateur journalists, and rabble-rousers established what would have been an indispensable news source if anyone had been able to see it. The Videofreex, based mostly out of the NYC area, were counterculture documentarians who were able to go places and chase stories where other, more established journalists would fear to tread. Finding friends as dissimilar as Abbie Hoffman and CBS Network chairman Don West (who asked for a contentious pilot episode of a news magazine that never got picked up), The Videofreex tried to tell it like it was, travelling in a tricked out minivan to cover America during one of its most turbulent points in history from the late ’60s to the early ’70s. But in an era where there were only three television stations and crowded New York airwaves, showcasing their now incredible work was their biggest challenge next to keeping the lights on.

A look at what can now be seen as a precursor to today’s Vice-style of laid back gonzo journalism, Here Come the Videofreex certainly has a lot to indirectly say about how we get our news today. Direct parallels can be made between what The Videofreex were doing and the rise of citizen journalism. Co-directors Jenny Raskin and Jon Nealon don’t belabour that point, instead choosing to highlight the merit of The Videofreex’s work.

For a large part of the film, this pays off. Looking back on how these ‘freex could simply walk into sit downs with the likes of Hoffman, Black Panther leader Fred Hampton (mere days before he was shot by police), and a Hell’s Angels’ clubhouse, it’s hard not to marvel at what they were able to accomplish. The star of the film is the restored footage, which now shines through as a document that’s just as relevant today as it would have been had they been able to showcase it outside of private screenings back then.

But much like the group at the heart of the film, Raskin and Nealon’s work here is unbalanced. Interviews with former collective members stop the film’s momentum. It’s not that the context that the subjects are providing for their footage isn’t relevant or unnecessary, but that Raskin and Nealon don’t really bother to get to know any of them. It isn’t until the anti-climactic final third when the group moves upstate to get better, cheaper accommodations that this happens. Considering that the film loses more steam at that point via a shift in focus for the collective and their dissolution, it’s too little too late.

The archival footage speaks for itself, though. A better film could have been made out of that alone

Is Here Come the Videofreex opening weekend worthy?

Only for those curious about late ’60s American history or a form of journalism that was ahead of its time. It’s a bit of a missed opportunity overall, but the work of these men and women stands the test of time.

Here Come the Videofreex opens at Wednesday, April 6, 2016 at The Royal. Check their website for more information.

Here Come the Videofreex trailer