New Nonprofit Plans to Bring Back Austin’s Video Rental Culture: We (still) Luv Video – Screens


(lr) We Luv Video founders Ryan Teel and Macy Cotton with I Luv Video’s Conrad Bejarano (center) and a portion of the massive collection of VHS tapes (Photo by John Anderson)

For years, Austin’s film culture has been synonymous with direct-to-video oddities. Programming at the Alamo Drafthouse and Austin Film Society have often carved out space for forgotten home video titles, and organizations like the American Genre Film Archive have inched former VHS releases from the fringes of popular culture to the new American canon. So it was a hard blow to movie lovers across the city in September 2020 when the COVID-19 shutdown and ongoing financial strains cost Austin its last I Luv Video location – seemingly the final chapter on video stores in Central Texas.

Of course, I Luv Video founder Conrad Bejarano never lost hope that his collection of over 130,000 tapes, DVDs, and Blu-rays might eventually be reunited with eager viewers. Last month, seemingly out of nowhere, a nonprofit named We Luv Video popped up with a website promising a crowdfunding campaign to revive home video in Austin. So now there’s a chance that Austin may emerge from the VHS wilderness intact and prepared for a new generation of home video rentals.

“It was really important to keep the collection together. … It has to be all accessible to people.” – Conrad Bejarano

It all starts with the I Luv Video collection. Over the past two years, Bejarano had conversations with several organizations in the Austin film scene, hoping to find the right fit for his now-displaced archive. But no matter who Bejarano tried to connect to – from nonprofits to filmmakers and preservationists – a forever home for the tapes seemed to be just out of reach. Part of the challenge was finding someone who would support the collection in its entirety. Bejarano viewed the archive as an important piece of film history, and one of his biggest fears was working with someone who would make editorial decisions about what the public should have access to based on personal beliefs. “It was really important to keep the collection together and not have someone store a section away,” he added . “It has to be all accessible to people.”

Enter Macy Cotton and Ryan Teel. The two co-founders of We Luv Video do not come from an exhibition background; both Cotton and Teel are lawyers, but both also described the late I Luv Video as an important source of community and culture for their Austin experience. Earlier this year, the two found themselves discussing their ideal careers outside of law, and they realized one of their dream careers would be to operate a place much like I Luv Video. The more they researched nonprofit video store models – in particular , Baltimore’s volunteer-run Beyond Video, which Cotton described as “really inspiring” – the more they realized that Austin could sustain a community venue like We Luv Video.

There was only one problem: Neither person had any connection to Bejarano. “That just caused my nosy self to Google him and try and find his email address,” Cotton explained. “And by some miracle, he was open to talking with us to get this going.” Bejarano was struck by not only the duo’s proposed update to the name (“It goes from ‘I’ to ‘we,’ the people – we love video, which is really ingenious,” he explained) but also their alignment on community. For Bejarano, the modern video store is more about the social gathering and exchange of knowledge than it is a physical location. The new project allows film lovers to learn from “other people that also [have] a love for both VHS and DVDs.”

As their discussions progressed, Cotton also believes the crowdfunding model gave Bejarano some much-needed flexibility. Under the current agreement, We Luv Video has taken possession of the collection, with a purchase agreement available in the future. “The benefit of a Kickstarter is that if we somehow don’t have the amount of support, Conrad will just retake the tapes and he can try something different,” she said. Meanwhile, the We Luv Video team is working to update the catalog of tapes in Bejarano’s collection and to identify gaps in the collection from the myriad home video releases of the last two years. “We’re absolutely gonna be encouraging donations,” Teel added. “And of course one of the benefits of being a nonprofit is we can incentivize those donations by making ’em tax deductible.”

Much like other nonprofit video stores, Cotton and Teel plan to make We Luv Video subscription-based. “Our smallest tier will be about $10 a month,” Cotton explained, “You can check out one movie at a time, but you could check out a movie every day, several movies a day, but only having one out at a time.” And for the Kickstarter, Cotton and Teel are working with several Texas-based organizations to offer exclusive rewards to entice new donations. AFS has agreed to help with promotion, and Super Yaki – a Houston-based apparel company that has earned the admiration of niche fandoms around the world with their clever designs – will produce an exclusive design. But to revive an old-school institution, the We Luv Video team is taking a distinctly grassroots approach, including a live campaign kickoff event on Oct. 30 at the Fallout Theater, mimicking public access telethons.

“We started talking with the Fallout and we just thought a telethon was a really fun way – and back in the day, a really successful way – to raise money for a good cause,” Cotton noted. The event will feature sets from several comedians and comedy groups. In the weeks that follow, We Luv Video will also offer their take on a roadshow, hosting (at current count) a dozen screenings at breweries around town.

As for the brick-and-mortar storefront, most of those decisions are still up in the air, and the team said they would welcome any referrals or assistance in finding a cheap property or vacant lot. Bejarano has his hopes set on something a little outside the city with a bit of room for growth. “The first [I Luv Video] was actually on Slaughter and Menchaca,” he said. But no matter what location the video store eventually calls home, both Cotton and Teel believe that it will maintain the same chaotic energy that made the original I Luv Video such a unique venue.

And while the journey has just begun for the trio of film lovers, Teel added that friends and co-workers are already lining up to grow Bejarano’s collection. “I already have some co-workers who are like, ‘Oh good, I’ve been looking for some place to get rid of these DVDs I don’t watch anymore,'” he said with a laugh. “If you got movies in your attic, in your closet – if you don’t have a VHS player anymore, you know where to send them.”


Keep the Love Alive: A Benefit for We Luv Video and Kickstarter launch party, Sun., Oct. 30, 8pm at the Fallout Theater, 616 Lavaca. Donate at kickstarter.com, and follow the campaign’s progress at weluvvideo.org.

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Jorge Oliveira

https://www.linkedin.com/in/marketing-online-ireland/ https://muckrack.com/jorge_oliveira

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