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40 Years of Radical Media

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[This is an abridged version of the original document. For information on how to obtain the original version, please contact TWN.]

Introduction
Cynthia Young
Editor

Newsreel, for me, is the constant challenge of facing choices which are at once, and indissolubly film-making choices, political choices, activist choices, aesthetic choices.
Norm Fruchter, Newsreel co-founder1

Thirty-one years ago, 60 underground filmmakers and student activists assembled in New York City to discuss making a film of the Pentagon protest. Angered at the mainstream media’s misrepresentation of the event, they gathered to consider pooling their resources in order to create a counter-document of the demonstration. That December evening, debate raged long into the night. The group considered everything from what footage should be included to how to distribute the finished product, recognizing that independent film production necessitated alternative distribution networks. When the dust finally settled, participants had done much more than iron out the logistics of a film project; they had founded Newsreel, an organization that would spark an activist film movement.

Third World Newsreel: Thirty Years of Media and Politics on the Left explores the rich history of that film collective from its origins in the social movements of the 1960s to its present day role as an important producer, exhibitor and distributor of film and video by media-makers of color. Including interviews with Allan Siegel, Norm Fruchter, and Christine Choy - three of Newsreel’s seminal members - and articles by renowned film scholars Michael Renov and David James, this anthology provides new insight into the political battles and aesthetic debates that animated the group. In one sense, Third World Newsreel is an institutional history, but it is also much more than that, for the collective’s history has always been intricately intertwined with the shifts in the US political and cultural landscape. As a result, this anthology reflects upon the tumultuous political changes that have transformed the US in the latter half of the twentieth century.

The March on the Pentagon, the draft card riots, the student takeover at Columbia University, the bombing of Hanoi, the Black Panthers, the Young Lords, Students for a Democratic Society. The Newsreel lens captured many of the people and events that defined a decade, and by the beginning of 1968, Newsreel had become the filmmaking arm of the New Left. Disseminating images and information censored from the nightly news, Newsreel’s style and subject matter helped to create what critic Michael Renov has rightly called the “political imaginary of the New Left,” crafting a generation’s political and cultural agenda.2

Despite the political reversals of the last twenty years, Third World Newsreel has increased its commitment to social justice and independent media-making. By distributing award-winning directors Christine Choy, Isaac Julien, Julie Dash, Michelle Parkerson, J.T. Takagi, and Charles Burnett, and creating avenues for lesser known artists such as Daresha Kyi, Cyrille Phipps, Cheryl Dunye, Randy Redroad, and Renee Tajima, the organization has influenced the future direction of independent media.

On the occasion of Third World Newsreel’s 30th anniversary, it seems only fitting that we celebrate and critically consider the group’s past, present and future impact on independent media-making and political activism. Long overdue, this anthology is an invaluable resource for film scholars, artists and media activists, and anyone interested in the history of US social movements, the development of cutting edge film and video and the preservation of public access to independent progressive film and video.

1 Newsreel, “Newsreel,” Film Quarterly, v21, n2 (Winter 1968-69): 43
2 Michael Renov, “Early Newsreel: The Construction of a Political Imaginary for the New Left,” Afterimage, (Feb 1987): 14

 

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