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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.]

The Woman's Film

Louise Alaimo, Judith Smith, Ellen Sorrin

It was 1969. The anti-war movement was at its height. The Black Panthers were holding their first national conference in Oakland, California. Newsreel was a growing national organization servicing the growing and powerful left. There were now Newsreel offices in Chicago, Boston. Detroit, Los Angeles, Buffalo, New York and San Francisco. We were three women who had each joined San Francisco Newsreel. We had each been active in the antiwar movement and/or other community based political organizations. Although not experienced film producers, we were interested in the media.

By the beginning of 1970, the woman's liberation movement was emerging as a new and dynamic voice within the left. Newsreel began getting calls for films on women's liberation. At one national meeting, it was decided that San Francisco would produce the needed film on woman's liberation. Our group decided that our approach would be to invest more money than we had on previous projects and produce a scripted in-depth film on this subject that would have a longer shelf life than other Newsreel films. We would not merely document the activities of other movement activists. We would present our own analysis of the issues.

We begin filming on March 7, 1970 at a rally for International Woman's Day. It was a gorgeous day, brilliant sunshine and the rally was held in Dolores Park in the Mission District. This film was going to be different than other Newsreel films - no voice-overs - we would use sync cameras! At the rally, many community women as well as feminists spoke about the need for women's participation in the growing movements against the war, for civil rights and workers' rights.

We wanted to ask the question: "Was the woman's liberation movement relevant to working class women?" We did our research by going into the community and interviewing poor and working-class women about their view of themselves as women. We used our contacts with left community organizers such as the Radical Union (RU), the Black Panthers, the Oil and Chemical Workers and Welfare Rights organizations to get entry into the homes of grassroots leaders, who were women. We interviewed the women without any cameras. We used their stories as the basis for our "script."

We were so excited by the women we met. There was Florence, a white woman who organized a welfare rights organization called "Why Not Whites," Vonda, whose husband had been arrested when he supported the Oil and Chemical Workers strike and Mary, the wife of a Black Panther and a full-time at-home mother. We quickly realized that being an active proletarian leftist did not quiet the sense of also being oppressed as women. We began to write a script based on Florence, Vonda and Mary's lives. We wanted to show how they had gained a feminist consciousness and also blended this consciousness with their perceived need to organize men and women against the capitalist system of oppression.

The film we intended to make would broaden the image of the Woman's Movement to include Third World women, working class women and poor women on public assistance. This was radical for 1970 - when the new woman's movement was primarily a "bourgeois" movement of educated white women (like us).

The women we had met through the production of the film had become a part of each of us. We no longer could think of the woman's movement as faceless. The woman's movement was now known by us to be made up of Florence and Vonda and Mary: people with jobs, families, houses to clean, groceries to buy, as well as struggles at work and personal dreams. The woman's movement had become personalized through our entry into their lives and their commitments to building a better life for themselves and their communities. The making of the film was a defining experience for each of us and continues to affect the choices we make in our lives.

The San Francisco Chronicle wrote: "These real women with their real problems were engaging and left one with the feeling that the camera succeeded in capturing a part of the human struggle." The Oakland Tribune wrote: "The women whose images fill the screen are all shapes and sizes, colors and ages...They appear to have little in common...They do not fit anyone’s image of militant supporters of Women's Liberation...Perhaps this is what makes The Woman's Film...

 

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