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Established in December 1967 as Newsreel, an activist filmmaker collective, this NY group grew to become a network with chapters across the US. Its different chapters produced and distributed short 16mm films covering the anti-war and women's movements, Civil and human rights movements, getting unique access to such groups as the Black Panther Party and the Young Lords Party. Newsreel's activism attracted many artists who became well known filmmakers - Norman Fruchter, Susan Robeson, Robert Kramer, Christine Choy, Tami Gold, Allan Siegel and Deborah Shaffer, among others.
The New York Newsreel became Third World Newsreel (TWN) in the mid-70s and strengthened its commitment to developing filmmakers and audiences of color. Today, TWN carries on the progressive vision of its founders, and remains the oldest media arts organization in the U.S. devoted to cultural workers of color and their global constituencies.
TWN exhibitions and accompanying monographs effect innovative curatorial interventions, utilizing TWN's collection to build audiences, nurture artists and provide collaborations with other artistic, cultural, community and educational institutions. Past exhibitions include: D'Ghetto Eyes: Films and Videos by New Black /Asian/ Latina/o makers; Young British & Black; Liberation and Alienation in Algerian Cinema; Internal Exile: New Chilean Film and Video, and the NEH funded Journey Across Three Continents: Films from the African Diaspora.
TWN and its programs are funded in part by public funds from government agencies as well as private contributions from foundations and individual contributions.
Newsreel was conceived out of the progressive social movements of the late 1960's. At the height of the Vietnam War and as liberation movements mobilized worldwide, hundreds of artists and activists were compelled to document events and issues which were being distorted or ignored by the mass media. In December 1967, Newsreel was established in New York City, and within two years, a national network of activist documentary film collectives was formed, with chapters in Boston, Yellow Springs, Chicago and Ann Arbor and San Francisco and other cities. This network produced large numbers of short 16mm documentaries quickly and inexpensively and would distribute them – almost always with someone accompanying them to discuss the content, providing an alternative media that would increase public awareness of topical issues. The goal, though, was not just to educate, but to inspire action for change.
Newsreel filmmakers conveyed a sense of immediacy and experimentation through their work. They chose as their subject matter issues such as war resistance, campus protests, and racial injustice. They also were able to present unique films from North Vietnam, Cuba, and various national liberation movements around the world. Many of the Newsreel films stand out as classics, including No Game, America, Chicago Convention Challenge, Black Panther, People's War, Columbia Revolt and Up Against the Wall Ms America.
By 1971, the organization's focus shifted toward diversifying the pool of skilled filmmakers, broadening its constituency, and producing full length documentaries. Women and people of color involved in Newsreel began demanding access to equipment and training, and greater outreach to community-based audiences. Newsreel films such as El Pueblo Se Levanta (The People Are Rising), Community Control and The Woman's Film reflect this shifting focus.
In 1973, a caucus of African American, Latina/o and Asian members met to evaluate Newsreel's commitment to issues that concerned their communities. New York Newsreel was swiftly redirected to represent international communities of color and was renamed Third World Newsreel. Early works by TWN included Teach Our Children, In The Event Anyone Disappears and From Spikes to Spindles.
While film production continued to be the principal focus of the organization throughout the seventies, distribution activity began to emerge as a distinct programmatic division of the organization as more productions became completed and works by makers outside the network were added to the collection. Income from the rental and sale of TWN films to universities and community groups financed administrative overhead and operation costs for an enhanced film distribution program. Eight of the eleven TWN films produced in the 80's aired on television, mostly on PBS affiliates. Expanded community-based programs also enhanced the skills and careers of new artists and provided national visibility for the entire organization.
In 1983, TWN began to build its collection of films in distribution, adding to its own catalogue of films those of independent artists outside the organization. Works by Charles Burnett, Camille Billops, Lourdes Portillo, and Visual Communications were added to the collection.
Throughout the eighties, TWN began to curate local screenings of independent Third World media at its Higher Ground Cinema, developed a Film and Video Production training program for low income, minority and women emerging artists, produced award-winning films such as To Love, Honor and Obey (1980), Bittersweet Survival (1982), Mississippi Triangle (1984), Namibia: Independence Now! (1986), Chronicle of Hope: Nicaragua (1987) and No Time to Lose (1989), co-sponsored the first Third World Cinema Conference in New York City in 1983; published an Anthology of Asian American Cinema, a book of critical writings, resources, and film listings, and packaged touring programs of Third World films such as the 1980-81 Retrospective of Independent Black American Cinema, Journey Across Three Continents in 1985, and Young British and Black in 1988.
A touring retrospective celebrating TWN's 25th anniversary premiered at the Collective for Living Cinema in 1987, accompanied by the release of the first comprehensive catalogue of TWN's collection since 1968. Throughout the eighties, TWN developed a distinctive role as a leading organization representing the aspirations of people of color working with and using alternative media.
Providing support and services to hundreds of filmmakers, programmers, educators, curators, administrators and technicians, TWN became known for its aggressive affirmative action advocacy, its programs and information services and its film archive. In addition to its training program, TWN provided production offices and facilities to independent productions such Who Killed Vincent Chin? by Christine Choy and Renee Tajima, Haitian Corner by Raoul Peck, Daughters of the Dust by Julie Dash, and to the El Salvador Media Project.
During the 80s, TWN came face to face with the video revolution, funding cuts and right wing back lash. The organization strengthened its core programming in distribution and training and began transforming its collection from its foundation in film prints to the increasingly more accessible video formats.
By the 1990s, TWN was a full-fledged media center, distributing over 250 film and video titles, continuing its exceptional training program, producing a dozen new film/videomakers each year, and acted as a fiscal sponsor to 25 productions each year, and was recognized nationally as an advocate for film/videomakers of color.
TWN produced five of its own new documentaries in the 1990s: Homes Apart: Korea (1991), A Litany for Survival: The Life & Work of Audre Lorde (1995), The Women Outside: Korean Women & The U.S. Military (1995), The #7 Train: An Immigrant Journey (1999), and two advocacy documentaries for distribution by Deep Dish T.V. : Can't Jail the Revolution... and Environmental Racism.
TWN continued to present provocative exhibitions such as Internal Exile:New Chilean Film and Video, curated by Coco Fusco in 1990, D'Ghetto Eyes: Films and Videos by New Black Latina/o Asian and Native Directors presented at The Kitchen in 1992, Liberation and Alienation in Algierian Cinema with Alia Arasoughly and August Light Productions in 1993, and The Writers and Film Series with Jessica Hagedorn and the Donnell Media Center from 1994-1997. A retrospective exhibition celebrating Third World Newsreel's film and video archive was presented at the Museum of Modern Art in fall 1998, ending a series of events celebrating its exceptional 30 year history.
TWN now offers three different workshops, twice a year - from editing and media literacy workshops to evening seminars on various production topics along with its almost 3 decades old Film & Video Production Workshop. Its graduates have gone on to produce features, award winning documentaries, organize and teach – with an alumni roster including Byron Hurt (Beats and Rhymes), Renata Gangemi (Latino Poets Speakout), Grace Lee (The Grace Lee Project), Randy Redroad (Doe Boy), Renee Tajima-Pena (My America), and Alice Wu (Saving Face).
In addition, the organization has initiated numerous productions, from the Call to Media Action Series that documented people of color and other marginalized groups in the wake of the 9/11 tragedy and ensuing wars, to the Call for Change 2005 Series that looked at the "state of America now” for NYC communities of color. Currently, it is in production of the Call for Change 2007 Series, with producer JT Takagi. These series’ are aimed at community and classroom use, and several were produced in collaboration with local community groups. The shorts have aired on public television and public access cable, while being featured in festivals such as Tribeca and Silverdocs.
The organization also embarked on co-productions with the NY Civil Liberties Union on the first amendment (Keeping Speech Free), with the American Friends Service Committee on immigration, (Echando Raices/Taking Root), and released North Korea: Beyond the DMZ, that aired on PBS in 2005. The organization holds regular screenings at the Anthology Film Archives and other NYC venues, as well as retrospective programs at film festivals internationally, and currently distributes over 600 film and video titles. The Newsreel spirit of progressive media activism remains live, well and provocative in the 21st century.