Media Arts Program

Tuesday, November 19 at 6:30 pm & 8:30 pm


Hallwalls & Buffalo State College Department of Communication Studies present

Louis Massiah

We Tell: Fifty Years of Participatory Community Media

6:30 p.m.
We Tell: Turf
Co-Sponsored by PUSH Buffalo.

8:30 p.m.
We Tell: Wage of Work
Co-sponsored by WNY Area Labor Federation.

Introduced and community discussion led by Louis Massiah, co-curator of We Tell.

We Tell: Fifty Years of Participatory Community Media, a national traveling exhibition organized by Scribe Video Center in Philadelphia, is a thematic collection of short documentaries produced by community media entities from across the US. The series had its Buffalo and New York State premieres on October 23, 2019 at Squeaky Wheel with the program entitled Environments of Race and Place, presented by Patricia R. Zimmermann. We are showing two more programs at Hallwalls this evening: Turf (6:30 p.m.) and Wages of Work (8:30 p.m.), presented by Louis Massiah.

We Tell chronicles the hidden histories of place-based documentaries that arise from specific locales, communities, and needs for social and political change. Participatory community media is a unique form of documentary practice produced in collaboration with communities and subjects. As a production strategy, these works focus on the micro rather than the macro. They view local, national, and international issues through the lens of people who experience them. Instead of the long-form theatrical feature, participatory community media often utilizes short-form documentary circulating across communities and politics.

Rather than one filmmaker fulfilling a single vision, communities, makers, and subjects share authorship. Rather than a filmmaker parachuting into a place during a crisis, these works emerge out of places that are confronting urgent issues. Rather than documentary as a commodity to be shown to an audience at festivals, viewed alone at a gallery, or experienced remotely through broadcast [and now streaming], these works see documentary practice as a way to generate dialogue and galvanize community connections across production, distribution, and exhibition.

The works showcased in this exhibition invent new ways to exhibit media in communities for communities. All of the individual works in this exhibition are short, under 60 minutes in running time, suggesting that the post-screening conversations they mobilize are as important as the pieces themselves. These works circulate in communities outside of traditional exhibition sites, in political groups, community centers, and other small venues.

Participatory community media involves collaboration, negotiation, and a shared vision, allowing communities to render their own analysis of the world. Media becomes a tool for essential democratic discourse, change, and a way to confront power. Participatory community media is used directly by communities to re-center their stories and write their histories. Many community media centers (such as Media Study/BuffaloHallwalls and Squeaky Wheel here in Buffalo) and collectives (such as Buffalo's Sunship Communications8mm News Collective, Studio of the Streets, P4W, and Media Coalition for Reproductive Rights of the 1970s, '80s, and '90s) across the United States have functioned not just as places to provide access to media tools and training, but also as sites that empower people to tell their own stories from the places where they live.

The works featured in We Tell are organized into six thematic programs. Each explores issues that have emerged across 50 years of participatory community media: Body Publics; Collaborative Knowledges; Environments of Race and Place; States of Violence; Turf; and Wages of Work. Each of the thematic programs is organized chronologically to show the development of ideas, media technologies, and politics.

We Tell features a diversity of voices, community groups, and collectives, historical time periods, social and political issues, and geographic locations across the United States. It shows how the development of accessible and affordable media technologies facilitated these small, micro-budget community-based films, moving from 16mm film, to ½" Portapak video, to video cassette, to cable access television, to satellite transmission, to digital video, to mobile phones, to web-based social media, to drones.

We Tell features 41 separate media projects, 36 different production entities including nonprofit community organizations and cultural centers, and work from 19 states and Puerto Rico. The exhibition not only celebrates this important 50-year history of participatory community media in the United States, but also restores these legacies as a vital, vibrant sector of the ecologies of documentary.

6:30 p.m.: TURF (1975–2018), Various Directors
Not Rated | (75 minutes)

The works in Turf explore the politics of housing, displacement, gentrification, homelessness, and the significance of urban spaces for democratic participation. The projects span cities such as Braddock, Pennsylvania; Detroit; Houston; New Orleans; New York City; Philadelphia; San Francisco; and Seattle. The videos in Turf reveal that cities have transformed into battlegrounds between communities and those in power who would take land and space to expand their economic and political authority.

Survival Information Television (SIT): Must You Pay the Rent?
(Jeanne Keller, New Orleans Video Access, 1975, 12 minutes).

The Taking of One Liberty Place (Carlton Jones, Louis Massiah, Scribe Video Center, 1987, 8 minutes).

Showdown in Seattle: What Democracy Looks Like (Part 5)
(Big Noise Films, Changing America, Deep Dish TV, Free Speech TV, Headwaters Action Video, Independent Media Center, Paper Tiger Television, VideoActive, Whispered Media, 1999, 28 minutes).

Freedom on the Block (Vinh Duong, Dennis Hwang, Pearl Quach, Sammy Soeum, Seyha Tap, James Varian, Vietnamese Youth Development Center [Spencer Nakasako, facilitator], 2004, 6 minutes).

Occupy Portland Eviction Defense (Tim, Rio, B Media Collective, 2011, 6 minutes).

Why Archive? (Activist Archivists, 2012, 2 minutes).

Take Me Home (Orlando Ford, Detroit Narrative Agency, 2018, 13 minutes)

(1970-2018), Various Directors
Not Rated | (104 minutes)

Citizens and communities approach issues surrounding job opportunities, occupations, wages, unemployment, and underemployment in different ways. They engage in union organizing. They reclaim hidden, repressed, and suppressed stories. They launch political protests. Wages of Work spotlights lives from across the United States operating under various constraints as they try to make a living.

The United Mine Workers of America: A House Divided (Dan Mohn, J. Benjamin Zickafoose, Appalshop, 1971, 14 minutes).

Wataridori: Birds of Passage (Robert Nakamura, Visual Communications, 1974, 38 minutes).

Plena is Work, Plena is Song (Pedro Rivera, Susan Zeig, 1989, 37 minutes).

VozMob (Voces Móviles /Mobile Voices) (Instituto de Educación Popular del Sur de California / Institute for Popular Education of Southern California [IDEPSCA], 2010, 3 minutes).

I'm NOT on the Menu (Gary M. Brooks, Andrew Friends, Labor Beat, 2018, 12 minutes).

Louis Massiah (co-programmer/project lead/gurest presenter) is a documentary filmmaker and the founder/director of Scribe Video Center in Philadelphia. His innovative approach to documentary filmmaking and community media have earned him numerous honors, including a MacArthur Fellowship (1996-2001), two Rockefeller/Tribeca fellowships, and a Pew Fellowship in the Arts. His award-winning documentaries, The Bombing of Osage Avenue (1986), W.E.B. Du Bois—A Biography in Four Voices (1996), two films for the Eyes on the Prize II series (1987), and A is for Anarchist, B is for Brown (2002), have been broadcast on PBS and screened at festivals and museums throughout the US, Europe, and Africa. In 2011, he was commissioned to create a five-channel permanent video installation for the National Park Service's President's House historic site. Massiah has served as guest artist and visiting faculty member at Swarthmore College, Temple University, Princeton University, and the University of Pennsylvania.

Patricia R. Zimmermann (co-programmer, researcher, writer) is Professor of Screen Studies at Ithaca College and co-director of the Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival. She is author of Reel Families: A Social History of Amateur Film; States of Emergency: Documentaries, Wars, Democracies; Thinking Through Digital Media: Transnational Environments and Locative Places (with Dale Hudson); Open Spaces: Openings, Closings, and Thresholds of International Public MediaThe Flaherty: Decades in the Cause of Independent Cinema (with Scott MacDonald); Open Space New Media Documentary: A Toolkit for Theory and Practice (with Helen De Michiel), and Documentary Across Platforms: Reverse Engineering Media, Place, and Politics. She is co-editor (with Karen Ishizuka) of Mining the Home Movie: Excavations in Histories and Memories. A media historian and theorist, she specializes in documentary, new media, film/media/new media history, amateur film and emerging amateur technologies, and histories of the international public media arts.