We Tell: Fifty Years of Participatory Community Media, “Environments of Race and Place” w/ Louis Massiah and Patricia Zimmermann

Date(s) - Wednesday 04/22/2020
7:00 pm - 9:00 pm


We Tell: Fifty Years of Participatory Community Media “Environments of Race and Place” is a retrospective collection of short documentaries produced by community media entities looking at critical issues told by the diverse neighborhoods directly affected.

Join WE TELL curators Louis Massiah and Patricia Zimmermann for Earth Day at the Sanctuary, as they present a screening of Program Two: “Environments of Race and Place.”

* Plus, join Patricia Zimmermann for a Be the Media! workshop prior to this screening at 4:30PM.

Co-sponsor: iEAR Presents!, School of Humanities, Arts and Sciences, Rensselaer


“Environments of Race and Place” zeroes in on issues surrounding immigration, migration, and racial identities unique to specific environments. These works embrace and amplify the micro rather than the macro in scope. They move from the national to the hyperlocal, advocating that understanding conflicts and contradictions can lead to change. Discussions of police brutality in Third World Newsreel’s Black Panther a.k.a. Off the Pig or animations about toxic pollution made by the Indigenous youth media collective, Outta Your Backpack, expand conceptualizations of the range of participatory community media and the varieties of forms environmental media inhabits.

We will be screening a program consisting of six films: Black Panther a.k.a. Off the Pig (Newsreel #19), Black Women, Sexual Politics and the Revolution, Who I Became, Legend of the Weresheep, Stories of TRUST: Calling for Climate Recovery: TRUST Alaska, and Digital Smoke Signals: Aerial Footage from the Night of November 20, 2016 at Standing Rock. 

Environments-Black_Panther_1967_001_300dpiBlack Panther a.k.a. Off the Pig (Newsreel #19)

This film documents the Black Panther Party in 1967. It features a prison interview with Black Panther Minister of Defense Huey P. Newton,an interview with Minister of Information Eldridge Cleaver, footage of the aftermath of the police assault against the Los Angeles Chapter headquarters, and political demonstrations supporting Newton’s release from jail. 

This film was produced by San Francisco Newsreel, a collective media group from the 1960s and 70s that focused on the anti-war movement, Civil Rights movement, and other progressive political movements of the time. It formed in San Francisco in the late 1960s, linked from the outset to the counterculture, anti-capitalist politics, and the New Left. Members were not only filmmakers, but also activists without filmmaking experience dedicated to the anti-war movement, the Civil Rights movement, and other progressive political issues. San Francisco Newsreel started in response to a visit from New York Newsreel. They operated as a collective, sharing financial contributions for living expenses. Their first and most widely distributed films was Black Panther aka Off the Pig (Newsreel # 19 [1967]. Its predominantly White filmmakers yielded the final cut of the film to the Black Panthers. San Francisco Newsreel documented major political events and protests, considering filmmaking in service to political consciousness-raising and communities.

Environments-Black_Women_1992_006_300dpiBlack Women, Sexual Politics and the Revolution

This film examines how African American women deal with pressing issues of abortion, battering, lack of health care, and poverty.It confronts how women’s roles in community struggles and activism are often overlooked or ignored. The video also probes media portrayals of Black women, with a special emphasis on their representation in music videos.

This video was produced by Not Channel Zero, a collective of African American video artists formed in New York City in the 1990s. It combined alternative television style with a critique of commercial media, using low-end, accessible technology and extremely small budgets. For three years, the collective produced regular programming for Manhattan Cable Access on the anti-war movement, homophobia in communities of color, police brutality, sexism, and urban issues in Black and Latino communities. 

who-I-became3Who I Became

This video is the story of Pounloeu Chea, a first-generation Cambodian American. In the early 1980s, he and his family escaped from Cambodia and settled in San Francisco. After his parents returned to Cambodia, Pounloeu was found guilty of driving stolen cars intended for export, and placed on parole. About to become a father, he must hold a job and obey the law to avoid being sent to jail or deported to Cambodia. 

This was, in part, supported by the Vietnamese Youth Development Center, which worked from the 1970s onwards to support Asian, and Pacific Islander urban youth in San Francisco. 

Legend of the Weresheep

Environments-Legends_Of_Weresheep_2007_001_300dpiIn this short animation, a sheep drinks water from a toxic factory and turns into a zombie. Legends of the Weresheep was made with hand-drawn images that feature a river next to a factory spewing out black smoke. A herd of sheep graze next to the river. When they drink the polluted water, toxic symbols are emblazoned on their fur. The film was produced by Indigenous youth participating in a Fall 2009 Media Workshop in Flagstaff, Arizona conducted by the activist media collective Outta Your Backpack. 

Outta Your Backpack has been working since 2004 to provide free filmmaking classes and resource distribution to Indigenous youth around the country. They aim to create community ownership of media through youth empowerment. 

Stories of TRUST: Calling for Climate Recovery: TRUST Alaska

Environments-Stories_Of_Trust_2011_002_300dpiTRUST Alaska is a part of a ten-part series about youth, law, and justice. These short documentaries feature the voices of daring youth from across the country who went to court to compel the government to protect our atmosphere in trust, for future generations. In TRUST Alaska, seventeen-year-old Nelson Kanuk explains why erosion, floods, intense storms, and permafrost melt threaten their homes, communities, and culture. Nelson’s story unfolds the human and environmental damage caused by climate change.

This series is partially supported by WITNESS, an organization started by the Reebok Foundation and the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights with Peter Gabriel. It contends that ordinary people using video to expose human rights violations can influence policy and create change. It works with local communities, employing a side-by-side collaborative partnership model.

Digital Smoke Signals: Aerial Footage from the Night of November 20, 2016 at Standing Rock

Environments-Digital_Smoke_Signals_2016_002_300dpiFrom April 2016 to February 2017, Standing Rock Indian Reservation members and environmental activists protested Energy Transfer Partners’ Dakota Access Pipeline—built to move oil from the North Dakota Bakken oil fields to southern Illinois—with an encampment to protect water, land, and Indigenous sacred sites. Myron Dewey of Digital Smoke Signals (DSS) describes drone footage that captures the North Dakota State Troopers, the National Guard, and private contractors committing human rights violations against the Indigenous Water Protectors. 

This footage was created by Digital Smoke Signals, which is dedicated to indigenizing new media technologies such as mobile and wireless in order to counter corporate media bias in reporting on indigenous people. DSS blends citizen monitoring, drones, and social networking to ensure environmental, social justice, and indigenous rights. 


We Tell is a national traveling exhibition featuring 41 separate media projects; 36 different production entities, including nonprofit community organizations and cultural centers; and works from 19 states and Puerto Rico. The exhibition runs from October 2019 until March 2020 and travels to over 16 locations nationwide.

While celebrating the important 50-year history of participatory community media in the United States, the exhibition restores these legacies as a vital, vibrant sector of the ecologies of documentary. The exhibition is programmed collaboratively by Louis Massiah (filmmaker and Executive Director of Scribe Video Center) and Patricia R. Zimmermann (professor of Screen Studies at Ithaca College). Archival research for the exhibition was contributed by The XFR Collective, a group of archivists that preserve at-risk audiovisual media. “The assembled films represent a ‘people’s history,’ exploring the last 50 years of American social movements, political struggles and cultural awakenings.

Looking at this collection of videos and films in context with each other we gain a new understanding of the complexity and commonality of communities across the United States and Puerto Rico and the momentum that is shaping the present moment,” explains Massiah. 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.


Patricia R. Zimmermann (co-programmer, researcher, writer) is 1_Patricia-Zimmermann-Ithaca-CollegeProfessor 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 FilmStates of Emergency: Documentaries, Wars, DemocraciesThinking 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.


1_Louis-Massiah-Scribe-Video-Center_Photo-Credit-Conrad-Louis-CharlesLouis Massiah (coprogrammer/project director) 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 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.



To learn more, visit: https://www.scribe.org/wetell 

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