International Videoletters, 1975: Recently discovered rare tapes from feminist video network

We want to share two exciting early tapes from the collection of Kartemquin Films that we were able to transfer through the support of the Bay Area Video Coalition. Kartemquin Films is a collaborative center for documentary media makers who seek to foster a more engaged and empowered society. We’ve been working together over the last few years to preserve and digitize materials from KTQ’s incredibly historically significant archive of almost 50 years of work.

The videos came from a 1970s feminist video network called International Videoletters, which used early video and tape trading as a way of sharing news and developments. Kartemquin Collective member Sharon Karp was active in the International Videoletters network.

The project was one of many different ways that radical, experimental, and marginalized groups utilized early video for revolutionary purposes. When the Sony Portapak debuted in the late ’60s, it made video more affordable and accessible than ever before, letting people create television outside of the traditional television networks. People were finally able to document and present their own stories as video.

The International Videoletters started sometime around 1975 and continued for a number of years as various feminist collectives produced half-hour reels of 1/2″ tape to exchange with other cities, which would then screen the tapes for their own members. At its peak, the videoletters were exchanged between 27 organizations across 17 locales, mostly in the United States but also in Canada and New Zealand.

Unfortunately, very few of the Videoletters survived, due in part to the fact that tapes were frequently reused to produce new content in order to help keep costs low. Only six tapes from this project are known to exist, including the two in our archive. You can watch our two tapes for free online:
VIDEOLETTER from Rochester, New York
May 15, 1975 (30 min)

An interview with Reverend Merrill Bittner about sexism in the church, and an interview with Deborah Granger about office gender politics.
VIDEOLETTER from Santa Cruz, California
April 30, 1975 (28 min)Various political/feminist groups speaking at New American Movement Symposium.
Two more tapes are at the Getty Research Institute—one is by Susan Mogul from the Feminist Studio Workshop in L.A. and the other is from Spectra Feminist Media Project in Washington, D.C.There are an additional two tapes at Harvard’s Schlesinger Library. One tape is part of the collection of Ariel Dougherty’s papers and media. The tape was made by Just Us Video Collective in San Francisco. The other tape recently surfaced from Sharon Karp’s collection.

For more on the International Videoletters, you can check out this document by Ariel Dougherty.



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