Nancy Cain

Nancy cain

Nancy Cain helped define the independent video documentary movement of the 1970s as a founding member of the radical video collectives TVTV and Videofreex. She worked on the first video pilot for network television with the Videofreex at CBS in 1969, and ran an offbeat weekly video show at the Videofreex loft in Soho. With the group, she moved to upstate New York and co-founded Lanesville TV – “Probably America’s Smallest TV Station” – where she and her colleagues created and broadcast hyperlocal TV to their rural community in the Catskills.

Among Cain’s early work was Harriet, a collaboration with Cain’s close friend in Lanesville, Harriet Benjamin. The video blends observational documentary and fantasy, chronicling her mundanely oppressive daily grind as a housewife and mother of five before visualizing Harriet’s ultimate escape, speeding off in her car, cackling furiously: “Goodbye Lanesville! I had 17 years of it and that’s enough!” The video was quickly recognized as an important, foundational work of feminist video, playing around the country at film and video festivals for years and serving as an inspiration for several generations of artists. 

Cain continued working in video and television after Lanesville TV folded in 1978, including The Night Owl Show, a variety show broadcast on Fridays at midnight on Woodstock, NY’s public access station. As with Lanesville TV, The Night Owl Show gave Cain and co-creator Bart Friedman an outlet both for video documentaries and for interaction with and contributions from the local community. She worked for several years in Hollywood, including as a director of field segments for the satirical news program The Wilton North Report.

In 1989, Cain served as a camcorder correspondent for THE 90’s, a weekly hour-long alternative news/documentary show that ran on PBS from 1989-1992, which the New York Post called “refreshingly irreverent, opinionated and outlandish.” The show collected and commissioned offbeat work from independent videomakers around the country, offering perspectives on culture and current events that had not been seen on television before. The program addressed politics and activism – including thorough, deeply insightful coverage of the 1992 presidential election – but also provided delightfully incisive takes on less explicitly weighty concepts like mall culture and sports fandom. 

With Judith Binder, Cain produced the LA-based cable program CamNet: The Camcorder Network, which gave Cain and Binder and many of their collaborators from THE 90’s a forum for video journalism, all of which was produced on consumer-grade camcorder cameras. CamNet – which they dubbed “the people’s CNN” – was broadcast in eight cities around the country on a loop for two weeks each month, a realization of many of her guerrilla television principles: they had taken control of the airwaves, bringing their work to anyone who cared to watch it. As with all of Cain’s projects, CamNet expressed and embodied her lifelong belief that people should be active participants in the media, and that everyone should feel like they too could be producing or appearing on the programs broadcast on their TV sets. 

Cain’s videos have been shown around the world, including at The Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney, and the Musée D’Art Moderne in Paris. In 2012, Cain released her memoir Video Days and What We Saw Through the Viewfinder

Nancy Cain died at the age of 81 in 2021. 

Our complete collection of Nancy’s work can be found here.

SubjectsAmerican Politics, the 90s, Public Opinion, Feminism, Women’s Rights, Protest, Political Protest, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Transportation, Interviews

Dates: 1981-2015 

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