Guerrilla Television Symposium: Contemporary Grassroots Documentary and Activism

The Sunday, April 21, 10:30 am panel from the Guerrilla Television Symposium at the University of Chicago's Film Studies Center, which engaged with questions such as: What was Guerrilla Television and how, and where, has it persisted through today? This discussion includes the perspectives of media artists who are working today in the independent, activist tradition, including moderator Judith McCray (videomaker and journalist, Juneteenth Productions) and panelists Caullen Hudson (Soap Box Productions), Raphael Nash (Endangered Peace Productions), Tom Poole (member, Black Planet Productions and creator, Not Channel Zero) and Steven Walsh (Omni Media).

00:01Copy video clip URL Media Burn’s Sara Chapman introduces the panel. 

01:14Copy video clip URL Judith McCray discusses her own history of media production, including working at WTTW and eventually becoming an independent producer. She introduces Tom Poole. 

02:19Copy video clip URL Poole discusses Not Channel Zero and Black Planet Productions. Working with Deep Dish TV and the August Wilson Center. He introduces the short video I Am a Man

06:02Copy video clip URL Screening of I Am a Man. An adaptation of an essay by Jelani Cobb, the video examines family bonds and the historical legacy of racist violence to individuals and to families. 

11:05Copy video clip URL McCray introduces Raphael Nash, owner and creative director of Endangered Peace Productions, who discusses being inspired by the work of Marlon Riggs. Teaching courses on film and race and ethnicity at DePaul University, the courses “that I would have wanted to take when I was in school.. and quietly radicalizing my students [laughs].” Working as a filmmaker and trying to change the way media is produced by putting marginalized communities and people of color behind the camera. 

14:01Copy video clip URL Nash screens a short documentary about the Chicago Torture Justice Center, which preserves the stories of the survivors of the Chicago Police Department’s decades-long policy of torture, overseen by officer Jon Burge: “The Burge Torture Justice Memorial is the first government-sponsored memorial in the U.S. to condemn racist police violence. Its existence guarantees that this history is not erased from our collective memory and pushes us to ensure it never happens again. It will honor the courage, resolve, and resilience of the survivors, their families, and all the organizers and justice seekers who struggled for decades.” 

21:18Copy video clip URL McCray introduces filmmaker Steven J. Walsh, director of the documentary-in-progress Southeast: A City within a CityWalsh discusses growing up as “a Disney kid” and slowly growing to realize the ideological perspective deciding who gets to be the heroes and villains of our culture’s stories: “If you look at a Robin Hood or a Joan of Arc or a King Arthur, I mean, it sounds to me like they banded a bunch of people together and they killed and stole stuff. Sounds like a gang banger to me! And it was fascinating because you got a Disney cartoon that I grew up on and I learned morals from those same people. And then I think about those Grimm fairytales of the past, and most of them were stories to get people through dark times. So that’s where I decided that it made sense for me to tell stories in my neighborhood because people in my documentary, they’re my King Arthurs, they’re my Joan of Arcs, they’re my Merlins. But in society now, they’re not deemed that they’re criminals, they’re convicts, outlaws, just like a pirate or a viking of the past. So I wanted to tell their story because I thought it made sense for someone from our neighborhood to be telling our story instead of someone else…. So that’s what my story’s about. It’s trying to demystify what happened to my neighborhood after the steel mills left.”

23:54Copy video clip URL A clip from Southeast: A City within a City, in which residents discuss the poverty and violence that began after the steel mills left the area. The environmental devastation caused by the mills, and the longterm medical effects on the inhabitants. “Southeast Chicago actually has 90% of the landfills in the city of Chicago, including over 400 hazardous waste sites. Pollution is in our DNA. It’s right there with the Hienie’s hot sauce. You know, we all have it.” 

29:17Copy video clip URL McCray introduces Caullen Hudson of Soap Box Productions, who discusses the importance of storytelling for activism and organizing for change. Challenging the culture’s dominant narratives. Working with protestors and activists, and finding inspiration from their work. 

35:02Copy video clip URL Hudson screens a promotional trailer for One Million Experiments, which explores how society can create safety without police or prisons. 

38:43Copy video clip URL McCray asks the panelists to speak about how and where they find the inspiration to keep working. Poole talks about his aunt, Ida Lewis, an accomplished journalist who founded the magazine Encore, and the documentary he’s working on about her. 

41:29Copy video clip URL Nash discusses finding inspiration in the young generations of activists and media producers: “That’s what gases me up. Not only the work I do as an instructor and a mentor – to see the fruits of that labor is one thing, but also to be like, yo, I’m inspired by you now. I’m excited for you and you are teaching me things now. So that’s kind of the goal.” 

43:33Copy video clip URL Walsh discusses having a young daughter and not wanting to show her Disney movies because of the messages that they send to children about gender and class. “So for me it’s like, I gotta make stuff so that these kids can watch it and not think that that’s the way life should be.” 

44:43Copy video clip URL Hudson discusses his documentary on the No Cop Academy movement in Chicago and learning from their collaboration with the activists. Learning from Marx, Audre Lorde, Malcolm X, but also from friends and members of the community. Finding creativity on social media and in feature films. 

47:05Copy video clip URL Videomaker Bill Stamets asks the panelists about the history of Guerrilla Television. Hudson discusses finding archival footage for a documentary on the Black Panthers. Walsh discusses seeing his film as a necessary sequel to the documentary Exit Zero, a personal documentary made by Christine Walley. 

49:18Copy video clip URL Videomaker Tracy Fitz asks the panel about expressing their feminine side. Poole discusses taking inspiration from Marlon Riggs and from his aunt that he’s making a documentary about. 

53:39Copy video clip URL McCray discusses there not being a lot of people of color that were given the chance to work in film and television when she started, especially not African American filmmakers and even more specifically African American women filmmakers. Continued difficulties in finding funding, but also finding that there are more women of color and that it’s slightly easier to “get in the room” for production pitches. 

55:08Copy video clip URL Poole discusses his history of making work that was, in the words of DeeDee Halleck, as if it was made by “film students who didn’t pay attention in class.” Breaking traditional structures and conventions. Being excited about the future of media. 

57:03Copy video clip URL McCray poses a question for Nash, Hudson, and Walsh about the balance between media activism and the practical concerns of making a living. Nash discusses juggling teaching and film production, working on films at night, on weekends, and during the summer. Being a facilitator and connecting filmmakers with people who have the necessary resources. 

60:07Copy video clip URL Walsh discusses his unconventional path into filmmaking, starting by shooting “rap videos, weddings, divorces” and whatever else he could shoot to make money and develop his skills as a filmmaker. Trying to balance commercial work for money with creative and activist work done after hours. Needing to raise money through donations.

62:29Copy video clip URL Hudson discusses raising money through donations and needing to make large structural changes and to change people’s minds. The increase in energy for activist causes in the past ten years. How to grow the movement “without watering down our politics.” Making Soap Box a nonprofit organization. Fundraisers like Fitness Against Fascism. 

67:12Copy video clip URL McCray thanks the panel.

 

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