[Interview with Judy Hoffman about Guerrilla Television, tape 2]

Part 2 of an interview with guerrilla television pioneer Judy Hoffman about her career and the alternative video scene in Chicago in the 1970s. Shot for a University of Chicago BA thesis project called "Alternative Television: A Short History of Video Activism in Chicago."

“So, Anda. Anda was Anda Korsts. She was a pretty private person. She was married, that I knew of, to a corporate lawyer, Jerry Salzman. And she was statuesque, in a way. She wasn’t all that tall, but she was quite beautiful and chiseled and dressed beautifully. Clearly was a wonderful person to go out and talk about half inch videotape, from her background being a journalist and just the way in which she could present things was just wonderful. And as I got to know more of her she became–she was still extremely private person, did not talk about the personal, really, at all. But I started learning more and more about her, it just revealed herself. She had been an artist, a painter, she was Latvian, she spoke the language because I would hear her on the phone with family members. And wasn’t really supportive of women’s liberation in that she was more of a classical conservative, or someone who clearly believed in individualism and the right of individuals, but wasn’t really fond of movements or groups. But still supported them.

I remember working for her and we were about to do another Women Doing Video and there were all kinds of things to be done and she announces to me that she won’t be around for a month, maybe two weeks, I think, actually. She was pregnant. You would never know, she was 8 months pregnant and about to deliver and you didn’t know. You absolutely did not know that she was pregnant. And she didn’t want anyone to know she was doing this, having a baby and would be back at work. I had to hold down the fort or whatever for a couple of weeks. So she had a baby.

I remember working with her on It’s a Living–I can’t remember what came first, the baby or It’s a Living–and she wanted to do a model in the program, but we couldn’t get the model that Terkel had interviewed. She got a different model, and I remember arguing with her a little bit that there’s this purity, that’s not in keeping with the book because it’s not the same person. I felt there was something–I was very young and I felt there was something ethically wrong with that. It wasn’t the right one.

And it turned out that Anda had been a fashion model. So ok, well, that’s why she wanted to do a model, clearly. And she had done some other tapes about the making of a centerfold. She was deeply interested in like, demystifying that. And scrutinizing it, questioning it. The video was called “Gallery.” I think there was a men’s magazine with like soft porn. So she documented the shooting of a centerfold. And would question the men involved: aren’t you putting out false images of what women look like, and does that make it hard for everyday women to try and live up to this? So she scrutinized some of this. But everything was always so private, you know. And I think I really think in retrospect, when we were working on It’s a Living, she had had a coke problem at that point. She always had a stuffed nose, was sniffing.

And she alienated a lot of people. She was very strident, very opinionated, and I think she clearly related better to men than to women. I mean, she was older than me. So she might have been at that generation who didn’t get involved in women’s liberation, or they weren’t at that age, they weren’t in college or whatever when that was happening. She was already working. So I don’t know if I’m trying to make excuses for her or what. She didn’t treat women very well. Especially if you worked for her. She didn’t really treat her employees all that well. And I don’t know how much of it was due to coke and stuff like that.

But at that point, when I had gone to Kartemquin, part of the reason why I left Videopolis was that it was just too hard to work with Anda. She was angry, I mean she was like an angry person. So at that time we had Portapaks, a lot of people had Portapaks, and there wasn’t a lot of places to edit, outside of Anda’s program. She made it more and more difficult, I think, for people to just come in there. She started getting weird.

There were some women in that I was training. They called themselves the [Dugee Aces] and these were women who had famous husbands and they were making videotapes about who they were. There was Carol Gray, who was the ex-wife, at that point in time–they’re remarried–of Michael Gray, who did The Murder of Fred Hampton and went on to write China Syndrome. So she was in this group, along with Carol Sills, who was Paul Sills’ wife. Paul Sills started Second City, so here’s the wife, Carol Sills. There was Jones Alk Cullinan, who was the wife, former wife of Howard Alk, who’s a brilliant filmmaker who OD’d, he overdosed. And then there was another woman, [Omi Daniels], who was the wife of a photographer, Norris McNamara, so they all got together and I was training them. They were older women and they were making videos about their lives.

There was Denise Zaccardi, who had come out of the Alternative Schools Network. And Lilli Ollinger and I started training her at Videopolis so she could teach students at Bethel Academy how to make tapes. She was a reading teacher working on the west side of Chicago, and started thinking about how she could help what was called “high risk kids” get interested in education by making video. So she had started a video group through the Alternative Schools Network, so she was interested in tape.

So other people like Valjean McLenighan and Scott Jacobs, who learned how to make tape through Videopolis, were involved. Tom Shea, who was some kind of physicist, who we got helping us on It’s a Living, was involved too. There’s all these people, I brought in Kartemquin. There was Communications for Change, which was started by Tedwilliam Theodore and Mirko Popadic, and they did a lot of community organizing with tape around housing and neighborhood issues.

So there was this growing group of people who were interested in videotape and we had no place to edit. Editing equipment was expensive, not to mention hard to do, but expensive and nobody had studios really, there was no space, but mostly there was no money. So I actually organized this group with Lilly Ollinger and Denise Zaccardi, I had a meeting at Kartemquin films and it was like “ok, we’re all part of the whole ’60s thing of building community, and trying to get people working together in some way.” So I called the meeting to talk about how we are all doing alternative media, we should meet, we should talk about what our needs are and figure out how we can help each other. And from then, it became a thing where Tom Weinberg and some other people started taking leadership.

Well, the best way to work together is actually to make a tape. And then we’re going to find out, you know, we’re going to show people what we can do, and we’re going to learn how to work together and what our needs are. And it became clear that our needs were editing. I think it was through Tom or Scott, they were able to get Ed Morris, who was head of Channel 44, to say ok if we made a tape, he would broadcast it–Channel 11 wouldn’t do it. So that was Slices of Chicago. I think there were several of them. We all worked together on these programs. And because we were able to do this and show that there was a group and there was a need, we were able to get money from MacArthur and started what was called the Chicago Editing Center.

Now at that point, Anda was still around, she was at the meeting. She had unfortunately alienated a lot of people. She put forth a proposal that the Editing Center should be under Videopolis; she should be the director. And then there was the opposing Weinberg/Tedwilliam contingent. And the whole Video Coalition would vote on who should go after the grant–who should be the main people. And it wasn’t Anda. It was Tom and Tedwilliam and Scott, I’m pretty sure, who started it. So Anda was isolated, I mean she had hurt a number of people and she was getting weirder and weirder. She was, I think, less satisfied with video and dealing more with video art. And theater. And just isolated. And coked out. I mean, I remember running in to her on the street and she always thought I was like, you know, a real street kid, which is partially right. But she would take me like to these French restaurants for lunch. She would pay–she didn’t pay me enough for me to pay–but she wanted company so she’d take me to Cafe Bernard. To hob nob with Bernard the owner and stuff like that, and it was like, well wait a second. At that point in time I knew French, you know what I mean, it was weird. She would drive her Porshe. There was a real class difference. Jerry had money, she drove her Porshe. I think basically she was really frustrated, very angry. I ended up seeing her out on the street at one point up around Halsted and she asked me for a ride, and she’d bum money off of me.

Should I tell you what happened when I was editing? The gossip gossip? It’s awful. I’m cutting Yolanda the waitress, and there weren’t too many places to edit. And so I’m at University of Illinois, they let us edit there. So I’m editing Yolanda and I made a 15 minute piece. And at that point I was really pissed at her. All these guys came in. And she deferred and it was like a weird scene, you know, she was really flirtatious, and like all of a sudden this weirdness. And then I find out that she was a fashion model. But so I’m editing it and I’m not getting paid anything, I’m having to keep up with them, she’s paying the people who came in quite a bit of money, at the time. And I’m on this salary, and [Tom] Weinberg is having to like give me $20 every so often out of his own pocket so I could go out for lunch with these people or something, I mean, I just didn’t have the money. So I was pissed off and I felt I wasn’t being treated very well. And I’m cutting really late one night. I’m just exhausted and the phone rings and I answer the phone there. Some of my friends had the number, and I thought it was my friend Ester. I had been out of touch with people, and I’m going, “Oh man Ester, I’m so glad you tracked me down, I’m really pissed off. Anda’s like putting’ shit up her nose and I can’t get attention from her about the project I’m doing. And she’s like, running these numbers with these guys and I don’t know, you know?” And then the voice on the other end says, “Well, Judy I’m very glad to know how you’re feeling.” It was Anda. I’m like “Oh, man.” So… it was the end of that. But I finished my edit and she changed it. That was also why I was pissed off. I was shooting black and white, low light level video and she decided she wanted some color scenes in there. For no reason. And I’m going, “why do you want to change this?” So if you look at the tape you’ll see that there’s this style that I build and then all of a sudden she took over the edit and put in some color stuff that she did. And’s it’s really out of keeping. So I was really pissed off about that. That was the real reason I was pissed off, that she was messing with my edit. So I just finished my business with her and that was it.

She was really a troubled, deeply troubled person, really brilliant. And I would see her on the street every so often, like just around–I wasn’t angry, you know, and I learned an extraordinary amount from her and she told me that she respected me, after all that. So we would see each other once in awhile by running into each other. She’d talk about how she had something going, something new, she wanted to do stuff about the Panthers–this is in the ’80s, nothing ever happened. And there was a huge fire at one of the studios that she moved to and I think all these tapes were destroyed.

She just didn’t keep up with people, and the coke, I mean she started having seizures, I guess. And I heard she died. And Jim Morrissette and I went to her memorial service and there was no one there, it was like family, you know? And she had a troubled relationship with her whole family. And both Jim and I got up and spoke and said that her kids should know that as screwed up as Anda was, that there was a value there. And we said, ok, if you want to contact us, we’d be happy to let you know more about your mother, because they were estranged. And it turns out, I got a phone call from Anda’s daughter, who we never knew about. Anda had, I guess, gotten pregnant when she was 14 and gave her daughter up for adoption. And her daughter tracked her down. And now her daughter wanted to find out about this stuff, of who her mother was. And I think her daughter might have some of the tapes. And this was the daughter who didn’t live with her, who she had given up for adoption. Her other children wanted–I think she had another kid, like 2, after the one she gave away. Nobody wanted anything to do with her. So… drugs.

[Q: Did she keep Videopolis going through the ’80s until her death?] I think it was like her own private thing, it wasn’t an active. When VHS started coming out and more and more people started getting videotape, she became more and more disillusioned because there wasn’t this novelty anymore. What purpose was there in continuing working in half inch or VHS? It wasn’t new, everybody was doing it. So she wasn’t very interested in it anymore. She had gone back into painting and maybe doing more video art type of work, if she did anything. So Videopolis, I don’t think was maintained. She wanted to maintain it in name, but no one worked with her, that was it. I think, probably, whenever we started the Editing Center, that was pretty much kind of like her demise.

The Editing Center then became the Center for New Television and it became a larger organization. So if N.E.A. had a grant, the Center for New Television then would get regional money to give out to different artists around the Midwest. It was a membership organization, and we had a board of directors, but membership would meet and vote on direction. We voted on changing the name, because we weren’t just about editing, we were about making television–you could rent a camera there, you could rent sound, if you were a member you could get it very cheap. We did workshops for people–teaching, editing, camera, all different kinds of things. I don’t think there was a prevalence of film schools like there are now. There was Columbia College, but not too many places teaching production, so these places filled a need. But we also, again, lobbied with Channel 11, tried to get them to air things, we’d started Image Union by then. We actually confronted [Bill] McCarter, who headed up Channel 11, and we said, “you’ve gotta showcase some of our work, what is public television?” And he would say, “Well, there’s a difference between community television and public television. We’re not community. You people keep mistaking this for that.” But after a couple of meetings, they started Image Union, which Tom [Weinberg] can tell you about, him and Jamie Ceaser.

The Center for New Television continued to be a membership organization and I would like teach 1/2″ editing there, or teach like how to like shoot video if you’re going to go abroad, different things like that. [Ida Jeter] was the Executive Director, and we moved spaces–we used to be on Hubbard Street and then we moved to Dayton. And there was a lot of money and a big facility, we had grants and membership. But things were changing, the technology was changing, we had 3/4″ editing for people, which at that point that was an allowable broadcast medium. So we had these huge 3/4″ editors and half inch editors, Hi-8 was coming in. All kinds of technical things were happening, including computer technology. Now I don’t think there was computer editing at a low level at that point, but you could see it coming.

[Chris Bratton] came to town from New York and started teaching at the Art Institute, and was a strange, strange dude. A lot of us were burned out, we didn’t want to be on the board of directors, you know, we were still involved in it, but everybody was kind of off doing different things. [Chris Bratton] got on the board of directors and got a whole bunch of people on the board and decided that the Editing Center didn’t serve a function anymore, it just served video artists and wasn’t really a community radical place serving community groups. And it changed the whole nature of the place. I mean, it’s weird because a lot of us, I mean the Community TV Network was still working out of there, there were a lot of community groups still working out of there, but I think he wanted a power base, basically, and he got it because he loaded the board of directors up and they decided to sell off the editing equipment, sell off virtually everything and go into computer technology. They called themselves “the center for community and resources,” or “media resources.” And they’re in a park district building, and they don’t do much of anything. A woman named [Yolannie] runs it.

But it was a very ugly–we had a meeting, and we found out that they were selling off all the equipment, all of these old people. And changing it. And we were pissed off. Because the membership should’ve voted on it. And they didn’t call a meeting and it was just this bizarre set of experiences where things got really ugly, they actually like got personally ugly. They said something like [Ida Jeter] was mentally unstable, all kinds of very ugly stuff. And they positioned themselves as this kind of sectarian left-wing group that was really dedicated to Latino politics. This was in ’90, ’92 or something like that. So maybe Tom [Weinberg] knows more about that stuff. Denise [Zaccardi], does, Denise was really pissed off.

A lot of people were really angry because at that time N.E.A. funding was cut. I mean, it was at a time that in fact, people doing video and involved in the arts were working in communities and needed a place to edit with community groups. So it wasn’t like these “art for art’s sake” un-involved, un-engaged artists who were being gotten rid of. It was people who actually working with community groups that were deemed not political enough. So it’s like a weird scene.

But it was also that the technology was changing, everything was shifted, so I don’t know if there was a need for this place anymore. I mean, people keep talking that there’s a need for community, and a space certainly helps provide people with at least somewhere to go and screen tapes and now I don’t know if that exists. It also seems that video has become institutionalized and disciplined, where you can go now to U of I, to the Art Institute, to Northwestern and now to the University of Chicago, and learn it in a disciplined way. And so these alternative institutions don’t have the younger people, they might have older people, like I still teach at Chicago FIlmmakers. And I get to work with people who like you know, come out of NPR, or who decide for some reason they want to try doing video or making a documentary and you know, they can’t go to school, some of them are 50 years old. So I think there’s still a need for these kinds of models where people can get together to learn and form a community, but I guess universities really kind of shifted where the energy is. Now you can see experimental films every Monday at U of C, you don’t have to go to Filmmakers to see them.

[Where did you screen these types of films?] There were different kinds of venues. Dan Sandin, a video artist, had a place on Halsted, it was like a storefront that every Friday night you’d go and see video art there. The more political or community works were screened within those communities, basically with a TV set and a Portapak. We would have Women Doing Video, every so often Videopolis would have an open house and screen tape. But the majority of it was within the communities, whether it was like the Illinois Labor History Society or a labor group or a community group or a school. And then [another important goal was to] try to organize people to demand that Channel 11 carry some of this stuff. And then the Center for New Television would have screenings. Along with teaching and being an editing facility. It would have screenings once a month.

[Does it seem like there are the same types of video community initiatives now?] No. It’s really different. The times have changed–the history, the cultural moment is different, but it’s also I don’t think people demand it. What’s happened is, you went out and you did stuff and you know, maybe you waitressed or you did something and you supported yourself. There’s a place on Armitage, a friend of mine [Kay Canrak] had a clothing store called Armitage Software. And she dug video, so we’d screen stuff in her clothing store, this was when Armitage was like funky, you know. So it would just be roving bands of people who were interested in doing this.

Then I think getting institutionalized, getting funding starts to change the nature of things. If you want a grant, you have to have a 501(c)3, and then a board of directors, and then you need to get more money. Because you have this overhead. You have to generate paper, like grant reports and things like that, so you find out where money is. And you apply for a grant and maybe the Chicago Community Trust will give you a grant but it’s only for a certain kind of thing. Or MacArthur is interested in a certain kind of thing, and you start sculpting your organization to go after money and it starts to spiral, and then you need a larger board of directors and you need funding to support these projects, they never give you enough. And you have to start showing larger audiences and you have to start showing yourself as being cost-effective, so you need to start a production arm that can charge money. And it escalates to the point that you become a social service agency as opposed to a real alternative.

I think you’d be able to see that in Community TV network, Denise’s group that started out of the Alternative Schools Network. She realized she wanted to work with more than just young people, she wanted to work with their parents as well. So that started the Community Television Network, servicing young people, but also a larger community. And then you need money to do more and then it’s you know, you start, like what she’s doing now, working with the Board of Education to create after school projects for young people. Well, that might be great, but it’s almost like babysitting, getting kids of the street. So many of the arts, especially video, are used almost like as a social service, like the Boys and Girls Club. It’s just another thing to keep people appeased or keep them busy. And you start working in that way and you start to forget the initial mission, which was to radically change society and the economic structure. And now you’re still trying to do good work but it’s gotten corrupted in a way. And I think people really need to examine philanthropy and what that does to the arts. I mean, are we making corporate video now, in a different way, in serving these institutions? I think I have some very strong opinions about that because I’ve seen organizations who have really been counter media, and trying to change institutions, who are no longer doing that and now wanting to be a part of what’s going on in the culture today. They’re not happy being marginalized anymore, they want to get their program on PBS. They’re not fighting to get it on, but making a different kind of media to get it on.

I mean I’m sure it’s alive in different places, places like Community TV Network are still doing stuff in the community, screening stuff, they’re not looking to get it on television. So I think that there’s still those movements but this ideology of the successful, that it needs to be on television, it needs to be screened in front of as wide an audience as possible, or it’s been rarified into this art that functions at the level of festivals and installations but isn’t about changing this kind of overt political counter media… I mean, there are groups doing it, there’s Guerrilla TV Nation, certainly Paper Tiger used to do it, Deep dish. There are some groups in Chicago, Beyondmedia, Video Machete, although I think Video Machete’s more out of the Art Institute. But it’s a different time, I wonder if people are struggling to figure out what there is to say anymore, everything is permissible, I mean you can shock the bourgeois, but it’s so there’s nothing really substantial, in a way.

If you look to a group, I mean, here in Chicago you might want to check out Labor Beat, I meant these are people who are broadcasting or cable casting on CAN-TV and still producing labor shows–my God.

I also think the rise of cable in Chicago was very significant. Chicago was isolated, and you know, Daley would not let cable into the city until money was exchanged properly. How the franchise was going to be allocated took longer than I think any other big city, I mean, New York had cable in the early ’70s. I don’t know when we got cable, I think ’77, ’78, in there. It took way longer so that alternative media or counter media had a use in the city. Then that more democratic idea of making video then shifted into CAN, into Cable Access Network. That’s where you see some kind of democracy, I think. In terms of who’s making television for what reasons and in what settings, you know.

[Q: What made chicago different from the rest of the country?] I wonder if in fact, our relationship to labor, this is something that I really have toyed with, both with Kartemquin Films doing films and with video, that there’s such a strong labor history in this city. You have the Illinois Labor History project, you have locals of unions organizing here, headquarters here. The history of Haymarket–I can’t tell you how many times I was at the Haymarket statue or Waldheim Cemetery shooting for anarchists, Wobblies, and different leftist labor groups doing films and videotapes about union history. Coming out of the antiwar movement, making relationships during that movement with labor unions finally coming out against the war. I think somehow being in Chicago, being near Detroit, the point of production, G.M. and all that, the stock yards and that history I think perhaps there was more attention paid during the early days of alternative media to document labor history or contemporary labor struggles.

The other thing was Dan Sandin and Phil Morton with the image processor being created out of Chicago. I think that had another kind of effect.[…] It was like way cool, to see him wearying his Australian outback hat… Sandin’s a trip, you gotta go talk to him. U of I was an extraordinary place. They really recognized video, but it wasn’t just for teaching, it was the mandate of doing some kind of community outreach because they had displaced so many people. Again, Chicago has the history of community organizing with [Saul] Alinsky, so we grew up differently, maybe, thinking about community groups, labor groups, and the history is all around us. And the Democratic Convention, “the whole world is watching,” might of had an effect on how we looked at power of media.

But I don’t know, it’d be interesting to hear people like Skip Blumberg or Jim Mayer, Nancy Cain, talk about that. The Videofreex were really cool, I went up there once. You should get a tape called Harriet. It’s just like breathtaking. This was some of the stuff that we showed at Women Doing Video, I remember getting the half inch of Harriet, and I’m going, “This is a great tape, this is just great.” I mean, back then there was this like… it was VIDEO. We could clearly be oppositional to television and oppositional to film. We were starting out, we were establishing ourselves, and it was art, it was politics, it was documentary, it was all mixed up together. We all supported each other, we didn’t make such strong distinctions, it was about video. And you know, perhaps having something oppositional helps to define who you are. We knew we didn’t want to be television. Even if the technology had something similar, to us, television was more of a broadcast medium, it was dissemination, and if it produced something, what it produced was live. That could be exciting, boy, we would’ve jumped at the chance to produce live television. We had fantasies of having video kiosks on corners just transmitting what was going on in neighborhoods. But video had different formal properties and had a different reason for being, and I think that that’s all gotten totally confused now. But it was in the beginning, maybe maybe with computer stuff things can change. I don’t know, it’s like so alienating to me, I’m such a Luddite.”

 

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