Established in December 1967 as Newsreel, an activist filmmaker collective, this
NY group grew to become a network with chapters across the US. Its different chapters
produced and distributed short 16mm films covering the anti-war and women's movements,
Civil and human rights movements, getting unique access to such groups as the Black
Panther Party and the Young Lords Party. Newsreel’s activism attracted many
artists who became well known filmmakers - Norman Fruchter, Susan Robeson, Robert
Kramer, Christine Choy, Tami Gold, Allan Siegel and Deborah Shaffer, among others.
The New York Newsreel became Third World Newsreel (TWN) in the mid-70s and strengthened
its commitment to developing filmmakers and audiences of color. Today, TWN carries
on the progressive vision of its founders, and remains the oldest media arts organization
in the U.S. devoted to cultural workers of color and their global constituencies.
TWN exhibitions and accompanying monographs effect innovative curatorial interventions,
utilizing TWN's collection to build audiences, nurture artists and provide collaborations
with other artistic, cultural, community and educational institutions. Past exhibitions
include: D'Ghetto Eyes: Films and Videos by New Black /Asian/ Latina/o makers;
Young British & Black; Liberation and Alienation in Algerian Cinema;
Internal Exile: New Chilean Film and Video, and the NEH funded Journey
Across Three Continents: Films from the African Diaspora.
TWN and its programs are funded in part by public funds from government agencies
as well as private contributions from foundations and individual contributions.
Newsreel was conceived out of the progressive social movements of the late 1960's.
At the height of the Vietnam War and as liberation movements mobilized worldwide,
hundreds of artists and activists were compelled to document events and issues which
were being distorted or ignored by the mass media. In December 1967, Newsreel was
established in New York City, and within two years, a national network of activist
documentary film collectives was formed, with chapters in Boston, Yellow Springs,
Chicago and Ann Arbor and San Francisco and other cities. This network produced
large numbers of short 16mm documentaries quickly and inexpensively and would distribute
them – almost always with someone accompanying them to discuss the content,
providing an alternative media that would increase public awareness of topical issues.
The goal, though, was not just to educate, but to inspire action for change.
Newsreel filmmakers conveyed a sense of immediacy and experimentation through their
work. They chose as their subject matter issues such as war resistance, campus protests,
and racial injustice. They also were able to present unique films from North Vietnam,
Cuba, and various national liberation movements around the world. Many of the Newsreel
films stand out as classics, including No Game, America, Chicago
Convention Challenge, Black Panther, People's War, Columbia
Revolt and Up Against the Wall Ms America.
By 1971, the organization's focus shifted toward diversifying the pool of skilled
filmmakers, broadening its constituency, and producing full length documentaries.
Women and people of color involved in Newsreel began demanding access to equipment
and training, and greater outreach to community-based audiences. Newsreel films
such as El Pueblo Se Levanta (The People Are Rising), Community
Control and The Woman's Film reflect this shifting focus.
In 1973, a caucus of African American, Latina/o and Asian members met to evaluate
Newsreel's commitment to issues that concerned their communities. New York Newsreel
was swiftly redirected to represent international communities of color and was renamed
Third World Newsreel. Early works by TWN included Teach Our Children, In
The Event Anyone Disappears and From Spikes to Spindles.
While film production continued to be the principal focus of the organization throughout
the seventies, distribution activity began to emerge as a distinct programmatic
division of the organization as more productions became completed and works by makers
outside the network were added to the collection. Income from the rental and sale
of TWN films to universities and community groups financed administrative overhead
and operation costs for an enhanced film distribution program. Eight of the eleven
TWN films produced in the 80's aired on television, mostly on PBS affiliates. Expanded
community-based programs also enhanced the skills and careers of new artists and
provided national visibility for the entire organization.
In 1983, TWN began to build its collection of films in distribution, adding to its
own catalogue of films those of independent artists outside the organization. Works
by Charles Burnett, Camille Billops, Lourdes Portillo, and Visual Communications
were added to the collection.
Throughout the eighties, TWN began to curate local screenings of independent Third
World media at its Higher Ground Cinema, developed a Film and Video Production training
program for low income, minority and women emerging artists, produced award-winning
films such as To Love, Honor and Obey (1980), Bittersweet Survival
(1982), Mississippi Triangle (1984), Namibia: Independence Now!
(1986), Chronicle of Hope: Nicaragua (1987) and No Time to Lose
(1989), co-sponsored the first Third World Cinema Conference in New York City in
1983; published an Anthology of Asian American Cinema, a book of critical writings,
resources, and film listings, and packaged touring programs of Third World films
such as the 1980-81 Retrospective of Independent Black American Cinema,
Journey Across Three Continents in 1985, and Young British and Black
A touring retrospective celebrating TWN's 25th anniversary premiered at the Collective
for Living Cinema in 1987, accompanied by the release of the first comprehensive
catalogue of TWN's collection since 1968.
Throughout the eighties, TWN developed a distinctive role as a leading organization
representing the aspirations of people of color working with and using alternative
Providing support and services to hundreds of filmmakers, programmers, educators,
curators, administrators and technicians, TWN became known for its aggressive affirmative
action advocacy, its programs and information services and its film archive. In
addition to its training program, TWN provided production offices and facilities
to independent productions such Who Killed Vincent Chin? by Christine Choy
and Renee Tajima, Haitian Corner by Raoul Peck, Daughters of the Dust
by Julie Dash, and to the El Salvador Media Project.
During the 80s, TWN came face to face with the video revolution, funding cuts and
right wing back lash. The organization strengthened its core programming in distribution
and training and began transforming its collection from its foundation in film prints
to the increasingly more accessible video formats.
By the 1990s, TWN was a full-fledged media center, distributing over 250 film and
video titles, continuing its exceptional training program, producing a dozen new
film/videomakers each year, and acted as a fiscal sponsor to 25 productions each
year, and was recognized nationally as an advocate for film/videomakers of color.
TWN produced five of its own new documentaries in the 1990s: Homes Apart: Korea
(1991), A Litany for Survival: The Life & Work of Audre Lorde (1995),
The Women Outside: Korean Women & The U.S. Military (1995), The #7
Train: An Immigrant Journey (1999), and two advocacy documentaries for
distribution by Deep Dish T.V. : Can't Jail the Revolution... and Environmental
TWN continued to present provocative exhibitions such as Internal Exile:New Chilean
Film and Video, curated by Coco Fusco in 1990, D'Ghetto Eyes: Films and Videos
by New Black Latina/o Asian and Native Directors presented at The Kitchen
in 1992, Liberation and Alienation in Algierian Cinema with Alia Arasoughly
and August Light Productions in 1993, and The Writers and Film Series with
Jessica Hagedorn and the Donnell Media Center from 1994-1997. A retrospective exhibition
celebrating Third World Newsreel's film and video archive was presented at the Museum
of Modern Art in fall 1998, ending a series of events celebrating its exceptional
30 year history.
The 21st century
TWN now offers three different workshops, twice a year - from editing and media
literacy workshops to evening seminars on various production topics along with its
almost 3 decades old Film & Video Production Workshop. Its graduates have gone
on to produce features, award winning documentaries, organize and teach –
with an alumni roster including Byron Hurt (Beats and Rhymes), Renata Gangemi
(Latino Poets Speakout), Grace Lee (The Grace Lee Project), Randy
Redroad (Doe Boy), Renee Tajima-Pena (My America), and Alice Wu
In addition, the organization has initiated numerous productions, from the Call
to Media Action Series that documented people of color and other marginalized
groups in the wake of the 9/11 tragedy and ensuing wars, to the Call for Change
2005 Series that looked at the "state of America now” for NYC
communities of color. Currently, it is in production of the Call for Change 2007
Series, with producer JT Takagi. These series’ are aimed at community
and classroom use, and several were produced in collaboration with local community
groups. The shorts have aired on public television and public access cable, while
being featured in festivals such as Tribeca and Silverdocs.
The organization also embarked on co-productions with the NY Civil Liberties Union
on the first amendment (Keeping Speech Free), with the American Friends
Service Committee on immigration, (Echando Raices/Taking Root), and released
North Korea: Beyond the DMZ, that aired on PBS in 2005. The organization
holds regular screenings at the Anthology Film Archives and other NYC venues, as
well as retrospective programs at film festivals internationally, and currently
distributes over 400 film and video titles. The Newsreel spirit of progressive media
activism remains live, well and provocative in the 21st century.
For Additional Reading on Newsreel:
- "Newsreel Film and Revolution", Bill Nichols, Cineaste, Vol. 5 #4, 1973
- "A Decade of Building An Alternative Movement", Debra Goldman, The Independent -
Vol. 6 #7, 1983
- "A Decade of Building An Alternative Movement", Debra Goldman, The Independent -
Vol. 6 #7, 1983
- "Early Newsreel", Michael Renov, AfterImage, February 1987
- "Newsreel: Old and New--Towards An Historical Profile", Michael Renov, Film Quarterly,
- "Radical Media Review", Coco Fusco, The Independent, Vol.11, #3, April 1988