Cut, no. 22, May 1980, pp. 34-37
Four hundred film and video activists met at Bard College in New York State in June 1979 at the first U.S. Conference for an Alternative Cinema. It turned out to be the most important national gathering of progressive media workers since the 1930s.
Several major groups immediately recognized that their needs were not being adequately addressed by the structure and organization of the Conference, whose Organizing Committee was dominated by white, male straights from New York. As a result of the ensuing political struggle, an expanded Organizing Committee rearranged the Conference structure to include time for Third World, Lesbian and Gay Male, Feminist and other caucuses, as well as time for presentations by these caucuses to the general meeting. This activity was extremely valuable and brought about major advances in the Conference as a whole.
The following statements and position papers were the key formal documents of the Conference, most of which we reprint from the final versions issued by the Conference Continuing Committee. We have added the Feminist and Canadian/Quebec Caucus Statements, and have omitted several shorter ones, which are available from the Conference office, 192 Broadway, Room 708, NY NY, 10038. For a full report on the Conference see JUMP CUT 21 (available for $1.50 from P.O. Box 865, Berkeley, CA, 94701).
— The Editors
Third World Caucus
The Third World Caucus of the Alternative Cinema Conference has reviewed the process and composition of the Alternative Cinema Conference and has concluded that the same institutional racism that we encounter daily in the larger society has unfortunately permeated the process of the conference development. While we recognize the importance of the event and commend the organizing committee for their vision, we find that the planning process has reflected a lack of accountability to Third World people, reflects inherent racism and limits the possibility for fullest mutual exchange.
Among the concerns of each ethnic group relating to the weaknesses of the Conference organizing are:
Adopted, June 14, 1979
Third World Caucus Unity Statement
Third World filmmakers, media producers and media users from throughout the United States have come together at the U.S. Conference for an Alternative Cinema, have struggled together, and through dialogue and with mutual respect have united to work toward the common goal of fighting against racism, sexism, and class oppression and for the liberation struggles of Third World and other oppressed peoples. Through mutual struggle and dialogue with other alternative cinema movements, we have grown in our understanding of our common struggles. We lend our support to the conference, and we are committed to returning to our communities and actively involving other Third World filmmakers in our goal of building a Unified National Alternative Cinema Movement.
Adopted, June 17, 1979
Lesbian and Gay Men's Caucus Demands
1) Lesbians and gay men must be included in all decision making bodies at this and future conferences.
2) That co-workshop moderators and panel members must be appointed by lesbians and gay men to relevant Saturday discussions.
3) Any future conferences be structured so that lesbians and gay men, Third World people, feminist and working class people are not in competition with each other for time and space.
4) All media makers must include responsible gay images in their films and must implement the principles of affirmative action in all phases of production.
5) Alternative distribution centers must seek out, distribute, and encourage the production of media made by lesbians and gay men — media works which are relevant to the struggles of white, Third World, and working class lesbians and gay men.
6) There are some groups here which are anti-racist, anti-classist, anti-imperialist, and ANTI-GAY. These groups, who are by policy anti-gay, must be repudiated and excluded from participation in future conferences in the interest of unity.
7) That the Alternative Cinema Conference is strongly opposed to and will fight against gay oppression both in the society at large and in the left.
8) That these resolutions be adopted and incorporated into any published material of conference proceedings.
Adopted, June 15, 1979
THE WOMEN WHO ATTENDED THE FEMINIST CAUCUS REPRESENT A WIDE RANGE OF FEMINISM. SOME OF US CALL OURSELVES SOCIALIST FEMINISTS. SOME OF US CALL OURSELVES FEMINISTS, AND THAT INCLUDES A SOCIALIST PERSPECTIVE. SOME OF US CALL OURSELVES LESBIAN FEMINISTS AND VIEW HETEROSEXUALISM AND PATRIARCHY AS MAJOR SOURCES OF OUR OPPRESSION. WE DO NOT CLAIM TO REPRESENT ALL WOMEN OR ALL FEMINISTS AT THIS CONFERENCE. WE ESPECIALLY MISS THE OPPORTUNITY TO MEET WITH AND DIALOGUE WITH THIRD WORLD WOMEN AND OTHER WOMEN WHO HAD TO ATTEND OTHER CAUCUSES.
We are in process. This statement is a beginning — open to expansion, change; open to growth. It's clear by our numbers at this conference that we women are a large force in alternative cinema. Yet we feel that in many ways this conference does not meet our needs, because it does not have a strong enough feminist and anti-sexist perspective. We understand that the organizers made a decision not to have specific feminist workshops, on the assumption that all the workshops would include a feminist perspective. Those good intentions have not materialized and this is no accident.
Specific feminist panels and workshops have to articulate women's problems and women's solutions in order to have a feminist perspective at this conference as a whole. We understand the way that conference structures become sexist if serious consideration is not given beforehand about how to overcome such sexism. We want women's voices to be heard here. We want our history and experience, as well as our political analysis, to be listened to in its own context.
As feminist media workers, we understand the dangers of rewarding those who "made it" at a conference like this. To structure panels and workshops with speakers already involved in "successful" ongoing organizations is to diminish the participation of women and Third World people especially at this conference. Women, especially lesbians, working people and Third World people, have had limited access to technology, training, the means of filmic production, craft unions, funding by independent agencies, and distribution of their work — if they have distribution. By organizing an alternative media conference with a selection of speakers who are part of ongoing groups, who have completed films or tapes that have become well known on the left, or who have been successful breaking into the industry — even in a small way, a white male heterosexual perspective unjustly predominates. This is not to say that many of the women here have not made fine and important films or organized distribution. But we wish to emphasize that the criterion of "successful" seemingly used in selecting panelists here is a criterion saturated with the ideology of the dominant sexist and racist and classist culture.
Many of us who met in the feminist caucus had never met or seen each other before — but we define ourselves as feminists and we want to talk about our work and our differences with each other. We all felt eager to do that, yet we felt constrained by the need to choose one representative for this plenary and one for the conference coordinating committee that would represent all of us. We have also felt constrained here by the need to put our work and our experiences as women into some so-called larger political perspective for the purpose of having our voices heard at this conference. Some of this constraint speaks to the sexism that we've internalized that makes us question our own political legitimacy as woman, and some comes from an atmosphere here in which the discourse is structured according to narrow definitions of what is political, so that what is said often times does not represent our experiences.
We support the concept of political film and video workers meeting, talking and ultimately supporting and understanding each other — not only in our work, but also in our politics and our experiences in this society and in this violent and anti-human time in our history. If we are the people who are making and using media that speaks counter to the profit-margin mentality, then our responsibilities to our subjects, our communities and to each other need always to be before our eyes and in our hearts.
We women who define ourselves as feminists and who attended the feminist caucus, offer the following suggestions for further alternative media gatherings:
1. That the word "alternative" be re-examined from a feminist perspective. That we not be asked to forget that "The Personal is Political" nor that others here be allowed to ignore that it is.
We would like to remind the participants of this conference that two feminist film and video conferences happened in 1975 in New York City and Los Angeles. The energy for a feminist media was born with Filmwomen in Boston long before 1975 and grew and spread across the country. Those of us lucky enough to attend one of the conferences felt that our isolation as feminist media workers would not continue. Specific things that grew out of those conferences are: the video letters-exchanged by cities every three months to convey information (our political lifeline) about our work and our communities — and some ongoing feminist film groups that continue today. These two conferences were "alternative" media conferences as well.
If these five days are days that will shake the world, then the ten days that those two conferences encompassed, while not measured on the Richter scale, spoke of the low rumble that is a veritable scream of women's rage. Those ten days spoke to bonds we as women wanted to build and reaffirm. And we spoke of our responsibilities as media workers to present that rumble and that rage and those bonds on film and on videotape for our common good.
2. The second suggestion we put forth is that a feminist and anti-sexist perspective be assumed and included in all future workshop topics, all plenaries, and assumed in all discussions of alternative work-styles and alternative histories.
3. That caucuses be actively encouraged rather than allowed. That the consciousness of caucusing and discussing our differences and our commonalities be advanced to the understanding that this is strength building and does not preclude our participation in and support of this conference and other groups who are caucusing. That caucuses be scheduled at different times, recognizing the reality that there are some of us who could and would find our identity in more than one caucus.
4. That an "alternative" time structure and schedule be considered, allowing for differences in how we relate to traditional conference structures. We find ourselves afraid to miss information by meeting with each other rather than going to plenaries or workshops.
5. That the tone of alternative conferences and the assumptions of what is political content, what is political form, be stretched, like a healthy muscle, to include the experience of women, the perspective of women, and the aesthetics of women in presenting ideas and visions that are aimed at a reordering of our society — our world — into a place we can and want to live in. We are not the "woman question."
Our caucus has agreed on the need to begin an ongoing network of information, support and political discussion among feminist women media makers. For us, that accomplishment will make this conference an invaluable occurrence for us — a fruitful place for us to connect with each other in the future.
We know that the conference's commitment to be anti-sexist, anti-racist, anti-classist does not, in and of itself, make this atmosphere a safe one for those who do not enjoy white skin privilege, male and heterosexual privilege, or middle class and upwards privilege, but it is an opportunity to move towards that place for the future — if we are not afraid to struggle.
Adopted June 14, 1979
Socialist Feminist Caucus
As a group of Socialist Feminists, we are in solidarity with the statements made by the Third World Caucus, the Feminist caucus, the Gay and Lesbian caucuses, and we want to add our own perspective to their critiques.
It is clear to us that the structure of the conference reflects the politics of the conference organizers. That is, workshops and plenaries did not begin with explicit political issues and proceed to their application in our film work. We know that the consciousness we want our films to reflect must be born in political struggles within our communities. But this failure of the workshops and plenaries have left political definition and struggle to the caucuses, thus creating separatism and factionalism, resulting in a contradiction between the professed goal of unity and what has become a reality in the conference. Once again, oppressed peoples have been forced to use our skills to reconstruct a conference rather than participate fully in it.
As Socialist Feminists, we are committed to a class struggle that goes beyond purely economist solutions to a broader analysis of power in its everyday forms. We will continue to fight against the false separation between the workplace and the home, the public and private spheres, production and reproduction.
Just as the liberal word "alternative" has emphasized unity at this conference at the expense of clarifying differences, so too "feminism" has here been a catch-all phrase, since the conference structure has prevented women from meeting freely across caucus lines to discuss the interconnectedness of the socialist and feminist perspectives.
There exists a feminist perspective among Third World and working class women, with its own identity derived from lived experience — but ignored by the dominant culture and the bourgeois media, which has attempted through tokenism and cooptation to dilute the revolutionary potential of feminism. Feminists have been divided along race and class lines like everyone else in our society. Access to technology has been an access of privilege. We have all been denied access to a media exploring the personal dynamics of the oppression of Third World and working class women.
What we have now is an image of feminism that Third World and working class women often can't relate to. There's a real separation that cannot be glossed over. As socialist feminists, we are willing to recognize our differences, as Third World women, as working class women, as lesbians, in order to struggle with these differences, and with our real commonalities, in order to find our points of unity. To work toward a society where we have the right, but not the need, to caucus.
Some specific recommendations:
Adopted June 16, 1979.
Whereas Blacks, Chicanos, Puerto Ricans, Asians, Native Americans, and other Third World peoples, together with women, lesbians and gay men, have been discriminated against in all areas of media production, programming and distribution, from employment and training to funding for their media projects, and
Whereas the democratic rights won by Third World peoples, women, lesbians, and gay men during the struggles of the 1960's and 1970's, including affirmative action programs, are now under wholesale attack, ranging from on the job (Weber case and Briggs initiative), in the classroom (Bakke case), to the growth of direct physical assault, and
Whereas the media industry and funding agencies in particular often never really implemented affirmative action on a consistent basis and may now retreat from whatever commitments they made in the past, and
Whereas it is in the common interest of all media workers to support the democratic demands of Third World peoples, women, lesbians, and gay men whose oppression and isolation divides the forces which must unite to build an alternative media and new society,
Therefore, we, the participants in the 1979 U.S. Conference for an Alternative Cinema:
Declare our forthright support of the democratic demands of Third World peoples, women, lesbians, and gay men working in film and all areas of the media, and in the alternative media most especially, and
Demand that media employers, schools, and funding institutions establish and consistently implement the entire range of affirmative action programs to ensure the full and active participation of Third World peoples, women, lesbians and gay men at all decision-making levels, in all areas of employment, and in the funding and programming of media projects.
Bard College, New York, June 17, 1979 Adopted, signed by Conference participants, June 17, 1979.
Some of us remember the attendance of many Americans at the Montreal conference on alternative cinema five years ago. We want to thank you for allowing twenty Canadians to attend this conference as observers.
I am speaking as a representative of the delegation from Canada and Québec, but our delegation is not representative of those two nations, and we would like to point out the absence here of native Canadians, both Indian and Innuit, of East and West Coast Canadians, of Francophone Québécoises, of Third World Canadians. Those of us here can only speak for ourselves, and as ourselves we do have something to say about Canada and Québec in relation to U.S. Alternative Cinema. That is, that our economy is flooded with American products: 96% of films shown in our theatres are foreign, nearly half of these American; our TV sets present American programmes to the tune of $40 million worth of programming; our newstands carry mostly American magazines. Now these are commercial products, and in that respect we share a common problem with Americans who are overwhelmed by the patriarchal/capitalist ideology. But the flooding also applies to so-called "alternative" media. We are expected to learn radical politics from American films, TV programmes, magazines. Canadian and Québec audiences are taught to expect that American media, straight or alternative, is better, bigger, slicker, faster, stronger, more effective than our own media.
An example: There are filmmakers here at this conference working on a film about the wives supporting the Sudbury miners' strike in Ontario. They were refused production funding by Radio-Québec on the grounds that the station had just bought two films on the same subject — HARLAN COUNTY and ON THE LINE.
Conversely, we who make alternative media in Canada and Québec — and we are up there, and we are not all accounted for by the National Film Board-have difficulty finding distribution in the U.S., which is an important market for us, unless we are willing to make "neutral" films that pretend not to be Canadian. If we name ourselves we are considered irrelevant to Americans, and yet we see that films from other countries, any other countries, are considered interesting examples of foreign cultures. Any Canadian or Québécois can tell you about how many documentary films, TV programmes, articles we use in the left speak of Americans and U.S. problems unselfconsciously, just as any feminist can tell about how language itself is saturated with patriarchal reference. We would like to name ourselves as Canadians and Québécois and find interest and support from the American left for our presentation of issues and problems we share with you. We would also like to ask your cooperation in heightening consciousness about the fact that we are across a border, that we have different problems as well as similar ones, and that chief among these problems is our status as a colonized culture, in the case of Québec doubly colonized.
Delivered by Barbara Halpern Martineau on behalf of the Canadian/Québec delegation, June 13, 1979.
As we were writing this statement we all began to feel overwhelmed by the horrors of the nuclear industry, so overwhelmed that we almost decided to say, "Forget it folks, it's all over. Let's just have the final party." But instead we rehabilitated ourselves and came up with this resolution.
Kidding aside: We, the anti-nuclear caucus, wish to express our solidarity with the unity platforms presented by the Third World, Feminist, Gay and Lesbian caucuses.
We are drawn together in the belief that economic struggles will be central to the 1980's and that the heart of those is energy and the struggle against the spread of nuclear technology and the nuclear industry. Nuclear power and nuclear weapons epitomize white, patriarchal, high technology monopoly capitalism. At every level of the fuel cycle there is a systematic exploitation of both human and natural resources. For many years, the government and the nuclear industry have covered up and obscured the nature and extent of this exploitation. Today it is becoming clearer and clearer to us. For example, the nuclear industry has told us that no one has died as a result of nuclear technology. But workers at all stages of the fuel cycle are subject to lethal health effects through their jobs, including leukemia, other forms of cancer, genetic damage, etc. At least one quarter of the uranium miners, principally Native Americans, have died as a result of their jobs. Karen Silkwood could have told you about the health hazards facing workers in nuclear plants if she hadn't been killed because of what she knew and wanted to tell the world.
The government has sold us on the need for nuclear weapons to insure our national security, and has constantly separated the issues of power and weapons. Yet the connections between nuclear weapons and power interests are cleat. Nuclear power was sold to the country in the 50's under the guise of the Atoms for Peace Program. The technology and monopolistic structure of the weapons and power industries are strikingly similar and so are the results: it doesn't matter whether you are exposed to radiation through a weapons or power plant, it's the same stuff.
The nuclear industry has sold us the need for nuclear power by raising the fear of black-outs and brown-outs. They haven't yet talked about whiteouts and I wonder about that. The fact is that nuclear power serves the interests of monopoly capitalism and constantly undermines the struggles to democratize the production and consumption of energy in this country. The Diablo Canyon Power Plant in California was originally supposed to cost $350 million. The cost of the completed plant is $.5 billion, and this cost will be unequally born by the poor and Third World residents of the state. Further, this money could have subsidized energy conservation and the development of economically viable alternative energy sources.
The nuclear issue is not a single issue. The nuclear issue has the potential to become a broad movement and rallying point for the struggle facing us in the 80's because it cuts across all class, race and sex lines. There is no one who isn't affected by the proliferation of nuclear weapons and nuclear power in this country and around the world.
We are committed inside the anti-nuke movement and in our media work to making the connections between energy questions and those of racial, economic and sexual oppression.
The establishment media has long supported the interests of the nuclear industry, and continues to do so aggressively, even after Three Mile Island. Our task on the left is therefore particularly urgent and necessary.
We strongly urge and resolve that all participants at this conference forge an alliance with us, so that we may struggle together in our movements and regions to defeat the two-headed monster of nuclear weapons and nuclear power in this country and all over this, our common earth.
The responsibility of the political filmworker is commitment to the struggle, purpose of the film, who it is for, the political content/form of the film, and accountability to the people who appear in the film.
Filmworkers from Third World countries present at the workshop saw the need for an anti-imperialist perspective among media workers and for solidarity and support for fellow filmmakers imprisoned and tortured in the exercise of their professional film activities.
Political filmworkers, whether or not they are working on a project in or for a working class or third world community or audience, have the responsibility for supporting work on such films, as well as the responsibility for the inclusion of third world filmworkers on such projects.
White filmworkers have the responsibility of educating other white filmmakers to the need to support the demands of third world communities and third world filmworkers for media relevant to their concerns. A basis for multi-national unity must be the sharing of skills and technology, so that third world filmworkers can be responsible and able to set up training programs for their own communities.
Exile communities from third world countries should receive the support from U.S. filmworkers to produce films about the struggles in their countries. We should aid the distribution of third world films in this country.
We support the resolutions of the Craft Union caucus to pressure unions to take the responsibility to create training programs for third world filmworkers and to give them full membership in the unions.
Many groups have developed lists of third world filmworkers in the United States, such as Chamba Notes and the Chicano Cinema Newsletter.
These lists should be centralized and expanded, and made available to everyone.
This directory should include biographies, the issues the filmworkers are currently working on and which issues they would like to work on, their skills and their needs. The Film Fund should be mandated to publish and disseminate this directory.
We support the resolutions of the Third World caucus and should work to implement them.
There are three components to meeting the needs of Third World communities in media; jobs in the industry for Third World filmworkers, training for Third World filmworkers, and support for films about the issues in working class and Third World communities.
Adopted June 17, 1979.
Media Workers Using Video
We, as media workers using video, have been very concerned about the lack of consistency in representation and integration of all media forms in the presentations and discussions at this conference. Therefore, we recommend that at all regional meetings and future conferences held, the following be included:
Use and Exhibition
Members of over 25 organizations representing film users and exhibitors from all parts of the country have attended the Alternative Cinema Conference. As people trying to create a proper context for the use of social change media in our communities, we have been heartened to learn of the work and progress of like-minded organizations. The workshops that focused on audience development and exhibition were important learning experiences for us all.
However, we feel that for the most part these learning experiences were not shared by many of those conference participants involved in the production and distribution of political films. At the plenary on use and exhibition, few filmmakers were in attendance. In some ways the opportunity for useful dialogue was missed.
This is not only unfortunate but detrimental to the effective use of social change media in our local communities. No discussion of political filmmaking can ignore the discussion and analysis of how to show films politically.
We understand the financial constraints and economic realities of filmmaking. But we feel that alternative and community-based exhibitors and users are often treated primarily as a market for distribution. In contrast, we consider ourselves to be an equal link in the process of political education through social change media. Everyone involved in social change media is part of the same struggle. We must all work together in a cooperative real relationship to insure that our films are made, distributed, used, and discussed in ways that contribute to the political goals that we all, no matter what our place in the process, share.
During the conference, much time was spent in discussing issues of making political films. We must all, whether users, distributors, critics, or filmmakers, make a concerted effort to consider the equally critical other side of the coin, namely how to present films in a way that encourages and supports social change and progressive political action.
Therefore, users and exhibitors in attendance at the conference urge the adoption of the following resolutions. That: