The Early Video Project


[Editor's Note: What follows is the Introduction from Dee Dee Halleck's book, Hand Held Visions: The Impossible Possibilities of Community Media, Fordham University Press, New York, 2002.

Ms. Halleck has worked in community media for forty years, and written about it extensively. Her book is a compendium of articles written over the years on subjects that have piqued her interest. The fact that it was published by Fordham is perhaps more than a coincidence. It was at Fordham that Fr. John Culkin began his own children's media project, and it was a Fordham that Marshall McLuhan and Paul Ryan met. And it was from Fordham that Frank Gillette borrowed one of the first portapaks in New York and made the St. Mark's Tapes. Forham looms large in New York's early video history.]

Hand Held Visions: The Impossible Possibilities of Community Media

by DeeDee Halleck


For forty years, I have been intrigued with the possibilities of creative expression with simple consumer level technology.

My work on a variety of projects that involve media making by "non-professionals" began in 1961. It was in that year that I worked with children on the Lower East Side of New York City to produce films by scratching the emulsion off 16mm film stock. What started as a simple exercise that was documented in a short 16mm film called, Children Make Movies, happened to appear around the time that Marshall McLuhan was touting the utopian possibilities of a mediated world.

The children's film project, made for $88 with a couple of rolls of left over film stock (short ends, they were called) was met with enthusiasm by a group of newly-coined "media educators" who used it as an example of the democratizing potential of "hands on" media education. It was shown at several early conferences on youth and media, among them one organized by John Culkin and Marshall McLuhan at Fordham and a UNESCO convocation in Oslo in 1962.

Since that time, I have been a "media educator" in a variety of situations: at a reform school in up-state New York, with elementary school children and teachers as an NEA artist-in-residence in Kentucky, Texas and Nebraska school systems, at senior centers, mental hospitals, farm workers centers, art galleries, film schools and at several universities in an effort to foster creative use of equipment and technology and to encourage critical viewing of main stream productions and networks. I have taught at the Department of Communication, University of California, San Diego; Cinema Studies at N.Y.U; The School of Visual Arts; C.W. Post, Long Island University and several other institutions.

The titles of the courses which I have taught are a record of my interests: Towards a Technology of Liberation; Making Our Own: Women and Media; Media as a Social Force: Community Production for Social Change; Continent in Transition: Film and Video in Latin America; Media in the Classroom for Arts Educators; Communications General: Technologies and Community; History of Alternative Media in the United States.
My goal has been to develop in myself and others a critical sense of the potential and limitations of mediated communication through practical exercises that generate a sense of both individual and non-hierarchical group power over the various apparati of media and electronic technology. These interests coalesced in 1981 with the formation of Paper Tiger Television, a production collective which has now produced over three hundred programs providing critical views of print and electronic media.

This book is a collection of essays, presentations and lectures which I wrote over the past 35 years. Some have been published in journals, and some were presentations I made at conferences and seminars as a spokesperson for community media activism. Although they come from a variety of situations, the reader will find certain common themes: communication democracy is perhaps the over-arching subject.
In the past fifteen years I have been especially interested in the use of consumer-grade video for community use. This work has a base within the public access movement in the United States and I have been an active participant in the Alliance for Community Media, a national organization which supports and sustains the public access movement.

I have also been active and served on the board of Videazimut, an international organization to encourage democratic use of communication technology. Through my research I have been in contact with video groups in many countries of Latin America (Guatemala, Dominican Republic, Brazil, Colombia, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Cuba, Haiti, Mexico), in Europe (Spain, the Netherlands, U.K, France, Germany, Denmark) and Asia (Taiwan, Japan, Korea and the Philippines).

For many of these groups, I have been a conduit for information about public access in the United States and I have helped to expand exchange of programs between groups in these countries through programing films and videos from this international community in festivals, art centers, film theaters and universities around the United States.
Many of the programs have also been collected for transmission on Deep Dish TV Network, which I co-founded in 1986, a network of over three hundred community channels in over forty states.

I hope that my experiences as an observer of community based media both in the United States and in such countries as Brazil, Cuba and Asia will be useful in providing examples of alternatives to corporate commercial media. Many educational, cultural and social organizations both in the United States and around the world are realizing that they need to re-think the current models for media and technology. NGO's everywhere are beginning to take media seriously. There is a vibrant community of media educators who are providing the technical means and creative encouragement that fosters work that is not dictated by commercial pressures or academic constraints.

There are many successful projects that have been generated by video makers, urban planners, librarians and artists. There is very little dissemination of this work so that others can utilize and grow from these many experiments.

Most media research focuses on main-stream television and filmmaking, with scant attention to efforts to create popular forms of participatory media. I hope that this book will serve as a resource for those who are engaged in this work. I start with a discussion of my own development as a teacher, producer and an active participant in the struggle for media democracy. Many of these essays were written in the heat of battle, so to speak. I hope this can give the readers an historical perspective on the community based media movement and a sense of the determination and resolve that have enabled often fragile and much embattled local community video organizations and independent producers to survive in a climate that is dominated by global media corporations.

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© Davidson Gigliotti, 2000CE