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Video Activism: History, Theory, Politics and Practice

Instructor: River Branch
University of Iowa; Fall 2004

Course Description:

"A video camera has become one of those objects you pack for a protest."

~Tish Stringer, Video Activist

This course examines the history of video activism beginning with the introduction of the porta pak in the late 1960's, the development of video collectives, activist and public access television and culminating in video's role in the WTO and the events preceding and following September 11th. Through readings, screenings and discussions, you will examine the blurring lines between art, documentary, journalism and activism. Topics include but are not limited to the infusion of identity politics (shifts created through feminist, queer and race theory), youth action in the 1990's, the act of recording as defense, movement from vérité to personal documentary, and issues of distribution.


You will write two five-page papers and one fifteen page paper, and you are responsible for regularly presenting on course readings, screenings and research. Active class participation and a demonstration of a working knowledge of course material are primary factors in the evaluation of your work.

As this course addresses the role of video in our communities, you may propose a final project of a video rather than a paper. If this is of interest to you, please talk to me by September 18th.

Course Materials:

The first four books can be purchased at Iowa Book and Supply on Clinton Street.

Boyle, Deidre, Subject to Change: Guerrilla Television Revisited, Oxford University Press, 1997.

Márquez, Gabriel García, Clandestine in Chile: The Adventures of Miguel Littín, Henry Holt & Co, New York, NY, 1986.

Nichols, Bill, Blurred Boundaries: Questions of Meaning in Contemporary Culture, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, Ind., 1994.

Zimmermann, Patricia R., States of Emergency: Documentaries, Wars, Democracies, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 2000.

I am listing these additional texts, as I drew several articles for the course from each.

Hall, Doug and Fifer, Sally Jo ; editors. Illuminating video : an essential guide to video art. New York, N.Y. : Aperture in association with the Bay Area Video Coalition, 1990.

Hanley, JoAnn. The first generation: women and video, 1970-75. New York: Independent Curators Inc., c1993.

Straayer, Chirs. Deviant Eyes, Deviant Bodies. New York: Columbia University Press, 1996.


8/28 The History of Video Activism

9/4 Video Art:
-The rise of collectives (Ant Farm, Paper Tiger, Deep Dish TV)
-Feminist, Race and Queer Theorists 1) 'Video: Shedding the Utopian Moment,' by Martha Rosler (p. 31-50)
2) 'A Brief History of American Documentary Video,' by Deidre Boyle (p. 51-69)
3) 'Dé-collage/Collage: Notes Toward a Reexamination of the Origins of Video Art,' by John G. Hanhardt (p.71-79)
4) 'Video Art: What's TV Got to Do With It?," by Kathy Rae Huffman (p. 81-90)
5) 'Paradox in the Evolution of an Art Form: Great Expectations and the Making of History,' by Marita Sturken (p. 101-121)
*Readings taken from Illuminating Video, ed. by Doug Hall & Sally Jo Fifer

9/11 Video's role on the day of September 11, 2001 and in the days, weeks and months following. TBA

9/18 Activist Television & The 1970's: implic. of public access Readings from: Subject to Change by Deidre Boyle

9/25 1970's: articulation of identity politics Paper #1 due
Readings from Deviant Eyes, Deviant Bodies by Chris Straayer and from
Resolutions, ed. By Michael Renov & Erika Suderburg

10/2 Youth Action in the 1990's Final Project Proposal due
Readings: TBA

10/9 The Act of Recording as Defense:
The World Trade Organization
Rodney King Readings from Blurred Boundaries by Bill Nichols

10/16 Who is your audience? TBA

10/23 1990's: Race, Sexuality Gender and Disability Readings from Deviant Eyes, Deviant Bodies by Chris Straayer and from Resolutions, ed. By Michael Renov & Erika Suderburg

10/30 1990's: The Gulf War Paper #2 due
Readings from Blurred Boundaries by Nichols and
States of Emergency by Zimmerman

11/6 Video Documentary & The line bt/ activism and documentary. TBA

11/13 Issues of Distribution:

The world wide web, festivals, public access television & Strategies: experimental, documentary, and video art. Readings from States of Emergency by Zimmerman & TBA

11/20 The move from Vérité to Personal Documentary Final Paper/Project-
Rough draft/rough cut due
Readings TBA

11/27 Thanksgiving Break

12/4 The local & the global. Diaspora. Independent Media Centers. Clandestine in Chile by Gabriel García Márquez

12/11 Presentations of final papers & videos Final Papers/projects due

12/18 Presentations of final papers & videos