These videos, she added, didn’t just observe people, but rather created a participatory media about the lives and concerns of those who are too often overlooked: “The guerrilla television movement videos represent something that is not taught, is not available to most people and creates a new wealth of cultural knowledge.”
Coined by early video author Michael Shamberg, who later became a Hollywood movie producer, the term “guerilla television” describes a movement that sought to democratize video production—blurring the lines between those who had the power to disseminate information and who could only receive it. The new preservation effort will draw from videotapes held in the collections six media arts organizations: Media Burn, Community TV Network, Kartemquin, Appalshop, NOVAC and the Experimental Television Center collection at Cornell University.
Through the process of digitization and extensive cataloging, the consortium will create a permanent online archive accessible to the public.
“Most of these films haven’t been seen since the time when they were made,” said Prof. Daniel Morgan, chair of the Department of Cinema and Media Studies. “To gain access to this material will give us a broader sense of media history, especially the intersection of technology and politics. It promises to change how we think about media during the 1970s.”
Media Burn chair and founder Tom Weinberg called the project a “technological breakthrough that has artistic and cultural significance.” Media Burn executive director Sara Chapman, AB’04, who studied with Hoffman, said the new website will help “link the work and history of people collaborating and connecting all over the country.”
UChicago scholars have spearheaded the creation of other important video archives, including the South Side Home Movie Project led by Prof. Jacqueline Stewart, which focuses on amateur films and provides a visual history of the neighborhoods on Chicago’s South Side.
The archive of the guerilla television movement will cover diverse populations and geographic areas—both urban and rural. Source material will include video interviews with Pulitzer Prize-winning author Studs Terkel about his renowned book, Working; videotapes that document the lives of Black and Latinx youth; recordings of strikes organized by union steelworkers; footage of coal miners in Appalachia; and documentaries about housing, literacy, health care and community issues in New Orleans.
“During the 1960s and 1970s, much of our historical record is in video,” said James Chandler, the William B. Ogden Distinguished Service Professor in the Departments of English Language and Literature and Cinema and Media Studies. “We will lose this vital history if we don’t save these videos by digitizing the fragile medium and then archiving them and allowing people to access them. You cannot write the history of this time in the U.S. without access to its visual materials.”
The digitization of these fragile videotapes takes time. The project will focus on highly endangered half-inch open reel and U-matics, which are first- and second-generation videotapes from the 1970s. Technicians start by inspecting and repairing tapes that have been physically broken. Sometimes they bake the tape to remove moisture. To convert the analog signal to digital files, they must play back and watch the videos in real time.
Once the digitization process is complete, experts at the UChicago Library will review, describe and archive the videotapes and create a website that will contextualize the videos and allow for in-depth searching of the content. To make the collection easily accessible to the public, librarians must create standardized metadata, logging information such as the names of directors and performers, and the location where the tape was recorded.