The Hidden History Of “Guerrilla Television”: UChicago Scholars Preserve Decades-Old VideosHistorians in the News
tags: film, Chicago, archives, documentary, television, primary sources
Online archival project will create and share ‘a new wealth of cultural knowledge’ of 1970s
Decades before cellphone video changed how we create and consume media, the advent of low-cost, portable video cameras did something similar for underrepresented communities across the United States—allowing them to experiment with new forms of documentary, art and activism.
Known as “guerrilla television,” this movement of the late 1960s to 1970s helped amplify the voices of groups such as women, Black, Indigenous and people of color, immigrants and Appalachian miners.
Now, a consortium of University of Chicago scholars, librarians and partnering archivists and filmmakers will create the Guerrilla Television Network—preserving and presenting the history of guerrilla television to a much wider audience. Supported by a grant of nearly $500,000 from the Council on Library and Information Resources, the three-year project will digitize 1,015 videotapes produced from 1967 to 1979.
“When Sony rolled out the small format video in the 1960s, this revolutionary equipment placed TV in the hands of everyday people,” said longtime filmmaker Judy Hoffman, a professor of practice in the arts in UChicago’s Department of Cinema and Media Studies. “The technology intersected at a time of cultural upheaval when people questioned how broadcast TV was produced. Those of us interested in changing our relationship to TV got hold of this equipment.”
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.