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Participatory Community Media, 1970-Present

ENGL 2970.401
crosslisted as: ARTH 3931, AFRC 3932, CIMS 3931, COML 3931, GSWS 3931
instructor(s):
Wednesday 1:45-1:44pm
fulfills requirements:
Sector 2: Difference and Diaspora of the Standard Major
Sector 6: 20th Century Literature of the Standard Major

What would it mean to understand the history of American cinema through the lens of participatory community media, collectively-made films made by and for specific communities to address personal, social and political needs using a range of affordable technologies and platforms, including 16mm film, Portapak, video, cable access television, satellite, digital video, mobile phones, social media, and drones? What methodologies do participatory community media makers employ, and how might those methods challenge and transform the methods used for cinema and media scholarship? How would such an approach to filmmaking challenge our understanding of terms like “authorship,” “amateur,” “exhibition,” “distribution,” “venue,” “completion,” “criticism,” “documentary,” “performance,” “narrative,” “community,” and “success”? How might we understand these U.S.-based works within a more expansive set of transnational conversations about the transformational capacities of collective media practices? This course will address these and other questions through a deep engagement with the films that make up the national traveling exhibition curated by Louis Massiah and Patricia R. Zimmerman, We Tell: Fifty Years of Participatory Community Media, which foregrounds six major themes: Body Publics (public health and sexualities); Collaborative Knowledges (intergenerational dialogue); Environments of Race and Place (immigration, migration, and racial identities unique to specific environments); States of Violence (war and the American criminal justice system); Turf (gentrification, homelessness, housing, and urban space); and Wages of Work (job opportunities, occupations, wages, unemployment, and underemployment). As part of that engagement, we will study the history of a series of Community Media Centers from around the U.S., including Philadelphia’s own Scribe Video Center, founded in 1982 by Louis Massiah, this course’s co-instructor. This is an undergraduate seminar, but it also available to graduate students in the form of group-guided independent studies. The course requirements include: weekly screenings, readings, and seminar discussions with class members and visiting practitioners, and completing both short assignments and a longer research paper.