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Results of WTO protests studied in film, workshops

By Peter Crimmins Daily Planet Correspondent
Saturday October 07, 2000

In the lobby of the Pacific Film Archive’s George Gund Theater in the Berkeley Art Museum building there is a wall of photographs taken at demonstrations in cities around the world and collected by the Independent Media Center. The photomontage is a ten-month timeline of global activism starting with the demonstrations outside the World Trade Organization meetings in Seattle in November, 1999. 

The timeline has a blank space reserved for images from the protests around the National Association of Broadcasters convention in San Francisco two weeks ago, and from demonstrations in Prague. Dee Dee Halick is busy putting together pictures to fill out the wall. 

“The work of the Independent Media Center and the growth of this kind of collective work has kind of mushroomed since Seattle,” said Halick, co-founder of the Paper Tiger Television collective, now in residency at the Pacific Film Archive. Halick, who began the New York-based organization creating and distributing independent video work almost 20 years ago, says media activism this year has been inspired by the events in Seattle. 

Collaboration and coalition are perennial activist goals. Rick Rawley, co-director of “This is What Democracy Looks Like,” a film about the WTO demonstrations, said people have been talking about getting together for decades. “But it took the events of the week and the experience of being pulled through all that went down there to feel it, to actually make it happen.” 

“We didn’t want to make a film that argued about why we need to come together, to make those reasoned arguments. We wanted to make a people viscerally experience the coalition work of a decade condensed into a week.” And, to use another old activist catchphrase, the medium is the message. Rawley’s film is made up of images and sound collected from over 100 media activists, and gets it’s visceral power in large part from the ubiquitous perspective. 

“This is What Democracy Looks Like” will screen at the Roxie Theater in San Francisco Saturdays and Sundays at noon, beginning Oct. 14. They will continue weekend matinee shows for as long as audiences show up. 

If Seattle was a high-water mark for activists, what happens now? Paper Tiger Television is at the PFA to suggest some answers, and they don’t involve throwing bricks or dodging pepper spray. PTTV presents “Hands On! Youth, Media, and Activism after Seattle” at the PFA this weekend and next with video screenings and workshops to teach people everything from making a revolutionary computer games to walking on stilts. 

Since its conception PTTV has fostered young people to make videotapes as a way to instill critical media thinking, and the PFA will be screening a taste of these works. “Road to Mississippi: Reclaiming Our History” is a factual dismantling of the film “Mississippi Burning” and an attempt to repair the historical licenses taken by the producers of that film. Although the research and ardently pushed didactic are respectable, the style is a little stilted – equal parts aping network broadcast techniques and composing a high school paper. 

A more engaging tape, and a truer document of life, is “Homecoming Queens,” in which tenants of a gay/lesbian/transgender youth group home were given cameras to interview each other. “Why try to compete with NBC?” said Halick about PTTV’s work methods. “You’re never going to be NBC, so why not be honest about the way it’s being made? Why put a fake plant on the set?” 

The raw video style gets dolled up with preening narcissism and tips on how to make fake breasts out of water-filled condoms. But through the giggling dormitory hijinks the sober side of a group living is articulated by one house member who says, “this is not what I consider a home.” 

“Homecoming Queens” and “Road to Mississippi” will both screen at the Pacific Film Archive Sunday at 3 p.m. Halick’s own video “Gringo in Mananaland” (1995), a comic assemblage of Hollywood movie clips tracing the popular American imagining of Latin America, will screen on Tuesday, Oct.10. 

The collaborative spirit, which exploded in Seattle and causes ripples of activist momentum yet, is in evidence in the workshops at the PFA. Organizations and individuals will gather to demonstrate and instruct their own unique ways of activism. TILT (Teaching Intermedia Literacy Tool) will be on hand to show how they go into schools and clubs to teach kids how to deconstruct mass media products. Multimedia artist Patap Chaterjee will demonstrate computer games he designed to take pot shots at corporate culture by spoofing popular video games. Offline, Catherine Schucter will give tips on ‘zine production and the art of Xerocracy, and Luana Plunkett and Neil Morrison will show how to take a stand at the next demonstration in stilts. 

Workshops, open to anyone, are on Oct. 8 and 15 at 11 a.m., in the lobby of the Pacific Film Archive in the Berkeley Art Museum.