Distributor FAQ: Third World Newsreel

What is Third World Newsreel?
Third World Newsreel is a nonprofit, multicultural media arts organization that fosters the creation, appreciation, and dissemination of independent film and video made by and about people of diverse racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds, and social justice media. This includes distribution, production, training, programming, and exhibition services which reach local, national, and international communities. The media we promote has the ability to effect social change, encourages people to think critically about their lives and the lives of others, and often propels people into action.

The driving philosophy behind Third World Newsreel:
Media has the power to change minds and move people to change society.

Who is Third World Newsreel?
We are made up of volunteers, film/video workshop students, and a core staff: Dorothy Thigpen, executive director; David Kalal, distribution director; Nataki Garrett, office manager; J.T. Takagi, business manager/production coordinator; Herman Lew, workshop coordinator.

How, when, and why did Third World Newsreel come into being?
Third World Newsreel began as the Newsreel Collective in 1967, becoming the New York chapter of a national network of activist filmmakers which had been established to counter the disinformation in mainstream media about the Vietnam War and the social movements of the sixties.

Newsreel produced and distributed dozens of short, low budget, political documentaries covering the anti-Vietnam War movement, the student movement, the women’s movement, the civil rights movement, and the national liberation movements both in and outside the United States, including the Black Panthers and the Puerto Rican Young Lords.

Shooting primarily on black-and-white reversal film, Newsreel was able to document and present images that were not otherwise seen in the U.S. which included what the Black Panthers were saying, what disillusioned returning Vietnam veterans were revealing, how the Vietnamese people were suffering from the U.S. bombings and their determination to win their liberation, and much more.

In the early seventies, Third World Newsreel emerged when the founding NY chapter focused its efforts on empowering people of color and added media training and audience development to its work.

How did distribution fit into this?
While film production continued to be the principal focus of TWN throughout the seventies, distribution activity began to emerge as a distinct programmatic division of the organization. In 1983, as more productions became completed, including works by makers outside the TWN network, its collection of films in distribution began to grow.

Your goal as a nonprofit distributor of independent media is to…?
challenge the field—both the viewers and makers—and to remain an aggressive advocate and facilitator for progressive work by and about people of color.

The difference between TWN and other distributors of independent work is…?
that we help make the work and we’ll take chances, since we’re dedicated to getting voices heard that are otherwise marginalized, as well as developing new audiences.

Where does the money come from to fund TWN’s activities?
About 45% is earned income and 55% is contributed income from government and private foundations.

What would people be most surprised to learn about TWN and/or its staff?
TWN still has a progressive criminal attorney on retainer, an FBI file, and some of our titles are actually made by white folks.

Biggest change in the last five years:
Surviving and growing from the NEA Advancement process; changing leadership and relocating to a new space; getting two major Newsreel productions completed and aired (A Litany for Survival: The Life and Work of Audre Lorde by Ada Gay Griffin and Michelle Parkerson, and The Women Outside by J.T. Takagi and Hye Jung Park); and going on-line.

Biggest change in the last 30 years:
Changing from a mostly white male organization of the sixties to an organization that has been primarily people of color and female from the mid-seventies to the present; from short black-and-white reversal films to feature-length, in-depth documentaries shot on film and tape.

How many works are in your collection?

What types of works do you distribute?
16 and 35mm film and video titles of all lengths, genres, and styles that represent the lives, concerns, and perspectives of people of color throughout the world as well as dealing with social justice issues.

How is the collection organized?
By ethnicity and subject—for example, Anthropology; Chicano experience; Folkways and Spirituality; Gay and Lesbian experience; Hip Hop & Counterculture; Poverty & Economic issues; Titulos en Español.

Does TWN still produce original works?
Yes! Recent productions included Litany for Survival and The Women Outside. In post right now: Black Russians, #7 Train, and El Puente. Our Film/Video Production Workshop also produces several pieces each year that enter the collection.

How do you decide what to add to your collection?
A film/video must be representative of TWN’s mission and relevant to topical social issues that impact our constituency.

Best known titles and/or directors in your collection:
A Litany for Survival: The Life and Work of Audre Lorde; Killer of Sheep by Charles Burnett; Finding Christa by Camille Billops/James Hatch; Tenacity by Chris Eyre; Illusions by Julie Dash; The Women Outside by J.T. Orinne Takagi/Hye Jung Park; Black Panther and El Pueblo Se Levanta (The People Are Rising) by Newsreel; Passion of Remembrance by Maureen Blackwood, Issac Julien, and Sankofa Film & Video; Looking for Langston and Territories by Isaac Julien/Sankofa; and Mississippi Triangle by Christine Choy, Allan Siegel, and Worth Long, to name a few.

Range of production budgets of titles in your collection:

Where do you find your titles and how should makers approach you for consideration?
We find titles in a couple of ways: through the network of makers that both distribution and the Production Workshops have developed for TWN, and through an on-going process of combing festivals, conferences, and their catalogs for titles of interest. We welcome submissions for consideration.

What’s the basic structure of a filmmaker’s distribution deal with Third World Newsreel?
We do both exclusive and nonexclusive contracts with makers usually for all markets. Makers are responsible for supplying us with masters. Royalties are paid bi-annually along with a report of sales and rentals.

Who rents and/or buys TWN titles?
Universities, museums, libraries, festivals, and community groups.

Most unusual place a TWN title has shown:
ThunderGulch, a video wall in the middle of Silicon Alley in the Wall Street area of Manhattan.

Biggest challenge in reaching our audience is…?
continuing to make affordable rental and sales copies to the community-based groups and grassroots organizations that need to access TWN’s collection. We have a commitment to the audiences that these types of organizations represent and reach.

The most important issue facing TWN today is…?
funding and access to new technologies.

Where will TWN be 10 years from now?
Still reaching out and speaking to the masses—probably from this same office, since we just signed a 10-year lease.

Other distributors you admire:
Mypheduh, Women Make Movies, and KJM3.

Keep an eye out for…?
Third World Newsreel’s 30-year retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art throughout October, along with panels at the Donnell Media Center, receptions, parties, and the whole nine yards!

Famous last words:
The revolution must be televised!

About :

Lissa Gibbs was a contributing editor to The Independent and former Film Arts Foundation Fest director.