California Newsreel

California Newsreel, 149 Ninth St., #420, San Francisco, CA 94103; (415) 621-6196; fax: 621-6255;;; Contact: Lawrence Daressa, Director of Acquisitions What is California Newsreel?
Along with Third World Newsreel, we are the oldest nonprofit media distributor in the United States.

Who is Newsreel?
Our principal directors are Lawrence Adelman, Lawrence Daressa, and Cornelius Moore. We’ve just added Tina Bachemin from PBS in San Francisco as Promotions Director. Steve Guy is our Administrative Director.

Total number of employees:

How, when, and why did Newsreel come into being?
It was founded in 1968 to provide an alternative source of information on the anti-war movement and other social change movements of the day.

Unofficial motto or driving philosophy behind Newsreel:
Focus! It’s better to do a few things well than many things poorly.

What would people be most surprised to learn about Newsreel or its founders and/or key staff?
Our longevity. Larry Daressa has been at Newsreel for 26 years, Larry Adelman for 24 years, and Cornelius for 19. That’s a total of 69 years together.

How many works are in your collection?
Over 100.

Films and filmmakers you distribute:
Among them are Ethnic Notions, Black Is . . . Black Ain’t, and Color Adjustment by Marlon Riggs; A Question of Color by Kathe Sandler; The Black Press by Stanley Nelson; Frantz Fanon: Black Skin, White Mask by Isaac Julien; Aime Cesaire: A Voice for History by Euzhan Palcy; Lumumba: La mort du prophète by Raoul Peck; Africa, je te plumerai, Clando, and Chief! by Jean-Marie Téno; Finzan, Guimba, and La Genese by Cheick Oumar Sissoko; Hyenas, Le Franc, and La Petite Vendeuse de Soleil by Djibril Diop Mambéty.

What types of works do you distribute?
We’re currently focusing on African American life and history, African cinema, race and diversity, and media and society.

What drives you to acquire the titles you do?
We’re very selective. Our first consideration is to ask if the title contributes significantly to the discourse around our targeted thematics. A secondary consideration is whether or not it has a broad enough interest to repay the amount of money and effort we insist on putting into the promotion of every title we acquire.

How is your collection organized?

Is there such a thing as a “Newsreel” title?
It’s a film with ideas, a film with a strong point of view with serious intellectual content and theoretical grounding.

Best known title in Newsreel’s collection:
Ethnic Notions by Marlon Riggs.

What’s your basic approach to releasing a title?
To reach the potential market for a title as thoroughly and frequently as possible.
Where do Newsreel titles generally show?
They show at colleges, high schools, public libraries, media arts centers, community forums, exhibits, panels, conferences, and also in corporate diversity training.

How do educators and community members find out about the titles you handle?
Through direct mail, exhibitions, and screenings at conferences, reviews, and of course, via the web.

Do you develop study guides to accompany your titles or is this something the makers are doing on their own?
Right now it’s a little of both, but it’s best if the filmmaker comes up with it.

Where do you find your titles and how should filmmakers approach you for consideration?
Contact us. If it sounds like a fit, we’ll ask to see a preview copy. We also keep abreast of what’s been funded and submitted for funding.

The role of an educational distributor in society is
to . . .
promote materials that would not be supplied by the commercial sector. The efficacy of any educational or social change-oriented film must ultimately be measured by the impact it has on the subject and the discussion it generates.

Biggest change at Newsreel in recent years:
The development of a web site which promotes the films and acts as a resource.

Most important issue facing Newsreel today:
Finding new and good titles. From our vantage point as distributor, we see not only what films exist but also which are missing. A lot of films come to us in search of a use.

Where will Newsreel be 10 years from now?
Unfortunately, we’re not tapped into the psychic network, but the future of most distribution depends on the nature of technology.

You knew Newsreel had made it as a company when . . .
we got mentioned in the New York Times.

The biggest issue facing social issue mediamaking and distribution is . . .
There is a great necessity to look at what constituents and communities need before making a film. Rather than producing a documentary and then finding an audience to distribute it to, filmmakers should make audience needs central from the beginning.

If you weren’t distributing films, what would you be doing?
If we weren’t distributing films, we wouldn’t be California Newsreel.

What distinguishes you from other distributors?
Rather than carry the broadest possible selection of titles, like video supermarkets such as PBS Video, we have concentrated on a small number of thematic areas, usually corresponding to a growing social movement or emerging scholarly discourse. This focused distribution has been successful because it allows us to segment our markets, give our collection thematic coherence and visibility, and concentrate on just a few titles at a time. Perhaps even more importantly, it has enabled us to gain an intimate familiarity with each of our chosen areas of concentration. We participate regularly, not just as vendors but as colleagues in the regular professional life of the field, presenting at conferences, writing for their journals, and joining in their organizational life.
Because we focus our distribution resources, Newsreel is one of the few distributors who still, as a matter of principle, offer every producer an advance against royalties as part of virtually every distribution agreement. We often will sign films well before completion, so these royalty advances can actually help fund a film’s postproduction. Advances can range from as little as $5,000 to as much as $30,000 and are estimated to approximate the title’s first two years’ anticipated royalties.

If you could only give independent filmmakers one bit of advice it would be. . .
to do a needs assessment. Filmmakers submit videos to us continuously. But an inordinate number of them (including some immaculately produced ones with munificent budgets) evince little understanding of their supposed audiences’ needs or how they might be used. Too many documentaries are of only anecdotal interest. Too many more seem more designed simply for a screening at Sundance rather than for any educational or organizing purposes.

Upcoming titles to watch for:
One of our new releases, La Petite Vendeuse de Soleil, opens April 26th at the Film Forum in New York City. It’s the last film by the late Senegalese master director Djibril Diop Mambety. Also, we will be releasing later this year Faat Kine by Ousmane Sembene, the father of African cinema.

The future of educational media distribution in this country is one which . . .
will be heavily impacted by interactive, multimedia technologies.

Famous last words:
Pre-payment required.

About :

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