Why We (Still) Need AIVF

When I started to write this article, I began with a David Letterman-esque list of 20 reasons we need AIVF. I included practical items like “to get a job,” “to fill out an IRS schedule C for an unincorporated business,” and “to find out which film festivals are scams.” But the real reason we need AIVF is to find each other. We need to know where we are. We need to locate ourselves in the framework of art and culture in this society. Without this “locator,” we are nowhere.

My experience with AIVF goes back to the mid ‘70s when a few of us gathered in Ed Lynch’s loft on Leonard Street in Tribeca. At that time most of us were working in 16mm film. Video was a gleam in Nam June Paik’s eye, and an over-the-shoulder accessory for a few Videofreex.

We banded together to protest the elimination of NEA grants. We went to Washington and fought for independent media. As the Association of Independent Video and Filmmakers, we were more than a few disparate individuals—we were a group taking a stand for our rights, dignity, and funding. The fact that we were a national association helped us win the NEA fight.

In the beginning, our hub was under the priestly robes of Jesuit radical John Culkin and his Center for Understanding Media. Once we got our own 501c3, we opened an office on Prince Street, conveniently located near the Soho post office and McSorley’s Bar. We grew in numbers, and we printed stationary, and we started a regular newsletter, The Independent, which progressed from mimeographed and stapled sheets to a printed magazine with the help of a young Canadian journalist, Ardele Lister.

We got CETA (Comprehensive Educational and Training Act) money and hired a full-time staff. Then we went to Washington again—this time for public television. “The Outsiders Want a Piece of the Pie,” was how the New York Times put it. Our membership grew with that struggle, from a few hundred to several thousand in almost every state. We joined forces with other media advocacy groups: the Citizens Communication Center, the United Church of Christ, the Committee to Save KQED, the AFL-CIO, the NAACP, the Consumer Federation, National Organization for Women (NOW), the National Latino Media Coalition, National Association of Lesbian and Gay Filmmakers, Black Producers Association, Puerto Rican Institute for Media Advocacy,
Women Make Movies, Asian Cinevision, and many others to form the National Task Force on Public Broadcasting. (AIVF was the lead organization in that coalition.) We testified at committee hearings and educated senators about independent media. We inspired media centers and universities to host informational meetings in dozens of states.

We wanted to protect the right of artists to create and of audiences to view works of art from a diverse range of perspectives. The ongoing series, “POV,” grew out of that struggle. Soon after, AIVF, along with other media centers and independents around the country, initiated ITVS, the Independent Television Service, which is still the major funder and gateway for independents on public television.

In the last 25 years, independents have made significant gains in production and distribution, and there are now numerous channels for our work on cable and community stations. Local PEG (Public, Educational, and Government) access studios provide high-quality digital cameras and editing software in many communities. Indie media has been a potent mix of independent visual media, radio and internet creativity, and information. But many media centers are teetering on the brink of ruin. Venues for experimental film are few and far between. Independent distribution entities are hurting. The demise of LAVA (Latin American Video Archives) signals the fragility of independent media organizations.

We still need AIVF. We still need to locate ourselves. We need to continue to demand funding, screening venues, and airtime—no matter what the apparatus, no matter what the format. We need to ensure that ITVS continues to be proactive as the Freedom of Information Act is whittled away. Bills in the Senate and Congress threaten both the internet and community access. Our national heritage of public media is being privatized at the Smithsonian. Independent journalists are being specifically targeted in brutal wars in the Middle East and Africa. Independent media makers need to continue to speak out with diverse voices, united for media that challenges the corporate mainstream in form and content. We still need AIVF to say: “We are here.”