We Tell Reviews

"Rice Cinema in Houston, Texas had the honor to be the second venue for this extraordinary national touring exhibition, We Tell: Fifty Years of Participatory Community Media. Carefully curated by Louis Massiah and Patricia Zimmermann, We Tell is an extraordinary assembly of activist grassroots documentaries made by oppositional groups in the United States for more than 50 years! It offers an essential history of the individual voices that embody and constitute 'We the People.' Particularly at this particular moment when it seems we are reliving the same struggles for justice and equality for all, We Tell is essential viewing. Congratulations to all those archivists, activists, researchers, and makers who give us such extraordinary images documenting what is not included in our “official story."

- Margarita De La Vega Hurtado, Film Scholar and Programmer, former Executive Director of The Roberty Flaherty Film Seminar, Houston, Texas


"What struck me about We Tell was the "we." The entire six- program exhibition moves us away from the whole fantasy of the single, lone genius as it decenters single-race narratives. "Body Publics," for example , includes Native American as well as Black American reflections on issues of health, safety, and care. This programming strategy lets us think about our interrelated situations, the struggles we share, and those we inhabit differently. We Tell is made for conversation."

-Terri Francis, Director of the Black Film Center/Archive and Associate Professor of Cinema and Media Studies, Indiana University


"We are so used to seeing community media in very informal settings, with small short screenings where the audience watches just one video made by a community group in preparation for a demonstration or some other kind of local activism. To see all these films from different communities and groups around the country grouped together over fifty years and organized chronologically had the effect of elevating the importance and amplifying the necessity of the work.

While I watched the We Tell: Fifty Years of Participatory Community Media exhibition at Squeaky Wheel in Buffalo, New York (the New York state premiere!), it became totally clear to me that we are really dealing with a significant body of work, not simply the scattered efforts of individuals and various groups. The informative and gorgeous We Tell catalog further underscored the absolute significance of this work as a necessary part of both the documentary ecology and American history."

- Dorothea Braemer, Assistant Professor of Media Production, Department of Communication, Buffalo State College


The national traveling exhibition We Tell: Fifty Years of Participatory Community Media feels miraculous for two important reasons. By centering communities as creators, it turns away from the hegemonic, auteur-driven frame through which audiences have been conditioned to view films for far too long. Further, it is an exemplary model of how histories can and must be written: on the ground, tied to specific places and contexts, and authored by those who live it.

- Girish Shambu, blogger, critic, and professor at Canisius College, Buffalo, New York


"The We Tell: Fifty Years of Participatory Community Media national touring exhibition is an astonishing achievement. We see and we feel local histories understood from the inside out by filmmakers who lived the events. Today’s social media networks have forgotten their progressive grassroots ancestors. We Tell remembers them. We must not forget the brilliant work of these early participatory community filmmakers who struggled to document a national history mostly ignored by mainstream makers. In “Environments of Place and Race” (1967-2016), film after film gives resonance to human struggle and to the vision of the empowered makers who left us this record. Watching these films, we feel the presence of these community filmmakers in their shooting and editing and their shared authorship – an authorship that requires both unselfish commitment and artistic courage. Long after the evening’s program, I could not stop thinking about the films and their historical moments. A remarkable exhibition."

- Sarah Elder, Filmmaker and Professor of Media Studies, University at Buffalo


"A national touring exhibition consisting of forty-one films and videos organized into six thematic programs, We Tell: Fifty Years of Participatory Community Media points backwards and forwards. It highlights an invaluable tradition of participatory community media, and its thematic relevance demonstrates the unequivocal value of these works in the contemporary moment. Because this innovative exhibition allows us to engage these films both as a public and as a body of films, these local, micro-histories expand as they touch each other and us. They are powerful histories that intersect and resonate even beyond the conversations they spark."

- Joshua Malitsky, Associate Professor of Cinema and Media Studies, The Media School, and Director, Indiana University Center for Documentary Research and Practice, Indiana University


"We Tell allows a vast range of material to weave dense patterns of relation over space and time. Its six loosely thematic programs, each organized chronologically, mark one path through the 35 videos, but others are possible... That each piece seems to acknowledge and anticipate the others is a testament to the care with which the series was programmed, but also to the intersections and alliances inherent to the politics on view. There are no single-issue documentaries here. Each moves quickly and forcefully to connect the various facets of its primary subject to broader discourses, seeking the solidarity in which popular power resides. Hardly any of the works bear the names of single authors. More often, collectives are credited with production, sometimes leaving their phone numbers and URLs at the end for those who wish to get involved. READ MORE."

- Maxwell Paparella, Screen Slate


We Tell: Fifty Years of Participatory Community Media is a ground-breaking exhibition of rarely-seen, short films, and videos that bring unprecedented insight into important and compelling issues to communities across the country for the first time. 

- Karen L. Ishizuka, Ph.D., Chief Curator, Japanese American National Museum, Los Angeles


We Tell: Fifty Years of Participatory Community Media is the arts programming event of the year.

Why? Because We Tell dispenses with the boundaries that often shape the labor and research entailed in media history and archiving. These boundaries between film and video formats, between different media exhibition strategies such as guerrilla TV and online streaming and direct cinema, between  different historical moments, between different political causes, and between an individual and a community can be useful. They facilitate periodization, typology, and differentiation that make book projects or preservation grants possible.

However, these boundaries also blunt the political messages of so-called old films and videos. They disconnect them from present day audiences and liberatory activities. Boundaries make a film or video seem out of date and no longer relevant. They isolate media, political causes, and people.

The brilliance of We Tell resides in recognizing, instead, the commonalities across community media projects from different places, time periods, and demographics. The insight and inspiration the programmers and  XFR Collective archival project team possess to create a web across these commonalities is an amazing achievement. And, so  is the large amount of work required to track down all of these different media producers and projects.

We Tell has given me--and hopefully everyone else who gets to see these programs-- a new way to connect the past to the present and to the future.

- Andy Uhrich, Curator, Film & Media Archive, Washington University, St. Louis