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: 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


"I was so pleased that the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC was able to show so much of this exhibition.

We Tell provides an essential review of the impact of community-generated media on the development of media arts and the efforts of the communities themselves to achieve awareness and social justice.

It was important for me to see the works of early Asian American filmmakers in the '70s. I realized how much influence their efforts had on the later work of Asian American filmmakers that we programmed in the 90s and 2000s.

More broadly, the programs showcase the efforts of many marginalized communities such as African American, Appalachian, Working Class, LGBTQ+, and Women to create their own media spaces and messages using any and all available resources. It is so exciting to hear these stories unfiltered by traditional media.

And Patty Zimmerman's introductions and Q&A following the screenings provided essential context to the times and movements that produced them. Thank you!"

- Tad Doyle, IT manager, Film Programmer and Former Director of Programming for the DC Asian Pacific American Film Festival


"I was fortunate to be in the audience to see the touring exhibition We Tell: Fifty Years of Participatory Community Media at Appalshop in Kentucky with filmmakers who have inspired me for the last forty years. I was moved to sit next to Mimi Pickering while we watched her film Buffalo Creek Flood: An Act of Man (1975). That film is as relevant today as when it was first made.

This fifty-year history of films about "Environments of Race and Place" told from a community perspective stirred me.

I can't think of a more important touring exhibition than We Tell: Fifty Years of Participatory Community Media. Every programmer, every film festival, everyone interested in labor history, environment, communities, and documentaries should find a place to screen these important films and videos.

The exhibition’s emphasis on collective action and commitment to community storytelling prevail. I am honored that one of my films, Voices from a Steeltown (1983), is included in the "Turf" series.

Watch the “Wages of Work” program and take a look at the film about Black autoworkers in Detroit, Finally Got the News (1970). Compare it to the Julia Reichert and Steve Bognar’s new Netflix documentary, American Factory (2019). Are the new owners of that plant in Ohio much different than the corporations like GM, Ford, or Chrysler that came before them?

On a final note, if I can't convince any organizations in Pittsburgh to screen this series, I am thinking about opening a pop-up cinema in Braddock in order to show it. The stories these films tell are as powerful today as they were when they were first made."

- Tony Buba, filmmaker, Braddock, Pennsylvania


"We Tell: Fifty Years of Participatory Community Media vividly reminds us that today’s vitriolic disdain and disregard for everyday people is nothing new in America.

Through the actions, words, and voices of America’s marginalized, We Tell provides us with an historical accounting of how struggles, community actions, and everyday people are the true social and moral fiber of the US.

The program I saw, “Wages of Work”  makes space for the stories and actions not of scholars, politicians, or the wealthy but of everyday people who come together in their communities to make life better for them and theirs and in turn each of us.

As a sociologist I know that the gold standard for truly understanding the barriers to equity and justice within people’s lives and communities are the words and actions of those people, not the interpretations or analyses of the so-called experts.

We Tell shares the stories of struggle, problem solving, and impact in a way that is reminiscent of the University of Chicago School of Sociology: it is the words and lived experiences of people that we all need to know.

Everyday people are far too often are treated with contempt, or even worse, made invisible.  Thank you to We Tell for opening up the lives and actions of those who embody what America is and ought to be."

- Noreen M. Sugrue, The Latino Policy Forum, Chicago, IL


"We Tell assembles an amazing collection of films about different groups of ordinary people in oppressive social situations. 

At a single sitting in Chicago, I saw four of these in the “Wages of Work” program, ranging from a film documenting the activities of the League of Revolutionary Black Workers in Detroit in 1970 to a recent film from Chicago’s own Labor Beat looking at the action of fast food workers in Chicago responding to sexual harassment at McDonald’s.

I came to this experience with a mixed background, beginning as a labor activist in the late 1960s and ‘70s and moving on to  forty years of teaching philosophy at major public universities. Both sides of my personality found abundant nourishment.

The most striking thing to me was how these narratives break a symmetry implicit in much traditional documentary film making. They speak from a point of view aligned with an aggrieved group, without, however, descending into simple advocacy. I can best liken it to the situation of a journalist embedded in a combat unit who follows the actions of the unit and its members, tells a story from their point of view, without being a part of it.

 The aims and methods of these films also bear comparison with those of immersion journalism as exemplified, for example, in the work of Leon Dash.

While widely scattered across time and social space, the actions and movements depicted in these films are each grounded in a sense of justice. The collation of these narratives is itself an important social and political contribution.  The We Tell project should be of very great interest to anyone concerned with questions of social justice."

- Timothy McCarthy, former labor activist and Professor Emeritus, University of Illinois-Champaign Urbana