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Joel Neville Anderson: DCTV Notes and Citations

 

“Bypassing Sony’s lengthy waiting time for the import license required to make an order from the manufacturer, Tsuno instead had her mother in Japan purchase a Portapak system directly from the company’s headquarters in Tokyo at approximately USD $1,600, and mail it directly to her in the US.”
[1] Interview with Keiko Tsuno and the author, February 12, 2016. Unless otherwise noted, all further quotations from Tsuno are taken from this interview.

“Carrying the Portapak’s clunky camera ensemble (consisting of a camera, recording deck, and audio recorder) by pushing a shopping cart throughout the Lower East Side, she dressed in drag as a boy in order to disguise herself in the neighborhoods she passed through, potentially dangerous as a young woman as well as someone carrying expensive electronics.”
[2] Kevin Howley, Community Media: People, Places, and Communication Technologies, (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 144.

“It was these ethnographic videos that made Alpert interested in video’s potential.”
[3] Tsuno’s first complete video work, entitled Video Poem, was exhibited at The Kitchen (then at the Mercer Arts Center). This short film is both in need of restoration in its original half-inch open reel video tape format, as well as digital transfer. However a portion is viewable as a background image to the ending credits to the WNET/Thirteen program Video Tape Review or “VTR” airing 1975, which profiled DCTV’s activities up until that point, and interviewed Jon Alpert, Keiko Tsuno, and Yoko Maruyama.

“The provocative, freewheeling Is This Music? (1971) reveals substantial overlaps between Tsuno’s and Alpert’s early, experimental video art and their later media practices.”
[4] Unlike the majority of the couple’s output under the DCTV institutional authorship, which is distributed either by the organization itself, or the video and media art advocate Electronic Arts Intermix (EAI), Is This Music? is also in peril, with a single copy recently discovered in DCTV’s archives.

“This comic or parodied sense of patriotism foresees the sharply critical perspective of their later exposés on American government and foreign conflicts, while also exemplifying the playful attitude that distinguished Alpert’s and Tsuno’s work from the staunch nationalism of the period, as well as the seriousness of their art-video peers.”
[5]While this essay focuses on the confluence of community video and video art in DCTV’s foundational years, the group is better known for their television documentaries critiquing the long arm of American empire. They were famously the first American television crew to be allowed into Cuba to produce a documentary since the 1959 revolution, creating Cuba: The People (1974) and selling it to PBS. Cuba was also the first ½” color video work to be broadcast on television. As Alpert recalls, “It was literally the first or second one off the assembly line” (Jon Alpert, quoted in J. Hoberman, “Jon Alpert’s Video Journalism: Talking to the People,” American Film: Magazine of the Film and Television Arts 6:8 [June 1981]: 54). The success of this project was followed by a number of other major broadcast projects at PBS with the support of WNET’s David Loxton, including Chinatown: Immigrants in America (1976), and Vietnam: Picking Up the Pieces (1977). On the latter of these projects, DCTV was the first U.S. TV crew admitted into Vietnam after the fall of Saigon. After working on contract projects at PBS, Alpert began producing independent projects for the NBC network’s Today series. However, Alpert’s long and productive NBC contract abruptly ended when his footage focusing on civilian casualties in Iraq during the first Gulf War led to the cancellation of the news program three hours prior to broadcast. Subsequent DCTV productions have been made with HBO for cable broadcast, such as Baghdad ER (2006) and China’s Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of Sichuan Province (2009).

“As Erik Barnouw recounts in one of DCTV’s few appearances in formal histories of documentary media, ‘during its first seven years DCTV gave free training to no less than 70,00 people, with instructions in English, Chinese, and Spanish.'”
[6] Erik Barnouw, Documentary: A History of the Non-fiction Film, 289.

“As Tsuno recalls, the unpredictable nature of running a media arts center from their apartment required round the clock on-call preparations not unlike a firefighter, noting ‘Sometimes, I didn’t change my clothes because I knew somebody was coming, and I didn’t want to meet somebody with my, you know, nightwear, so I went to bed just dressed up.'”
[7] “Pioneer Of Community TV Celebrates 40 Years,” Around the Nation, NPR (New York, NY: December 2, 2012), http://www.npr.org/2012/12/02/166336709/pioneer-of-community-tv-celebrates-40-years.

“As Alpert adds, ‘The audience voted with their feet,’ ‘If they liked something, they’d sit around and watch. If they didn’t, they were off to where they needed to go.'”
[8] Lyndon Stambler, “The Accidental Filmmaker,” Scene: News and views for the Colgate community (2010 Autumn), 38.

“’Sometimes we thought we had made something great, only to realize it didn’t resonate with the public. It pushed us to try to tell a story in a concise fashion, in a way that connected with the audience. It was a great learning experience that kept us humble.’”
[9] “The Early Days of Video: A Conversation with Jon Alpert & Keiko Tsuno,” IFP: Independent Filmmaker Project, October 3, 2012, http://www.ifp.org/resources/the-early-days-of-video-a-conversation-with-jon-alpert-keiko-tsuno.

 


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