As I channel my academic scholarship into the landscape of visual production I find myself reflecting and rewiring my understanding of activism and scholarship. Making my first video essay gave my academic work new breath and regenerated my passion for the work I create. It strengthened the bridge of creative community and cold stone theoretical writing. It unified text and practice. I am embracing a new tool that has transformed itself and its accessibility throughout the years. Many activists have taken the tool of video production as a tool for activism.
In Chapter 6 of AIDS TV: Identity, Community, and Alternative Video, Alexandra Juhasz links art and theory in the making of alternative AIDS media. Engaged in activist video production, Juhasz regards the process of funding, distribution, production and viewing as integral components of theory and vital to the practice of a collective vision. This chapter, “WAVE: A Case Study”, illuminates the social, theoretical, and art practices of alternative and activist video production. In the making of the video We Care, Women’s AIDS Video Enterprise (WAVE) brings into focus collective and diverse voices of women and their experiences in the AIDS crisis and their experiences as care providers for people with AIDS. Through sociological, feminist, and ethnographic frameworks, Juhasz activates the practice of art making to challenge hierarchies of power and power positioning. Art in this production is utilized to open a vital space of accessibility, visibility, identity, community, dialogue, and education that has been historically unavailable to people outside of the mainstream. The politics of sexuality, health care, poverty, race, and gender are constantly reflected upon by all participants involved in the making of We Care. Art in the making of We Care illuminates all aspects of the AIDS crisis, “The production of art cannot be separated from the other tensions, anxieties, and problems that women encounter during their daily lives and in their sense of themselves” (180). The production of We Care illuminates voices, built community trust, offered partnership in the making and challenges mainstream representations and social hierarchies.
In addition to recalling the difficulties and the forms of exclusion that are evident in the “highly professionalized requirements of arts funding” (184), along with validated mistrust of mainstream media Juhasz also incorporates her own reflections on positionalities as both an insider and outsider to the production of We Care. The importance of this reflection is vital for any researcher to partake, it fuels the important and intimate relationship of activism and scholarship.
Questions of reflection on documentary and We Care:
Who is the Audience? In watching the documentary We Care, the target audience ranges from care-providers, people with no or little knowledge regarding HIV infection and AIDS, women of color and marginalized communities that have little to no access regarding HIV prevention and education. I also believe that the audience can include activists and people exploring the world of activist documentary making. In referencing the audience Juhasz writes in chapter 6, “We made a tape assuming that the majority of our spectators, like the producers of the tape, would be urban women of color affected by AIDS. We assumed that they would be people wanting to know more, and people who would also benefit (as we had done) from the sense of community” (212-13).
What are the ethics of working with real people? The ethical component of documentary entails the vital reflection and understanding of power relations and positionalities between the person with the camera and the person and/or communities being filmed. For example, during the last half of the video we see only half view of a women’s face as she gives her narrative. This ensures her privacy and anonymity which protects her from the discriminating forces of society and culture. Another example is illustrated in the circle of women discussing their experiences with AIDS. In this section of the film the video gaze is not directed towards any one single woman. The participants are not looking directly at the camera, instead the participants are looking at each other exposing communal dialogue and participation with everyone involved. There is no single voice of authority instead we see and hear the communal voices of a diverse circle of women.
What is the Function? What is the purpose? The function of the video is to offer community members and care providers a deeper understanding of AIDS and to transmit real facts on AIDS while breaking down myths. The purpose is to illuminate real life experiences and real diverse voices from women affected by the AIDS crisis.
How do you characterize visual and sound design? The visual landscape of the video entails intimate footage of some of the participant’s homes (including an actual tour inside a home), an intimate footage of a participant at the ocean reflecting on her life experiences, a doctor’s office, a counselors office, and the setting of what appeared to be a community space of where the support group for WAVE participants met. The beginning of the video illuminates the voices of the participants of WAVE through the reciting of a poem. The collective voices at the beginning highlight the communal efforts in the production of We Care. The visual effect of the myth breaking section included the opening and closing of a book that not only included text in the form of questions but actual live responses from people in the community. The section where a counselor gives breathing techniques to sooth stress could have functioned differently if the setting was outside her office or if there was a wider angle or even if it took place in a circle with WAVE participants. Most settings seemed organic (especially those where the camera gaze was not specifically directed towards the face of a participant), the counselor’s setting seemed clinical where the doctor’s setting seemed inviting (though it was still in her office).