Video Machete

Video Machete (VM) was a Chicago-based collective organization of community activists, educators, media artists, students, and youth, active from 1994 - 2007. It was dedicated to increasing democratic communication and economic and cultural equity through media education, production, and distribution. VM's programs included over 5,000 participants in media production workshops and our media reached audiences of over 500,000. Foremost among our programs was our summer and after-school curriculum of media arts and activism workshops for low-income, inner city Chicago youth of color. The mainstream media, and public discourse generally, has locked youth perspectives out of dialogue about social issues and community activism. Thus, the media we produced explored and documented the stories, perspectives, and community building strategies of people who are invisible in or distorted by the mainstream media, particularly youth, women, people of color, and recent immigrants. We produced over 200 videotapes covering issues such as police brutality, young women’s issues, education reform, gentrification, immigration, in documentary, narrative, and experimental forms. We regularly organized community screenings in Chicago, and between 1996 and 2007 our work was exhibited at over 100 organizations, locally, nationally, and internationally.

VM was founded by a group of intergenerational media artists, activists, and community educators, including Dalida María Benfield, Chris Bratton, Franklin Cason, Mary Ebeling, Mary Foley, Roberto Gonzalez, Beatriz Santiago-Munoz, Tim Portlock, Luis Rodriguez, Ramiro Rodriguez, Cesar Sanchez, and Patricia Zamora, and grew to include many more artist-educators and youth activists. Also important to the establishment of VM was our initial partner organization, Youth Struggling for Survival. Over time VM developed the capacity for full time staff, including its first Executive Director, Davida Ingram, first Program Director, tammy ko Robinson, and first Distribution Director, Mindy Faber.

Dalida María Benfield was a co-founder and involved in workshop facilitation, program and curriculum development, fundraising, and sustaining the collective from its inception. In 1999, VM incorporated as a not for profit organization and her work with VM then included grants administration, fundraising, artistic production, and teaching. VM programs included: a year round curriculum of after-school media workshops for youth; an organizational distribution project, Machete Volante; a national distribution initiative, the National Youth Media Cooperative; teacher training programs; in-school short-term and long-term residencies; independent video and multi-media website production; discussion groups for Chicago activists and educators; technology consultations with not-for-profit community organizations locally, nationally, and internationally; and public events and presentations. Video Machete received substantial support from the Open Society Institute; the MacArthur Foundation; the AOL-Time Warner Foundation; the National Endowment for the Arts; the Girl's Best Friend Foundation; and many other foundations and state agencies.

The media education enacted by Video Machete was fundamentally based on strategies of critical pedagogy and liberatory education. Its goals were as follows: 1) to train youth to use media so that they can create self-authored representations of their experiences and perspectives; 2) to train youth in a critical analysis of the mass media; 3) to engage youth in a socio-political analysis of their communities and their personal experiences; 4) to create lasting connections between young people and the organization enabling them to engage in other social change activities.

One of the many initiatives that Benfield was involved in at VM was the creation of workshops for young women. In these workshops, called MAGIK (Media Activism for Girls in the Know) young women focused on their own concerns. Through workshops girls and young women produced videotapes, performances, and publications based on a series of self-identified topics. This also progressively resulted in new workshops focused on queer and transgender themes. She also worked on Voces y Luchas, an oral history project focused on Latina/o communities in Chicago, in collaboration with the Latino Studies Research Center at DePaul University and supported by the Illinois Humanities Council. VM's projects also included Global Youth; the National Youth Media Distribution Initiative; Critical Response PSAs; Media Activism Institute; and many others. The Internet Archive's Wayback machine has plenty of grabs from our website:*/

Selected Bibliography & Screenings

Goodman, S. Teaching Youth Media: A Critical Guide to Literacy, Video Production, and Social Change. New York: Teachers College Press, 2003.

Goldfarb, B. Visual Pedagogy: Media Cultures in and Beyond the Classroom. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2002.

Puente, T. "Teens Use Videos to Protest Racism." Chicago Tribune, March 11, 2002.

Lutton, L. "Youth Media Crank Up the Volume." Youth Today, Nov. 1, 2001.

Rodriguez, L. Hearts and Hands: Creating Community in Violent Times. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2001.

ross, j. m. The Groovy Little Youth Media Sourcebook. New York: Learning Matters, 2001.

Myers, L. “The right to be seen and heard: Youth media distribution.” MediaRights, Aug. 2001.

Benfield, D.M. and Faber, M. “Growth Potential: Why form a network for the distribution of youth media?” In The Independent, June 2001.

Mauro, L. “A Call to Action: Camcorders put power in the hands of kids.” Chicago Tribune, Dec. 10, 2000, Sec. 7, p. 11.

Benfield, D.M. “Video Machete: Video Production as Popular Education.” In Community Media Review, Feb. 1997.

Selected screenings and exhibitions of Video Machete

Paper Tiger TV anniversary program, Berkeley Community Television. 2008.

Premiere screening of Voces y Luchas. DePaul University, Chicago, IL. 2004.

National Association of Media Arts and Culture National Conference, Seattle, WA. 2002.

Taos Talking Pictures Festival, Taos, NM. 2002.

Gen Y Studio, Sundance Film Festival. 2001.

Atlanta International Film Festival, Atlanta, GA. 2001.

Featured Artists, Taos Talking Pictures Festival, Taos, NM. 2001.

GRRL POWER, Women in the Director’s Chair International Film and Video Festival, Chicago. 2001.

Access Orbit, national satellite distribution, Deep Dish Television Network. 2000.

Festival Internacional de Cine de Niños, Ponce, Puerto Rico. 2000
San Antonio CineFestival, San Antonio, TX. 1998

National Poetry Video Festival, co-sponsored by the Guild Complex, Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. 1998.

Girls and the Media, Women in the Director's Chair International Film and Video Festival. 1998.

Youth Media, Center for Communication Resources, Chicago. 1998.

Moving Images. Group exhibition curated by Jim Duignan. DePaul University Gallery, Chicago. 1997.

Rock-A-Mole Festival, Los Angeles, CA. 1997.

CineAcción CineLatino Film and Video Festival, San Francisco, CA. 1997.

Featured Artists, Taos Talking Pictures Festival, Taos, NM. 1997.

alt. youth media. Group show curated by Brian Goldfarb, New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York, NY. 1997.

Open Channels. Group show curated by Mary Patten, Sleeth Gallery, West Virginia Wesleyan College, Buckhannon, WV. 1997.

Moving Images. Group show curated by Jim Duignan, DePaul University Gallery, Chicago, IL. 1997.