ďI think to make change you have to be aware that there is an alternative; thatís part of the problem. The major media outlets are just there and people donít think that there is an alternative to them.Ē
Written by MGP student researcher Nora Crocker, May 2009
Liane Brandon is one of the co-founders of New Day Films, a cooperative distribution company dedicated to getting independent films, on a range of social issues, to the audiences that need them the most.
The member-run and member-owned cooperative offers audiences an alternative to the two-sided, supporting and opposing, opinions often expressed in much of today's mainstream media. New Day Films is more interested in taking in an in-depth look at the impact of a certain issue, while expressing multiple sides to the story. Brandon believes that New Day Films gives the audience "a way of talking about things differently than the mainstream" by acknowledging that "every story has twelve or even twenty sides" and not just two.
In her younger years, Brandon was restless and bored of the careers typically offered to women, like office work. She dropped out of college a number of times and estimates that she had about 15 different jobs between the ages of 18 and 24. Realizing she needed a steady source of income, she applied for a substitute teaching position in Boston. During the pre-busing days of de-facto segregation, Brandon began teaching as a full-time substitute in Roxbury; the experience was a wake up call.
"Everything else I had been doing just seemed so tame compared to the challenge of the problems and the issues in public schools- inequity, poverty, you name it."
She decided one way to tackle theses issues was through education and went back to school and earned a teaching degree.
Brandon's film career began in 1967 when she discovered that using film was an effective way to engage her students in Quincy, Massachusetts. Around the same time, she became involved with the anti-war movement and joined Boston Newsreel, an early activist documentary film collective.
While working at Boston Newsreel, she observed that the (few) women in the collective spent most of their time getting coffee and little time holding a camera. Brandon believed in the goals of Newsreel, but became frustrated with the limited opportunities and low expectations that the women faced.
"I was getting very disenchanted with not so much what we were doing at Newsreel, but some of the internal politics, particularly gender politics."
So in 1969, Brandon began to focus more of her energy into the Women's Rights Movement; she joined Bread and Roses, one of the first Women's Liberation groups in Massachusetts. She remained interested in the power of film, and in 1970, made a 5-minute film called, "Sometimes I Wonder Who I Am," about a mother with a great education, but little hope for her future.
The film was used by other women's groups and was shown on the public television station WGBH-TV.
In 1971, Brandon made another film called, "Anything You Want to Be," a humorous look at the gender-role stereotypes that hindered girls from being who they wanted to be. Though it was informally distributed through word-of-mouth and newsletters, news of the film spread quickly; it was screened by hundreds of schools, libraries, and women's movement groups throughout the U.S. and Canada.
"Anything You Want to Be" was presented at the First International Festival of Women's Films in New York in 1972 and was awarded a Blue Ribbon at the American Film Festival. The film was screened at film festivals around the world, including festivals in Paris, Iran, London, Tokyo, Toronto, and Moscow. It also aired on television stations, such as WNET-TV New York, KTTV-TV Los Angeles, KRMA-TV Denver, WNAC-TV, and WBZ-TV Boston.
When the University of California made a film very similar to "Anything You Want to Be," Brandon became involved in a lawsuit to protect the rights of media artists, like herself. In 1977, the court decided in the case, Brandon vs. The Regents of the University of California, that films are protected by the Lanham Act, which protects goods in trade.
In 1972, Brandon tackled issues of beauty, body image, and self-worth in the film, "Betty Tells Her Story." The film received much acclaim and was screened at a number of film festivals, including the First International Festival of Women's Films in Paris. It was nominated for inclusion in the National Film Registry and was also screened at the Library of Congress.
Brandon ran into a problem when she discovered how hesitant commercial distributors were to take on films about the women's movement. Despite the high demand, distribution companies were convinced that the women's movement was a fad that wouldn't last more than two years.
Meanwhile, independent filmmakers, Julia Reichert, Amalie Rothschild, and Jim Klein, were also running into the same problem. They saw Brandon's film, "Anything You Want to Be," at the First International Festival of Women's Films in New York, where their films were also screened, and decided to contact her.
The four filmmakers came together to co-found New Day Films, the country's first organization committed to films by and about women. With a mailing list in hand, the four filmmakers began sending out brochures for their films. Through New Day Films, Brandon, Reichert, Rothschild, and Klein facilitated the spread of the Women's Movement throughout the country.
Today, New Day Films is comprised of over 100 independent filmmakers and has opened up to include films, not only on the women's movement, but on a variety of social issues. Despite its growth and success, the cooperative has remained true to its idealistic beginnings. Brandon is impressed by this "expanding group of young filmmakers who are helping New Day grow, while continuing to see the original vision."
The co-founders saw New Day Films as a political statement about filmmakers having control over their own works. They also saw New Day Films as a way to communicate to a wide range of audiences about important social issues. These two ideals have remained a priority over making money.
The business model of New Day Films ensures that important films, even if they aren't making much money, still have a chance. Members pay a percentage into the organization depending on how much money their film is making; films that are making a lot of money pay a higher percentage than those that aren't.
As a member, everyone has a job to do. These jobs range from putting together the catalog to handling legal documents and contracts.
As what's called an Active Classics member, Brandon works as the archivist and is searching for ways to preserve the early works of New Day Films. She also interviews potential members in Massachusetts. She believes that every member having a job keeps New Day Films "very active, dynamic, and cooperative because everyone relies on each other to get the job done."
An online message board allows members to pose and respond to questions within a community of fellow New Day independent filmmakers, yet another way that members can rely on each other. "As a filmmaker you often feel very alone and one of the things about New Day is that you've got family to turn to," said Brandon.
Members can be elected by fellow New Day members to serve, for two-to-three year terms, on what's called the Steering Committee, a body of individuals that help manage New Day Films. The Steering Committee conducts monthly conference calls to discuss relevant matters concerning New Day Films. All New Day members, along with the assistance of a professional facilitator, meet annually to collectively discuss challenges, new ideas, and the future development of the company.
Many aspects of New Day Films, such as how member fees are determined, how every member has a job, the online message board, the member-elected Steering Committee, and the annual meetings, facilitate participatory democracy. Brandon understands the power of operating this way- upon the ideals of participatory democracy.
Brandon believes that "participatory democracy is a very significant way of bringing about social change" because "you're not just talking the talk, you're walking the walk, and you're actually doing what you're advocating."
"The members are able to take their individual passions, visions, and issues and somehow dovetail them with an organization to make the organization work so that it's not all about me; it's all about what we are trying to do here. Being a part of that is so powerful," said Brandon.
Brandon retired in 2006 after teaching at the University of Massachusetts- Amherst since 1973. She taught media and film studies and was also the director of UMass Educational Television.
She currently works as a professional photographer, shooting production stills for PBS television programs, such as "Murder at Harvard," "Typhoid Mary: The Most Dangerous Woman in America," and "Louisa May Alcott."
Brandon continues to care deeply about New Day Films and recognizes it as something pivotal in her life. She expects the organization to remain successful; it is now in its 37th year and has distributed more than 200 films, which have received a number of awards, including nine Academy Award nominations.
In a world where there will always be social issues that need more adequate coverage, Brandon appreciates the role of film and video, especially independent productions, in social change as "huge," noting that "often independent films are the first to take an in-depth look at new movements and new issues."
A positive role in social change is something New Day Films will never cease to be a part of. The same goes for, cofounder, Liane Brandon.