Documenting a Revolution – The Newsreel Archive: Barbara Stone in conversation

By Verena Stackelberg


Founded in New York on an autumn day in 1967, Newsreel was created by a collective of journalists, filmmakers, photographers and those who were simply dissatisfied with the ‘establishment’ reportage of the mainstream media. Its aim was to present an alternative news source by making documentaries which would educate and inform the American public about the Vietnam war’s senseless killings and the injustices committed by the state against their own citizens.

Newsreel grew into a network for young journalists and filmmakers eager to look behind the conservative curtain of the time. Today Newsreel also gives a glimpse into the inner struggle of the ’68 generation and their quest to re-draw social boundaries afresh. With the passing of time, it provides an intimate portrait of the hippies, the yippies, the bra-burning girls and the pot-smoking boys of that time.

Producers Barbara Stone and her husband David Stone were part of the Newsreel collective, following an introduction by their friend Jonas Mekas. A fellow filmmaker and champion of independent and experimental film to this date, Mekas is also the creator of the still crucial New York Anthology Film Archive.

“No one was officially credited on any of the films”, Barbara Stone recalls, 40 years on from that moment. “It would have been against the anti-establishment ideals to take any form of credit. The films were made by half amateur, half ‘real’ filmmakers, so we had footage that contained scenes that couldn’t be repeated, but that’s just how it was. We would meet once or twice a week and there were a variety of sides of the Left political spectrum represented. There was no membership list, there were no fees, so you just came into that room and sat there, and if you liked it you came back. And, amazingly, most people did.”

This philosophy led to some films having a real sense of freedom (or lack of structure depending on the viewpoint), with stills, kids’ drawings, audio recordings of interviews and filmed footage thrown into a freewheeling montage (such as The Earth Belongs to the People, for instance, about population growth and what that really means in Capitalist terms).


One of the films, Army, records the training and indoctrination given to G.I.s, letting them voice their thoughts on the training, war and resistance. “America had the draft and some of our films were made around the army bases,’’ Stone explains. “With our films we made them aware of what was going on.”

Many of the Newsreel films show young people demonstrating and reporting from the marches, and an obvious difference to today’s resistance is presented in their clear conviction that change was possible. “There was a kind of urgency that existed about everything, because we really felt we could make a difference. We were convinced that if we made films about all of these issues, people would recognise them and help to make changes. It was naïve but I am sure that a lot of people were turned around.”

At the beginning, it was hard to get the money to pay for the work, particularly as all material was shot on film and the work had to be finished within a very limited time frame due to the topicality and urgency of the documentaries. “We were raising money all the time to continue to make films. Endless fundraising events and film showings were happening all the time.”

After a few months they had films that could be sold, distributed and screened at schools and universities across the country. Newsreel sent groups to every major city in the US to form a base there and, as these groups grew, more films were made. Among the more widely known Newsreel films is Columbia Revolt, (1968, 53mins), a remarkable historical document following the NY Columbia University students and their protest against the University’s involvement in the Vietnam War (there was no segregation of blacks and whites in courses in Columbia) and other issues that enraged the student’s sense of justice in spring ’68. Newsreel filmmakers joined them as they barricaded the buildings and started an overnight, peaceful sit-in protest that ended badly.


“It was a very strange night,” Stone remembers. “The students were doing a sit-in and we knew that it was crucial to film this. A number of Newsreel people went in with cameras and rolls of films and my husband and I went from building to building during the whole evening collecting the film that was shot just in case something might happen. Well, something did happen and we managed to get out just before the last gate was closed by the police and then we saw them go in and people getting beaten up and it was not good. (But, with the film), we managed to have it shown at the New Yorker Cinema on Broadway and 88th Street.”

So, what is the most prominent memory of ’68, in terms of having been part of Newsreel? “Everything was being questioned culturally at every moment. Everything in the air was quite electric, there was this endless urgency to meet, to communicate with others from the underground press and find out what was going on. Everything else was blanked out.”

What is remarkable about Barbara Stone is that firstly, when so many were busy discussing the issues of marriage and having or not having a family etc., she was raising four children, working in the daytime to finance her family and at night devoted to producing Newsreel films alongside her husband. Secondly, she and her family left New York in 1971, and relocated to London. In 1974 they founded The Gate Cinema, a vital venue which was used to introduce UK audiences to radical auteurs such as Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Kenji Mizoguchi, Wim Wenders and other mavericks who represented much of the spirit and leftfield taste for rebellion which the Stones must have first tasted on their encounters with Mekas and the Newsreel collective.

Finally, Stone is still producing, and her latest film, Unrelated (dir. Joanna Hogg, 2007) won the esteemed FIPRESCI award at the London Film Festival 2007. It’s a bold and relevant film, a daring story and a sign that Barbara’s sense of urgency to communicate with independence still bears fruit wherever she gets involved.

Newsreel titles will be screened at London’s Curzon Soho and Renoir Cinema on 7th, 13th and 14th May.


Verena Stackelberg is a writer, curator and Head of Special Programmes for Curzon Cinemas, London (