by Jacob Holdt
read this carefully before you plan
the event!!! Or down-load and
print out technical parts for AV- or tech. people)
First, we would like to thank you for your willingness to arrange
the showing of American Pictures. American Pictures is beyond doubt
the most successful campus event of the 80's and 90's - one of the
very few that always draws packed audiences.
At times, however,
schools who organize it for the first time fail to realize its potential
and do not publicize it well enough. The result is that the few students
who show up try to organize a second showing. This is fine, but American
Pictures is now in such demand that it is sometimes hard to find a
new date. Besides, any speaker who stands in front of hundreds of
people night after night, can't help but feel terribly let down after
traveling, let's say, all night in a car or plane only to arrive at
a place where he feels the organizers simply didn't do their job well
Let me, therefore,
from my hard-won experience of showing it in more than 300 colleges,
come with a few important suggestions and requirements:
First of all, make sure that you are technically able to present American
Pictures. Can you get a room or lecture hall on the given date? Next
make sure that it can be made absolutely dark at the time where the
show starts. I must emphasize this point. Even the smartest Ivy League
organizers have at times come up with old-style courtrooms with 20
large Gothic windows which couldn't be darkened! We had to wait for
hours for the sun to go down.
Or the opposite:
In some of the modern push-button schools they have come up with rooms
where it was impossible to turn out the lights. When I say darken,
I mean so dark that you can't see each others heads in the room. Remember,
I show a lot of photos of dark people where it is impossible to see
facial features - unless the room is nearly pitch black. If EXIT signs
are placed close to the screen, try to cover the side which sends
a glare onto the screen in such a way that the sign can still be seen
by the audience.
Not much is needed since I bring all the equipment myself. But where
I show it for more than 800 people or in large rooms I often hook
up to the internal sound system. Have 3 of the regular 7-9 foot long
tables with fold out legs available (sturdy). In most places I set
up the 4 projector-show on two tables, one on top of the other. The
other one is for books and posters.
In theaters with
fixed seats I often have to set up in the middle of a row to get the
right distance to the screen. So make sure the tables can fit in between
two rows or have boards and blocks ready so the tables can sit on
top of the chairs. Have a microphone up front for my introduction
and the discussion in the intermission. One or two people for load-in
and load-out are appreciated. Since I carry these heavy boxes day
after day, year after year, I know I physically will not last too
long if I have to do it all myself.
It is a good idea to have someone stay on the phone number you give
my agent during the last hours before my arrival. If my car breaks
down I might be close enough for you to be able to pick me up in time
for the show. Rescheduling a canceled show can be a costly and lengthy
Here I can't bring all the equipment so you must provide a sound system
which can be hooked up to my little Sony Dat recorder.
You have two
One is to have a line long enough running from my place of installation,
up to your internal sound system. If you have no treble/base control
here the internal sound system can give problems at times. The best
is if you have an equalizer set up on my table before it runs into
the lines to the house system.
The other possibility
is to have two good-sized high-fidelity loudspeakers on stage and
a good amplifier on my installation table towards the back of the
room. The AV-department usually has a good system. Try to play a cassette
tape on it beforehand in the auditorium to check if it is loud enough
without too much base or distortion. Both for drive-in and fly-in
shows it is not a bad idea to have extra cassette tape deck and amplifier
available since my equipment can break down. (With shows every day
for months I then have no time for repairs). Since I bring 4 to 5
large boxes, each weighing 70 pounds, it is best to pick me up at
the airport in a van or station-wagon.
Sound problems usually sort themselves out, but without a decent screen
the show is doomed to failure. It must be very wide and very reflective.
Two large pictures are presented next to each other all the time.
To check if it is large enough, divide it in two with a line through
the middle, sit in the back rows and imagine if you could read 12
lines of typewritten text on a slide presented on the left side of
If no people
are sitting further back than 20 yards and I set my projectors up
at that distance, the screen should be at least 5 yards wide (in an
auditorium with 200 seats). For larger audiences it should be closer
to 24 feet and even more for audiences of more than 1000 people. If
nothing else is at hand, a narrow screen can usually be extended with
white paper or other screens. Do this before I arrive as it usually
takes longer than you think. It is a good idea to have rolls of white
paper, tape (don't put clear tape on the reflective side of the screen)
and a ladder available. Janitors and AV-people will often not give
you much help, so organize some students.
If the screen
width is all right, you can, before my arrival, set up two tables
for projection in the right place (which is helpful in case I am late).
The relationship between screen width (X) and distance (Y) back to
my projectors is: X to Y as 1 to 4.
Since I now use zoom-lenses it may vary a bit. If there is only one
possible place I can shoot from, such as a projection booth or a balcony,
please make sure that the screen is large enough for that projection
The screen must
be at least one half as high as it is wide. Beware of rooms with low
ceilings. To get a decent size image in a room with less than 4 yards
to the ceiling, either the audience must sit on the floor or not be
larger than 100 people. If you use roll-up screens from the AV-department,
order 2 of the largest ones ahead of time. However, they are generally
useless for more than a couple of hundred viewers.
size of audience:
It is nicer to
have a packed room than a large, half-empty auditorium. It is a difficult
show to sit through, and more people are likely to stay if a feeling
of importance, coziness and "we're all in this boat together"
is created. To find the right sized auditorium for your school, it
might be helpful to look at the list of other schools I've been to
and compare with those similar to yours. Lesser competitive schools
have a much smaller turnout than highly competitive schools. Conservative,
urban, commuter, religious and state schools usually smaller than
private, small town, liberal arts colleges, where half the student
body often are present. The higher the SAT scores, the larger the
turnout - and the more people will stay. While comparing with our
list, bear in mind that lack of publicity, exams, other events etc.
could have caused a small turn out in some schools.
For the average college
or university using American Pictures for the first time (or after
a break of several years) it is important not to advertise this as
a documentary about racism and poverty. The people who get most out
of this show are the same people who do not want to hear about such
issues to begin with. The very nature of racism makes those of us
most affected by it, avoid confronting the issue, or anything else
Unfortunately, this is
the case for the majority of the nation's college students at the
present moment. (So racist are most campuses today, that if black
students are organizing the show, I advise you to recruit co-sponsors
and print their names in large type and the B.S.U.'s in smaller type!)
If, on the contrary, you emphasize all the personal and more sensational
aspects of the show: "A Dane's journey through the American underclass,"
"selling blood," "living with the Rockefeller's"
and the like, with the weight on words like "America," "traveling"
etc., people will turn out in great numbers -- and, what is more important,
be happy and surprised that the show turned out to be far more meaningful
than they expected....and that it had a "deeper message."
Since you under-emphasize
racism and blacks in the advertising it is wise to let word leak out
to the black students, or use a different form of advertising in the
Black Student Union. The show is directed towards a white audience,
but it is helpful to have a good black turn out. But remember that
American blacks have been deeply hurt by racism and will often be
very suspicious of anything organized by whites.
My agent will supply you
with some large color posters. Students generally find them very attractive.
As a result they are often stolen after a couple of hours. Therefore
make sure to hang them up in well attended places such as where people
eat. And rip a hole in the side, slash them or cross them with clear
tape to avoid theft. They are very expensive, so we can only supply
you with a few. Therefore you should not waste them on decorating
your own student activities office, where only a few people come.
Blacks generally like
these posters, but in some areas of the country a few blacks might
react to "the negative stereotyping" in the photos. We therefore
advise that you put up some of these posters in places where mainly
blacks congregate with a special cross sticker glued on with the words:
"An amazing Journey through and behind Black stereotypes in the
white mind." In addition you must print your own flyers. We will
supply you with a copy of one which worked well in other schools,
and where you can put your own location and dates.
I would here like to advocate
a special strategy first developed by Univ. of Michigan. Each time
they used it, 1500 people turned up for the show: a couple of weeks
before the event plaster the entire campus with the special flyer
"What is American Pictures?"
which we enclose in the package. Print it on a garish light green
paper which stands out from all other posted flyers. The effect is
that after a few clays everyone on campus walks around asking "What
is American Pictures?" You can intensify this by printing, similar
table tents for the lunch room and arm bands.
A week later you saturate
campus with a new flyer, same color, but now with the text: "American
Pictures. The country you never knew," now with the location
and time for the event. Perhaps also new arm bands with "Follow
me to American Pictures." Now you can also put our large color
posters up in a few strategic locations. On the actual day of the
event you should put a large yellow cross sticker over those posters
with the inscription: "Tonight. Don't miss it!"
Such a well planned campaign
has been successful everywhere, most especially in large universities
with many competing events. A good example was conservative Northwestern
University in Chicago, where the organizers only had expected 50 to
show up, but an astonishing 750 came with the feeling that this was
something too important to miss.
It is also very important
to get the university paper to do a story on American Pictures a couple
of days ahead. Again, try to get them to write about the personal
stories behind it and not use loaded words like racism. What apparently
works best is when they write about the success of American Pictures
on other campuses, how many times it has been shown in Harvard etc.
Some papers have a policy of not writing about an event before it
is over (which is of little help!). In that case you might get a trusted
writer to tie it into a story about a recent racial, sexist, homophobic
or anti-Semitic incident or the racial climate on campus. On our web-site
we have included a lot of reviews from other campuses. Feel free to
download them and use them in the story. You can also take out an
add on the day of the event, in which you put some of the more sensational
Most used poster on hundreds of campuses
you can download here. It is made for Legal size paper with lots
of white space below to write date and lecture hall on.
After all this,
there is still a great deal of frustration next day among those students
who missed the show when they hear about it from others. I have often
seen them drive up to 870 miles to see it on other campuses. The best
way to avoid this is to get the faculty to make it mandatory. Cornell,
Holy Cross, Dartmouth and other elite schools have made it mandatory
for its freshman students (each year). The Ethics department in U.
of Mich. and the Anthropology department in Washington Univ. in St.
Louis made both the book and the show a yearly mandatory event.
Most often it
is organized by sociology and philosophy departments. Many schools
such as Yale Univ. use the book as a classroom textbook before they
invite the show. Teachers in more apathetic schools usually give credits
to students for attending. They hand out yellow cards at the beginning
of the show and take them back at the end with the names on. A far
better way of keeping students alert during the show is to have them
write papers on it afterwards. This is recommended, since the show
is very difficult, disturbing and even painful for most students.
So under pressure of constant homework, some students are unable to
see how it otherwise would benefit their immediate careers.
show has been used repeatedly in more than 300 colleges, it could
still be so unknown elsewhere that you may find it hard to convince
the faculty to use it. But it should not be hard to get sociology
teachers to urge their classes to go. You may want to stress that
this show is especially used in Ivy League Universities. Even at the
11th showing in Harvard there was a turnout of 700 students!
Once the students turn
out, it is important to make them feel comfortable during the long
show. For most of them, it is an evening they "will never forget."
Many schools, such as Tufts University, serve a light meal before
the show, but more often coffee, sandwiches, vegetables and donuts
are served in the intermission. The mixture of hunger scenes and guilt
feelings seem to make people especially hungry during this show.
At the beginning of the
show I would like some students to hand out a written introduction
If you can afford in advance to make enough copies for all spectators
of the 2 page introduction it would be helpful for me. With the great
number of spectators I have every day, it is getting too costly for
me to print and transport enough of them.
It is advisable to let
the show start as early as 6 or 6:30 pm so there is time for a long
discussion in the intermission. But do not advertise how long the
show is, as this tends to scare students away beforehand. Once they
are there I will tell them -- and they will stay for the full 4 hours.
Teachers always tell me that they have never before seen their students
sit still for so long. The show is deliberately made very "oppressive"
in order to recreate in the spectator some of the feelings blacks
and other minorities experience.
In recent years I have added a most important supplement
to the show: an oppression or racism workshop the morning after. Since
many students report sleepless nights after the show, I cannot over-emphasize
the value of such a follow-up, where they can voice their concerns
in a more relaxed setting. After the confusion and depression of the
show I here try to give them hope and empowerment.
Many students -- especially blacks - report that they get much more
out of the workshop than the actual show. Here it all comes together
for them. Here white students suddenly begin to see their own racism
and understand how it adversely affects blacks, especially educationally.
The outcome is often the founding of "Unlearning Racism"
groups on campus. Usually 15-20% of the audience from the night before
will participate in the workshop - even though they have to skip regular
So it is important
to find a cozy, informal lounge or classroom in which the acoustics
are so good that it is possible to hear a person speaking from any
corner of the room. Make sure that it is not a room in which people
walk through intermittently, Also, that there are no distracting air
conditioners or blow systems. I also need a good sized blackboard
(a mobile one is O.K.) or a wall on which I can draw on white paper.
The sitting arrangement should be in a half circle around the blackboard.
Serving coffee, juice and donuts is a good idea here in the morning.
As the workshop often lasts from 1 to 3 hours it is necessary to contact
my agent in order to find out my schedule for the next show. Generally
9 o'clock is used, but more will usually be able to attend during
the lunch break if my schedule allows for this. In not-so competitive
schools it is a good idea to have the workshop as part of a sociology
class. Teachers are encouraged to bring their classes.
The last couple
of years, however, I have had a schedule with shows every day with
too much driving and flying in between to permit follow-up workshops
everywhere. Naturally you can't have a workshop in Georgia the same
day you have a show in Alaska. If your school is especially interested
in my presence the next day you can help by getting other schools
in the area to take the show the following days so that I do not have
so much traveling to do. Especially in such far away places as Minnesota,
Texas, Colorado, etc. Or you can perhaps be more flexible with your
date. Since the school year is so short I can only present the show
in about 50 universities per semester. If everyone wanted a guaranteed
workshop I could only show it in 25 schools. 12,000 fewer students
would, in other words, get to see the show - perhaps yours!
Also I have to
watch out for my mental and physical health. To do a 3 hour workshop,
6 hours of traveling and 7 hours of show and setting up daily for
3 months could kill any man. No volunteer I've had with me has ever
lasted longer than 3 weeks. So I hope you will understand that the
workshop is not a guaranteed part of the package -- even though I
do it in most places. If I have to travel next morning I have sometimes
done a workshop right after the show -- often lasting until 4 o'clock
in the morning.
For many students the
great question afterwards is: "What can I do?" It is important
not to leave all this sudden energy in a vacuum, and many schools
therefore work out a list of local activities, political groups and
poverty projects which the students can join. I strongly recommend
this since I myself am usually at a loss as to what happens in your
But the most important
follow-up project involves a deeper investigation of our own racism,
I feel. I can strongly recommend Tony Harris, a black man who has devoted his life to racism counseling. For 5 years
he toured with American Pictures in Europe. His technique is loving,
soft and effective in getting in touch with - and discharging - some
of the deeper pain which causes racism in most people.
If you expect a good turnout
and interest in American Pictures I urgently recommend that you simultaneously
book "An evening with Tony Harris" one of the following
nights or on a Saturday afternoon. Where ever he has followed-up,
students have loved him.
Many first-time organizers
find it hard to raise the money for American Pictures from various
campus groups. And the price might indeed be too high for some schools.
But I would like to point out a couple of facts: Many of the same
schools gladly raised $3,000 to $8,000 to get convicted Watergate
criminals to speak for an hour. These speakers generally pocket the
money themselves. Compare that with American Pictures which usually
gets larger student turnout and where the spectators are "entertained"
for at least 4-5 hours (plus workshops next day). In addition it takes
me a couple of hours to set up and break clown the expensive equipment
(recently $15,000 worth of it was stolen from my car and had to be
replaced). I have to drive often night and day to get to most places,
or pay a lot in overweight charges when flying. And spend half the
year updating photos and content. With all these expenses my total
income from the show in America has often been negative.
Unable to bring any income home, my family in Denmark wonders why
I bother to continue.
In addition you know that "my" money belongs to a non-profit
organization - or in other words: to valuable poverty projects in
America and Africa - in case there is a profit. I write this because
you may find it easier to raise the money when you use these arguments.
The best argument for
American Pictures could be that it now has been invited back:
20 times to Berkeley
17 times to Cornell
15 times to Harvard
10 times to Stanford
9 times to Yale, etc.
Or that campuses such as U. Cal. at Davis, U. of Wis. and U. of Mich,
have turnouts of 1,500-2,000 students the second or third time the
show comes around.
When I arrive
on campus I hope you will find me to be one of the easiest and least
demanding speakers you have ever booked.......at least I used to have
that reputation, but "show business" takes its toll. Where
before I always asked organizers to put me up privately, sleeping
on floors in student dormitories, in my car etc. to cut down on unnecessary
expenses, I now accept and at times even appreciate to be stowed away
in lonesome hotels or guest houses like most other guest speakers.
Especially when I have an assistant with me. With a workday of usually
18 hours, day after day for months, I have no choice. With not even
a few minutes to recuperate on most days I also ask you to understand
that I can at times be low on energy, smiles and patience, the worst
time usually just before setting up the show after a long day's drive.
However tired and overworked I might be, by-and-large I manage to
come across to the audience as a person of fresh inspiration.
call my agent to find out what I prefer to eat. I am very flexible,
but with the stress-filled life I lead I try to eat healthy food --
mostly without meat. Far too many nights I end up arriving late so
that organizers bring me pizza while I set up. What I prefer is to
arrive so early that I can set up first, then spend a relaxed hour
getting to know my organizer(s) in a restaurant or student cafeteria
while being briefed on the local situation. Salad bars, fish dishes,
etc., are fine. As well as local dishes such as Creole cooking, Mexican
food and other "ethnic" specialties are a welcome surprise,
along with a large cup of coffee before the show.
I hope these
suggestions may be of help to you in making this event a similar success
on your campus as it has been elsewhere, and I look forward to meeting
To contact me
with last minute question while I am on tour in America, call
Before my tours
starts usually around Feb.1 and again Oct. 15 call
me in Denmark on +45-33-124412 or