In 1995 Miranda July dropped out of college, moved to Portland, Oregon, and typed up a pamphlet that she imagined would be the start of a revolution of girls and women making movies and sharing them with each other. The pamphlet said: “A challenge and a promise: Lady, you send me your movie and I’ll send you the latest Big Miss Moviola Chainletter Tape.”
The name was later changed to Joanie 4 Jackie (for legal reasons) but eventually word began to spread about the project — nineteen Chainletter tapes were made over the next decade. Each tape was a compilation of ten movies made by women and girls who had heard about the project and mailed in their work. Every single movie received was accepted and each tape came with a booklet of letters written by each filmmaker to the other women on the compilation.
In 1998 July started a second series of compilations, The Co-Star Tapes. These tapes were put together by young feminist curators who were excited to share challenging work with this new community of women filmmakers. The Co-Star tapes were more polished and thematic, but the goal was the same: to point a finger at what was missing from the world, to create a hunger for movies made by women.
And it seemed like the hunger was there. When magazines like Sassy and Seventeen wrote about the project, dozens of girls wrote Joanie 4 Jackie asking to see these movies made by other girls. July wished she could also distribute the missing movies; the ones women weren’t making for a million insidious reasons. The Missing Movie Report was one of the many posters, brochures and postcards created for the project. In 2000 joanie4jackie.com launched, slow and unscalable it nonetheless seemed to imply great change was right around the corner.
July also traveled around the country, performing and screening the Joanie 4 Jackie movies at colleges, high schools and local arts centers. Most of the invitations came from women who had contributed to a Chainletter tape and each summer one of these women would come to Portland to “intern” with Joanie 4 Jackie and help make a new Chainletter tape. In this simple way the project sustained itself.
In 2003 July gave Joanie 4 Jackie to Bard College, where many of the interns had gone to school. Led by Professor Jaqueline Goss, a group of students produced four more Chainletter Tapes and many screenings over the next three years. In 2010 a senior named Vanessa Haroutunian rediscovered the project, contacted July, and the idea for this website was born. One of the first things we did was start tracking down the original participants; here you can read about what J4J meant to them and where they are now.
Over the next seven years, a group of Joanie 4 Jackie supporters and participants created this site in collaboration with July; it was completed in January of 2017. The Getty Research Institute then acquired the entire physical archive, contextualizing Joanie 4 Jackie within feminist and video history and preserving it for all time. It is our greatest hope that you will create a much better network for women moviemakers, with the resources available today. Let us know when you do. In the meantime: don’t give up.