Gino Canella is a researcher, educator, and documentary filmmaker. His research and creative projects explore media activism, documentary, and labor. Gino produces films with grassroots organizers and researches the political economy of media.
Gino has traveled the world as a researcher and filmmaker. In 2012, he filmed, wrote, and edited his first documentary film, The British Pub, Inc., which aired on public television in the U.K. In December 2016, Gino co-directed a documentary in Dakar, Senegal about a community theater troupe that is mixing performance art and religious expression. The film was selected for screening at the 2019 Ethnografilm Festival in Paris, France. His multimodal dissertation at CU Boulder included the 23-minute documentary Radical Labor that detailed how union organizers in Colorado are working with community groups to fight for economic and racial justice. It was published online by Roar Magazine in March 2018. Activist Media, his book based on this work, was published in May 2022 by Rutgers University Press. His latest film, Front Line (2021), covered the historic nursing strike at St. Vincent Hospital in Worcester, Massachusetts.
M.A., Temple University
Ph.D., University of Colorado, Boulder
Areas of Expertise
- Cultural Studies
- Culture & Race
- Documentary Media
- Media Studies
- Video & Film
News organizations in recent years have embraced documentary film. From streaming ventures to Academy Award nominations, newsrooms are producing documentaries to reach new audiences and maintain their relevance in changing media cultures. This study examines documentary’s surging popularity among news outlets and addresses two questions: How does the political economy of media affect filmmakers’ editorial decisions and aesthetic choices? And, how do seemingly commonplace audiovisual and production techniques – such as music, lighting, sound design, and directing – complicate journalistic norms? Drawing on in-depth interviews with journalistic filmmakers (n = 24), the study offers three findings: the political economy of digital media is altering the production and distribution models for documentary, creating ethical dilemmas for filmmakers; the relational dynamics among filmmakers, participants, and audiences significantly inform the ethical frameworks that filmmakers use; and the ‘emotional truth’ of documentary storytelling forces filmmakers to reevaluate their conceptions of objectivity and neutrality. The study illuminates the relationship between documentary and journalism, and details how filmmakers are navigating the increasingly-blurry boundaries between these fields.
This article explores the relationship between local journalism and place through a case study of the Somerville News Garden, a community news initiative launched in 2019 to address the city’s failing news infrastructure. Researchers used collaborative ethnographic methods to study the News Garden from its inception in August 2019 to December 2021: we surveyed residents about their news preferences (n = 92), interviewed eighteen residents and conducted participant observation at planning meetings and public forums hosted by the News Garden. The study addresses two themes: first, local journalism constructs and maintains place by covering location-specific issues and moving information across unfamiliar spaces; and second, community news initiatives challenge scholars and practitioners to reconsider the role of local journalism and its continued relevance in civic life. Finally, the study reviews the News Garden’s organizational structure and proposes grassroots governance: a model of news production and distribution based on collaboration and accountability in the service of democracy.
Union organising is surging in the United States, especially among younger workers in the service industries. This article examines this uptick in labour organising through a case study of Starbucks Workers United (SBWU). I studied this campaign from March to December 2022 using a variety of online and offline methods: conducting twenty-three in-depth interviews with SBWU organisers; attending strikes, direct actions, and planning meetings; and following these groups on social media. This study addresses two main questions: How are SBWU organisers communicating unionisation with their co-workers and to broader publics? And, how are social media influencing workers’ organising practices? Despite claims that social media are “a great radicaliser”, this study demonstrates how workers were politicised by their material conditions in an industrialising workplace. While media helped organisers amplify their messages and recruit new members, the social relationships among organisers were central to SBWU’s early growth. By detailing how organisers navigated the contradictions within networked media, this study shows how worker-led campaigns like SBWU are reshaping the structure and composition of the US labour movement.
Drawing on his experiences as a documentary filmmaker with Black Lives Matter 5280 and SEIU Local 105 in Colorado, Gino Canella argues that activist media create opportunities for activists to navigate conflict and embrace their political and ideological differences. Canella details how activist media practices—interviewing organizers, script writing, video editing, posting on social media, and hosting community screenings—foster solidarity among grassroots organizers.
Informed by media theory, the book explores how activists are using media to mobilize supporters, communicate their values, and reject anti-union rhetoric. Furthermore, it demonstrates how collaborative media projects can help activists build broad-based coalitions and amplify their vision for a more equitable and just society.
This article explores journalists’ role as truth tellers by investigating the distinctions journalists draw between journalism and activism. Relying on 30 in-depth interviews with journalists and theories of media power, objectivity, and epistemology, two key themes are discussed: (1) narrative framing and style, and (2) the economics of objectivity within digital media. Examining journalism as culture, I offer a theory of journalistic power—the recognition that journalism is never neutral, truths are never disinterested, and journalists’ epistemic practices are influenced by the power dynamics embedded in the sociopolitical and historical contexts in which they work. This study reveals how the political economy of digital media and activist media-makers are complicating journalists’ truth claims, upending journalistic routines, and redefining the field. Journalism scholars and practitioners must identify the spaces of media power during all stages of news production and distribution.
In May 2020, New York Times media columnist Ben Smith critiqued Ronan Farrow, charging Farrow with practicing “resistance journalism.” Smith’s column generated significant discussion among journalists. This article analyzed the metajournalistic discourse that emerged following Smith’s column to examine how journalism’s boundaries are negotiated and contested. “Resistance journalism” has three main elements: it is unobjective, targeted, and truth-bending. “Resistance journalism” falls outside of the boundaries of journalism, according to the discourse, due to three practices: it lacks verification, focuses on narrative, and has a propensity to advocate. We argue that the current political economic and technological disruptions within digital media and networked society are creating new spaces for the rhetorical competition over journalism to occur, upending journalistic routines and creating hybrid journalism cultures.
Black Lives Matter 5280 (BLM5280) posts an image on its Facebook page each morning with the caption ‘Good morning #Beautiful people. #BlackIsBeautiful.’ The images in this series often depict Black people in ways that challenge heteronormative conceptions of family and white beauty standards. Through feminist visual culture and digital ethnography, I show how BLM5280’s photo series leverages the radical legacy of Black hair to claim symbolic and political power. I discuss my work as an allied filmmaker with the group, and examine BLM5280’s online practices in relation to its local organising. Although curating images on social media may not, in itself, bring about social change, this cultural practice plays an important role in shaping perceptions of Blackness, amplifying the voices and agency of underrepresented people, and strengthening the social and emotional well-being of BLM5280’s online and offline communities.
This documentary, co-directed by Brian Valente-Quinn and Gino Canella, looks at how Mouridism has manifested in another cultural format: theatre. The film documents the 1970’s Senegalese theatre troop Bamba Mos Xam and its contemporary counterparts La Compagnie Sant Yalla, and provides extensive commentary about Mourdism through intellectuals and artists, including Yelimane Fall.