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Chicago, Illinois 60616
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April 25, 2012

CFA Awarded NEA Grant to Process Ruth Page Dance Collection

The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Chairman Rocco Landesman announced today that Chicago Film Archives is one of the 788 not-for-profit national, regional and state organizations nationwide to receive an NEA Art Works grant.  These Art Works grants support the creation of art that meets the highest standards of excellence, public engagement with diverse and excellent art, lifelong learning in the arts, and the strengthening of communities through the arts.  The NEA received 1,624 eligible applications under the Art Works category for this round of funding.  The Chicago Film Archives has been awarded its full request from the NEA and expects to meet the required match this coming year to stabilize the Ruth Page Dance Collection in its entirety.

Illinois’ 7th District Representative Danny Davis remarked,

Ruth Page was an extraordinary pioneer of dance in America.  The moving image collection acquired by the Chicago Film Archives is an irreplaceable treasure.  The Archives, by preserving and protecting this legacy, are ensuring that this treasure will be available for generations to come.  I congratulate the Archives, and all the dedicated people who work there, on winning this grant and applaud their vision and initiative in undertaking this project.

We are ready to get started on this fascinating collection from Chicago’s premiere and iconic twentieth century dance figure.  Containing nearly 1,000 items, CFA will stabilize, digitize and catalog this collection over a three-year period.  It’s with great honor that as a result of this grant, CFA will soon be able to publicly present the history, accomplishments and artistry of the Chicago dancer and choreographer, Ruth Page. By building upon both the Ruth Page and the Morrison-Shearer Foundation dance collections, CFA can begin to retell Chicago’s history of dance.

- Nancy

April 18, 2012

Orphans 8 Film Symposium

This past Saturday, I was lucky enough to attend the final day of the 8th Orphans Film Symposium. For those unfamiliar with this NYU biennial symposium, it is a “gathering of scholars, archivists, curators, and media artists devoted to saving, screening, and studying neglected moving images.” These neglected moving images are often referred to as “orphan films,” which encompass films outside the commercial mainstream (i.e. amateur, educational, ethnographic, home movies, medical, newsreels, kinescopes, ect).

The collections here at CFA consist almost entirely of “orphan films,” ranging from home movies and amateur film club productions to educational or instructional films within our Chicago Public Library Collection.

CFA has even presented at Orphans in years past. At Orphans 7, CFA’s Nancy Watrous and Andy Uhrich (who is also affiliated with NYU and the University of Indiana) premiered “A Pictorial Story of Hiawatha.” Discovered in the Special Collections Library at Valparaiso University, this 35mm nitrate film was shot between 1901-1903 by Charles L. Bowden and Katharine Ertz-Bowden, lecturers and headliners for the Circuit Chautaugua. It captures members of the Garden River Ojibwe (of Desbarats, Ontario, Canada) performing Longfellow’s poem, “The Song of Hiawatha.” To read more about this film and its restoration, click here.

Below, I’ve provided a few highlights from Saturday’s presentations (and provided streaming videos and links when possible!). All relate to this year’s theme: “Made to Persuade.”

1. THE JUNGLE (1967, 12th and Oxford Street Film Makers) – presented by Jay Schwartz (Secret Cinema) and Louis Massiah (Swarthmore College; Scribe Video Center)

In the 1960s, Temple University administrator and social worker Harold Haskins started working with the young members of North Philadelphia’s 12th & Oxford Street gang on a project for community development. A few years later, they became the 12th & Oxford Filmmakers Corporation. In 1967, they made and released The Jungle. It was one of the first films in the US directed by youth detailing the inner workings of their own gang, and in 2009 it was selected for inclusion in the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress.

Community filmmaking in its rawest form, with the 12th & Oxford Street gang writing, directing, shooting, and acting as well as creating hand written title cards and an original soundtrack (I’ve had the film’s pounding trash can soundtrack in my head since Saturday afternoon). I will be sure to link to Jay Schwartz’s great slide show presentation with archival photos, newspaper clippings and news reel footage once it becomes available online.

THE JUNGLE (part 1):

THE JUNGLE (part 2):

2. MEN AND DUST (1940, Sheldon Dick; produced by Lee Dick) – presented by Dan Friedlaender (Temple U) & Adrianne Finelli (U of Michigan)

MEN AND DUST is an exposé based on the findings of the Tri-State Survey. It depicts the lead and zinc mining communities at the junction of Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma, and their problems of survival. In the film we see the fight led by the Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers Union for improved mine owners efforts to eliminate silicosis, lead poisoning, and tuberculosis. As Temple University’s Dan Friedlaender pointed out, the film’s campaign led to legislation for safer conditions and for better wage and hour agreements.

The film contains experimental elements (both in image and voiceover) that aid in persuading viewers of the dire situation within the region. It ends with a haunting memorial of those who had died due to the region’s deplorable living conditions.

3. WHEN THE ORGAN PLAYED “O PROMISE ME” (Cecil Stokes w/Bing Crosby soundtrack, 194?) – presented by Robert Martens & Walter Forsberg

An auroratone produced and created by British filmmaker Cecil Stokes for use in the treatment of mental disorders (most likely aimed at those suffering from PTSD). Robert Martens acquired this super rare film from his grandfather who worked as a film projectionist at various psychiatric institutions in the New York-New Jersey area during the 1940′s. Robert posted the film on Youtube (under the title “Psychedelic Bing Crosby Video”), where it puzzled viewers until it was confirmed as an official auroratone by Crosby aficionados. The film was later restored by Film Technology Co.

4. THE WORLDS OF DR. VISHNIAC  (Educational Testing Service, 1959) – presented by Heather Heckman and Mark G. Cooper (U of South Carolina MIRC)

A glimpse into the work, or worlds, of Dr. Roman Vishniac – a photographer, biologist and pioneer of photomicroscopy. Vishniac altered light to penetrate moving specimens and colorize their cell structures. University of South Carolina’s Heather Heckman and Mark G. Cooper also presented clips of reversal original film prints, which more accurately reflect the true detail of Vishniac’s colorful research films. Although a bit duller in color (due to reversal printing processes), THE WORLDS OF DR. VISHNIAC provides a valuable narrative of Vishniac and his photomicroscopy research.

The film also shows us how Vishniac’s humanist nature and respect for all creatures (even the one-celled ones!) seeps into every aspect of his work. In this case, we see him returning his specimens to their respective ecosystems after successfully photographing their varied formations. What a sweetheart! An excerpt of the film can be seen here (via the U of South Carolina MIRC).

5. LIGHT CAVALRY GIRL (轻骑姑娘, Jie Shen, Central Newsreel and Documentary Film Studio, Beijing, 1980) – presented by Lydia Pappas and Yongli Li (U of South Carolina MIRC)

Lady motorcycle stunts from China! Produced by the Central Newsreel and Documentary Film Studio in China,  Jie Shen captures the Bayi Women Light Motorcycle team performing complicated maneuvers on their bikes. View the entire film here (via the U of South Carolina MIRC).

6. CHUCKY LOU: THE STORY OF A WOODCHUCK (Indiana University Audio-Visual Center, 1948) – presented by Rachael Stoeltje and Martha Harsanyi (Indiana U)

According to Rachael Stoeltje and Martha Harsanyi, this film about a well trained woodchuck was at one point in time the most rented film in their collections. You can view the entire film here (via Indiana University’s Libraries Film Archive). Beware of woodchuck costumes! and why does that man leave his wife (the woman who “does not know how to care for a woodchuck”) behind at the park?!

Other Saturday highlights of the symposium include University of Oregon’s Michael Aronson and Elizabeth Peterson presentation of Lester Beck (psychologist, educational filmmaker and lover of small rodents – his film HUMAN GROWTH can be viewed here), Moscow Research Institute of Film Art’s Sergei Kapterev presentation of “The Flight to Thousands of Suns” (Aleksei Yerin, 1963), Manthia Diawara (NYU) and Louis Massiah (Swarthmore College; Scribe Video Center) on finding The Burial of Dr. Du Bois (1963, Ghanafilm), and Dartmouth’s Mark J. Williams reminding us how unedited local news reel footage can inform us of both our collective as well as regional histories.


April 6, 2012

Behrend’s ‘Babbit Blast’ to Screen at the Iowa City Doc Film Fest

Next Friday (the 13th..eek!) at 7PM, Patrick Friel will present Jack Behrend’s “Babbit Blast” (1961) as part of the Iowa City Documentary Film Festival’s “Portraiture, Performance, and Industry: The Documentary Fringe and the Avant-Garde” program. Patrick is managing editor of Cine-File Chicago (a weekly Chicago guide to independent and alternative cinema), founder of the White Light Cinema series and festival director of Chicago’s Onion City Experimental Film & Video Festival.

“Babbit Blast” was originally a sponsored film Jack made for the Reserve Mining Corporation, who mined Tachonite in the surrounding area. According to Jack, they would ” drill holes 50 feet deep every 10 feet for a quarter of a mile, fill them with explosives and then blow them in a sequence to loosen a huge amount of rock which would be hauled to a rock crusher and made into pellets.” They hired Jack in 1961 to shoot an explosion at high speed (10,000 frames/second) when they presumed that one of their explosives was defective. It took the company two months to set up an explostion, so a lot was riding on Jack to successfully capture it in one go. What resulted were two 16mm. films, one unfortunately color faded and the other (which Patrick is screening) in good shape.

CFA first screened the film back in 2007 as part of “The Big Picture” series at Chicago’s Gene Siskel Film Center (series curated by Michelle Puetz and Andy Uhrich). This was the first time the film was recontextualized as an experimental or “accidental” avant-garde film. The film’s slow motion explosion has meditative qualities that at times resemble a far-distant nebula coming into existence via supernova explosion. We’re super excited that Patrick has chosen Jack’s film for his program, and that he too is placing this film into new frameworks. When I asked Jack if he ever thought this film would be screened as an experimental film, he replied, “No, I would never have thought it would be the least bit interesting to anyone.”

For more information on the Iowa City Documentary Film Festival’s schedule, click here.

& for more information on CFA’s Jack Behrend Collection, click here.