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329 West 18th Street Suite #610
Chicago, Illinois 60616
(312) 243-1808

July 22, 2012

CFA Collections Go Online!

Left:  VIGNETTES “Waitress” (Harry Mantel, 1970s) ; Right: GWENDOLYN BROOKS (WTTW, 1966)

Chicago Film Archives invites you to explore our collections online!

Our approach to CFA’s holdings

CFA’s films are organized and considered through the lens of each collection.  We first gather information about the collection as a whole in order to better understand its historical relationship to Chicago and the Midwest.  The person, family, business or organization that brings it to us is typically key to understanding the collection’s character, content, its size and make up.  We compile biographies, provenances, and historical references to the material.  All of this data is entered into a Collection Record.

When there is time and/or funds to process each item in the collection (often there are hundreds of films in a collection!), each film is then hand-inspected, cataloged and digitized.  Once this process is completed, we have a detailed understanding of the condition and content of each film or video in the collection.

What you will see on our website

We have organized the Explore Collections portion of our website in much the same way…through the lens of the collection.  That lens might be a Midwestern family like the Maugans of Valparaiso, Indiana, mid-century pro-wrestling promoters from Chicago such as Russ and Sylvia Davis, a classical dance company like the Ruth Page Foundation or an industrial filmmaker like Jack Behrend.  Each of our collections (there are 70 to date!) reflects a distinct facet of Midwest culture and history.  Each builds upon CFA’s complex and diverse portrait of the twentieth-century Midwest seen through moving images.

Many individual items (films, videos and audio recordings) that make up our collections can be found on our website as well.  Once inventoried, a list of the items within the collection is attached at the end of each Collection Description (or Finding Aid) on our website.  As the items/films are processed, they will become linkable to the information and streaming video related to that particular title. These individual works will be added on a regular basis as we prep them and import them to the site.  In other words, this collections portal is a living, expanding organism!

We will also soon be providing a separate portal for our stock footage library.  CFA holds footage from around the world shot by Midwest filmmakers. As a result of the unusual collections we have acquired and our ability to catalog and display them, CFA can offer up a rich array of unique and hard to find footage.

Much deserved gratitude

As this project is in its final stretch, we want to thank Seth, Angie and the rest of the team at Whirl-i-gig mostly for their deep sense of partnership with CFA as they designed and developed this site.  The team has been innovative and continuously responsive to CFA’s vision for this project.  A huge helping of gratitude goes to Amanda Robillard who has been our metadata consultant, advisor and friend.  Many thanks to Andy Uhrich, Michelle Puetz, Heather Leslie and Beth Capper who fleshed out the Collection Finding aids by researching and writing the histories of the filmmakers who created these works.

Two local Foundations made the creation of our searchable database and site possible — The Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation and The Arts Work Fund.   Their investment in this project has been large and is aimed at bringing access to our more than 70 collections (and thousands of works) of moving images.  We are keenly aware how fortunate we are to have local foundations that are interested in the care and preservation of our region’s collections.


- Nancy & Anne
July 11, 2012

Earliest-known Eiko & Koma film discovered and preserved

Below is a press release from Imogen Smith over at the Dance Heritage Coalition (DHC). In June, we volunteered our services to the DHC and the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts by hand inspecting, re-housing and digitizing a reel of 16mm film featuring an early work of the performance duo, Eiko & Koma. We are happy & honored to be a part of the team that is working to uncover our country’s dance heritage.  Here at home we are attending to the legacies of Ruth Page and Sybil Shearer.

Pictured above left: White Dance c.1973, choreographed and performed by Eiko & Koma. Film still, title: unknown, creator: unknown. ; Pictured above right: Eiko’s first viewing of the CFA’s digitization of the newly discovered film.

Dance Heritage Coalition initiative is helped by Chicago Film Archives and New York Public Library for the Performing Arts

New York City – The Dance Heritage Coalition (DHC) is pleased to announce the exciting discovery of the earliest existing film footage of Eiko & Koma performing.  The film, found last month among the company’s records during the Dance Heritage Coalition’s inventory of Eiko & Koma’s legacy materials, has been stabilized and digitized, and is now viewable again through the generosity of Nancy Watrous and Anne Wells at the Chicago Film Archives.

The discovery was made during an inventory of the company’s materials conducted by DHC Preservation Fellow Patsy Gay with the help of dance scholar Rosemary Candelario. In addition to providing the first comprehensive inventory of Eiko & Koma’s materials, this project involves identifying and remedying conservation concerns and improving workflow arrangements. It lays the groundwork for future preservation of E&K’s archives and allows the artists a major role in shaping their own artistic legacy. Since the summer of 2011, the DHC has conducted five inventories of key dance companies’ collections in San Francisco and New York City. Funding for these projects was provided by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

The mysterious and unassuming single reel of 16mm film was identified with the help of Tanisha Jones, director of the Archive of the Recorded Moving Image within the Jerome Robbins Dance Division, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. It turned out to be a lost film documenting Eiko & Koma in Amsterdam circa 1973. Before the duo’s United States debut, Eiko & Koma had studied with Kazuo Ohno in Japan and Manja Chmiel in Germany.  During 1973, they lived in a studio they called Dance Laboratory, which was in an old school building in Amsterdam. In 1976 they moved to New York where they have been living and working ever since.

The 12-minute silent film consists of a series of short segments documenting Eiko & Koma performing a variety of material both solo and together. It also captures the pair’s informal interactions offstage. This footage, as the earliest-known example of Eiko & Koma’s dance work, illuminates an under-documented time in their career and captures the budding of the pair’s artistic partnership. The short vignettes of movement, while raw and unrefined, clearly show the pair’s signature choreographic style, albeit in embryonic form.

Despite the casual storage and housing, the film is in good condition, having experienced only minor color fading and mild surface abrasions. Upon hearing about this discovery, Nancy Watrous generously offered the expertise and resources of the Chicago Film Archives, which is a leader in film preservation. Their capable staff stabilized the reel by inspecting, cleaning, and rehousing it. They also digitized the film, which allows the material to be easily watched and saves the original item from the wear and tear of handling and viewing. Thanks to Nancy Watrous and Anne Wells at the Chicago Film Archives, this precious dance historical treasure is now safely preserved for the future.

DHC Executive Director Libby Smigel expressed appreciation for the assistance that both the Chicago Films Archives and the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts Dance Division provided free of charge in identifying and preserving the film.  Smigel said, “Without the collaborative contributions of the Dance Division and the Chicago Film Archives, this film would sit unidentified, unpreserved, and inaccessible.  Both organizations deserve the gratitude of the entire dance field for contributing their specialized expertise to saving the seminal records of Eiko & Koma’s performance career.”

For more information about collections assessments and inventories that the Dance Heritage Coalition provides, visit:

For more information about film preservation and the Chicago Film Archives, visit: :  For information on their project to save the legacy of Chicago dance treasures Ruth Page, see:

For more information about the NYPL Jerome Robbins Dance Division, along with the Division’s Archive of the Moving Image, visit: