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Giving Thanks

CFA has a lot to be thankful for this holiday season. This week we learned that CFA was awarded three grants – one from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), one from the Gaylord & Dorothy Donnelley Foundation and another from the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation.

The NEH grant ($6000) will go towards purchasing steel archival shelves for two massive collections – the Frank Koza Newsreel Collection and the Robert & Terry Davis Travelogue Collection. Combined, these two collections have over 2,700 film & audio elements. We are delighted (and thankful!) to give these collections a nice and stable home within our temperature controlled vault.

A treat from CFA’s Robert & Terry Davis Collection, OBEY YOUR AIR RAID WARDEN (1942, Robert Davis & Harry Hilfinger):

We are also excited to announce that the Gaylord & Dorothy Donnelley Foundation matched our recent NEA grant of $20,000 with $34,500 to digitize the remainder of the Ruth Page Dance Collection. This collection contains dance rehearsals and performances that date back to 1922 including footage of Rudolph Nureyev soon after his defection from the Soviet Union, Balinese dances filmed during Page’s 1928 Asian Tour, and performances of The Merry Widow on the Ed Sullivan Show. It also contains the original and master tapes of numerous interviews with dance critics such as Clive Barnes and John Martin, dancers such as Larry Long, Delores Lipinski, Anne Kisselgoff and Maria Tallchief, and a comprehensive series of interviews and oral histories with Page herself that date from 1957 through 1987.

A portion of the inspected 16mm films in CFA’s Ruth Page Collection

Combined, the NEA & Donnelley grants will help fund the digitization of over 900 unique moving image and audio items, including 16mm films, rare video formats (including 2″!), Betacam SP tapes and a handful of 1/4″ audio reels. This Donnelley Foundation grant also allows CFA to strengthen our digital storage and digitization workflows, making it easier for us to get these digitized materials streaming on our website and therefore accessible to you.

And speaking of access…also in the works is a Midwest dance program, featuring the work of Ms. Page alongside the provocative work of the talented dancer-choreographer Sybil Shearer (1912-2005). (More on this 2014 screening soon!)  In the mean time, though, you can view 63 freshly digitized Ruth Page films & videos on our site, including two recently restored 1928 Ravinia performances (here and here), a handful of television appearances by Ruth Page & Co (view one here), home movies filmed during Page’s 1928 Asian Tour (view one here) as well as a sprinkling of rare 1″ and 1/2″ video tapes digitized by Bay Area Video Coalition.

And! last night we learned that the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation awarded CFA an $8000 grant for 2014 General Operations. SO SO THANKFUL! Chicago Film Archives is a 501(c)(3) non profit and depends on grants like these AND the support from our followers to thrive. Please consider donating to CFA here. Each contribution both large and small is critical to our continuing work.


…to so many people. CFA has kept its doors open, the back room chilled, the bench occupied and the telecine humming because of your decisions to support us. We are creating a massive 20th century Midwest/Chicago moving image time capsule that is built by each CFA customer, each CFA donor, and each foundation and agency that supports our work.

Thank You Pudding “Laboratory” (1968), Chuck Olin Collection


In 2012 you pushed us over the finish line in getting our online database (with over 400 streaming videos) deployed and displayed on our website! Thanks especially to Andrea Gambino and all who matched her offer to ensure the completion of this two and a half year project! And to filmmaker and new board member Leslie Buchbinder who simply said, “I’m in.”

You got us started in the huge and worthy task of processing the magnificent Ruth Page Dance Collection – with thanks to the National Endowment of the Arts who was later joined by the Gaylord & Dorothy Donnelley Foundation to make this happen! Already, two 1928 35mm Ruth Page films – BOLERO and CARMEN – are being restored and preserved at Colorlab in Washington, DC. And 80 of the earliest Ruth Page videotapes are making their way to Bay Area Video Coalition (BAVC) for transfer to digital preservation files.

You made it possible to begin unwrapping the work of the late and unheralded avant-garde filmmaker JoAnn Elam. It’s a complicated collection that reflects the life of its complicated creator. Thanks especially to Susan Elam, Joe Hendricks, Chuck Kleinhaus and Julia Lesage for providing a large offering of support, light and clarification to this collection.

I am also grateful to those who have begun and to those who have continued to invest in CFA’s mission and future this past year. Our board members old and new have underscored and advanced our 2012 activities in an economy that has strained most all of us. Chicago artists and studios (that would be you, Jessica Bardsley, Tim Kinsella, Andy Resek, Ellen Castleberry, Josh Abrams, Kent Lambert, CAVE, Monica Jost and the Experimental Sound Studio!) have contributed their talents and skills to create new works of moving image art, utilizing CFA’s films. Our very small team of metadata pros, researchers and programmers completed a very large and well-populated online database…and even well after the last check was written, they shored us up when CFA glitches arose (Thank you, Seth!). Foundations both national and local (hugely grateful to the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation, Art Works Fund and Illinois Arts Council) have allowed us to establish rich and massive goals. Our interns have always made these goals attainable. CFA customers continually seem to “get it” that they contribute to the salvaging and preservation of the Midwest moving image legacy each time they use our services. Thank you to the Morrison-Shearer Foundation and the Chicago Academy of Sciences that invest in the legacies their own collections contain. And CFA’s Collections Manager Anne Wells conducts this all from the front office with grace and composure hard to match.

Thank you.


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