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Chicago, Illinois 60616
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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  We compile biographies, provenances, and historical references to the material.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

CFA Joins the Internet Archive

To give greater exposure to our unique films collections, we are joining other collections at the Internet Archive. We will be adding more videos in the upcoming days, weeks and months, so be sure to keep an eye out as we build our presence on the site!

Our recent activity on the Internet Archive has even generated a bit of press around town (thanks Chicagoist!).

Meanwhile, CFA will soon have a searchable database for our collections on our own website, featuring contextual information about our collections as well as the media itself. We are currently in the stage of migrating data from one database to another in order to more easily deploy our data and media for online viewing. We’ll be sure to keep you updated about this difficult and rewarding process!


Welcome to CFA’s new website. We hope to expose you to more moving images within our collections while bringing stories and context to the historical Midwest documentation that CFA preserves. Currently we are in the process of building an online, open source collections management system that will allow us to publish our collections’ intellectual and media content online. Be on the look-out for this searchable component on our EXPLORE COLLECTIONS page and our STOCK FOOTAGE LIBRARY page. MIDWEST STORIES, also, will become a more interactive, curated page to explore historical and cultural topics that spring from CFA collections.

Thanks to Real Hard Work for the design and Whirl-i-gig for your continued build-out of our collections system. And, by-the-way, a huge thank you to Amanda Robillard for her out-sized grasp of metadata and its peculiar function in the archival world.

Nancy and Anne