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July 25, 2013

CFA Media Mixer 2013 (in review)

All three videos from this year’s CFA Media Mixer are now streaming online! Check ‘em out:

1. ”What I Want” (Film by Alexander Stewart ; Sound by Sam Prekop; Video Sponsor:  Pentimenti Films)

2. ”Love and Care of Pets” (Film by Jesse McLean ; Sound by Sich Mang ; Video Sponsor: BRMC Group)

3. ”Songs for Earth And Folk” (Film by Cauleen Smith ; Sound by The Eternals ; Video Sponsor: Music Box Films and Music Box Theatre)

These three videos premiered at CFA’s second annual CFA MEDIA MIXER benefit on June 6th. The premise of the event was simple: three filmmakers, paired (blind date style) with three audio artists, had the full run of CFA’s vault to create some video art. Like last year, we are super thrilled with the outcome of this project and can’t wait to see where these artists and videos fly off to next.

July 19, 2013

Spencer Williams & His Prolific Film Career

Still from “Amos ‘n’ Andy” starring Spencer Williams (pictured above) & Alvin Childress

Spencer Williams is best known for his role as Andy in the 1950s “Amos ‘n Andy” television series and less known for his extensive work in film. Before achieving his TV fame, he directed, wrote and performed in a string of movies aimed at black audiences. Williams directed nine (yes, nine!) features during the 1940s. These films, now considered part of the “race film era”, were low-budget, independently-produced films with all-black casts created solely for black audiences. CFA Board Member and University of Chicago’s Jacqueline Stewart adds, “Unfortunately, Williams is typically overshadowed by the flamboyant figure of fellow Black film pioneer Oscar Micheaux in accounts of the race film era, despite the fact that Williams was quite prolific, and made films that raise unique questions about Black cinematic aesthetics and the contours of Black modernism and modernity.” Thanks to scholars, like Stewart, Williams’ films have gained some recognition. One of Williams’ feature films, THE BLOOD OF JESUS (1941) was selected by the Library of Congress for inclusion on its National Film Registry, a listing of films deemed “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant” and therefore worthy of preservation. It was the first race film to be added to the registry. In recent decades critics have also taken notice of Williams’ film career. Film critic David Sterritt discusses THE BLOOD OF JESUS  in relation to Williams other work: “There’s nothing remotely slick or sophisticated about this movie, which (like all the Williams films I’ve seen) has rough-hewn performances, editing, and camera work. Such technical drawbacks seem unimportant, though, in light of the moral passion and visual creativity that mark the picture. While its cinematic qualities are unpolished, they allow for a directness of expression and a purity of atmosphere that have few equivalents in Hollywood or anywhere else. Just as important, the performances bypass Hollywood-style realism in favor of a ritual quality that recalls the traditions of Southern black churches–just as some of the most powerful and complex American jazz has deep roots in the heritage of gospel and church-choir music.” Tonight, as part of our MOVIES UNDER THE STARS series (co-presented with Black Cinema House), we’ll screen Williams’ 1947 feature JUKE JOINT (1947) alongside the William D. Alexander short film, THE VANITIES (1946) in Chicago’s Grand Crossing Neighborhood. Alexander’s THE VANITIES features Bette Davis impersonations in a 1940s deep south night club, while Spencer William’s JUKE JOINT takes you further into the disreputable night club life as two con men (one played by Williams!) get involved in a small town beauty contest.    Both films were considered lost until they were located in a Tyler, Texas, warehouse in 1983 and are now part of the “Tyler, Texas Black Film Collection” out of Southern Methodist University. This collection of films is comprised of 6 short subjects, 9 features, and a set of newsreels, all produced between 1935 and 1956 (CFA is lucky to have this entire series within our Chicago Public Library film collection). The films include comedies, dramas, news, and musical performances, and were made outside the Hollywood system by pioneering directors and producers such as Spencer Williams, Oscar Micheaux and William Alexander. More on the MOVIES UNDER THE STARS series and tonight’s screening here.

July 9, 2013

CFA Films Head to the Capital

This morning we packed up three CFA films to ship off to our nations capital. They’ll take part in the National Gallery of Art’s annual showcase of film preservation from international archives and special collections. This year’s programs range from rediscovered American rarities to artists’ films and unsung shorts from the 1960s, and to major French classics celebrating their fiftieth anniversaries this season. These three CFA films (Margaret Conneely’s Chicago: City to See in ’63, the FilmGroup’s Social Confrontation: The Battle of Michigan Ave. and Don Klugman’s Nightsong) will be shown at the The City in the ’60s: Forgotten Films from American Archives program on Saturday, July 20th. Thanks to grants from the National Film Preservation Foundation (Battle of Michigan Ave., Nightsong) and Women’s Film Preservation Fund (City to See in ’63), all three of these films were photo-chemically preserved, or rather, new film prints were struck of each title (more on that, here). Ok, back to the program – here’s what the National Gallery of Art’s site has to say about it: “As recently as the last half of the twentieth century—in theaters, churches, private clubs, and especially schools, where the core curricula could always benefit from some audio-visual enhancement—the projection of 16 mm films was a regular occurrence. Thousands were produced each year on every subject imaginable. Although many 16 mm collections have now been discarded in favor of digital, there are many archives that treasure and preserve this fragile format for its historical value. In their recently published Learning with the Lights Off, Marsha Gordon and co-editors Devin Orgeron and Dan Streible examine the educational film in its endless variety—from art to music, biology to medicine, suburban sprawl to urban decay. Marsha Gordon introduces a program designed around the city in the 1960s that includes screenings of entertaining and informative films representing Washington D.C., Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago: Village SundayThree Cures for a Sick City,The Battle for Michigan AvenueFelicia, and Jim Henson’s Time Piece.” As mentioned above, the program is a presentation around the book Learning with the Lights Off. Edited by Devin Orgeron, Marsha Orgeron and Dan Streible, the book is the first collection of essays to address the phenomenon of film’s (more particularly educational and nontheatrical films) educational uses in twentieth century America. Luckily for you Washingtonians, Marsha Oregon will be on hand at the screening to discuss the films and the book. We’re super honored to take part in this screening and to share these pristine 16mm film prints with the D.C. area (we wish we could be there!). And last but not least, friendly shout outs to the other archives/institutions involved in this particular screening: Raleigh based A/V Geeks and the Reserve Film and Video Collection of The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. More on the screening here.

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