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December 21, 2018

A look back at CFA’s public programs in 2018

2018 was a year marked by tremendous growth and development for CFA. Our mission to collect, preserve, and exhibit films that represent the history and culture of our region was evident in exhibitions, screenings, and programs that were as vibrant, diverse and unique as our collections. With public programs at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, the Chicago Cultural Center, and the Chicago History Museum, and CFA’s films featured prominently in the exhibitions Up is Down: Mid-century Experiments in Advertising and Film at the Goldsholl Studio at the Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University and Never a Lovely So Real: Photography and Film in Chicago, 1950-1980 at the Art Institute of Chicago, CFA reached new heights in terms of visibility and outreach. We feel humbled and honored to have worked with so many dedicated artists and organizations over the last year.

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Super Up (Kenji Kanesaka) and Nightsong (Don Klugman) installed at the Art Institute of Chicago as part of Never a Lovely So Real: Photography and Film in Chicago, 1950-1980

The year began with a look back to our programming past—the reintroduction of CFA’s Out of the Vault screening series. Started in 2005 as a way to showcase some of CFA’s most unique and unusual films, Out of the Vault has been a perennial audience favorite. We were thrilled to be able to present 5 programs of films on 16mm in Chicago Filmmakers’ brand new screening space, a renovated historic firehouse on Ridge Avenue in Chicago’s Edgewater neighborhood. Screenings included a selection of rarely seen films by Tom Palazzolo (with Palazzolo in person); films by photographer and filmmaker Robert Stiegler; short experimental animations that explored the darker side of life in the 20th century; deeply personal films that captured the impact of the Vietnam War, including an excerpt from Loretta Smith’s documentary-in-progress on Ron Kovic (with Smith in person); and an eclectic selection of documentary, educational, experimental, and personal films that explored the secrets of nature (and included a new 2K scan of Millie Goldsholl’s Rebellion of the Flowers).

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Michelle Puetz in conversation with filmmaker Loretta Smith at Chicago Filmmakers; CFA’s new scan of Millie Goldsholl’s Rebellion of the Flowers, available online here

CFA’s Media Mixer project, which began in 2012 as a way to as a way to open up CFA’s vault of archival footage to local artists working in video and sound, was expanded with the support of the MacArthur Foundation’s International Connections Fund. As the name suggests, we went international in 2018! The International Media Mixer was definitely our largest and most ambitious to date—involving nine artists working in Italy and the US—and was almost two years in the making. I worked closely with independent Italian curator Karianne Fiorini to identify and pair up artists from Italy and Chicago who would work together to create a new video using archival material from CFA and Lab 80film-Cinescatti, a regional archive based in Bergamo, Italy. The Italian filmmakers (Giuseppe Bocassini and Federico Francioni & Yan Cheng) were given access to thousands of digitized films in CFA’s archives, and, likewise, the Chicago-based filmmakers (Lori Felker and Domietta Torlasco) were given access to films from the Cinescatti archive. Then they began collaborating with audio artists based in the partnering country on the creation of a new piece.

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Still from Domietta Torlasco + Stefano Urkuma De Santis’s Parallax Dash (2018)

The four new pieces that were created were performed with live audio for the Italian premiere of the project at the Bergamo Film Meeting Festival in Italy and in Chicago at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion at Millennium Park (as part of the City of Chicago’s Summer Film Series). Needless to say, traveling to Italy with sound artist Alex Inglizian (who worked with Giuseppe Boccassini) and meeting up with Tomeka Reid (who worked with Federico Francioni and Yan Chen), Italian sound artists Patrizia Oliva (who worked with Lori Felker) and Stefano Urkuma De Santis (who worked with Domietta Torlasco), and finally meeting Karianne in person was the highlight of my year!

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Italian premiere of the International Media Mixer at the Salla Alla Porta S. Agostino in Bergamo, Italy

We had a great time when Patrizia, Stefano and Karianne came to Chicago in July for the Chicago premiere in Millennium Park. Seeing CFA’s footage transformed by these talented artists and projected on the huge screen at the Pritzker, for thousands of people, was incredibly moving. We aim to make our collections and films accessible and relevant to our contemporary lives. Seeing these artists’ creative collaborative interpretations of this archival material projected for a huge crowd of people was incredibly moving. The finished pieces will be available on our website in 2019, so keep an eye out for them!

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CFA’s International Media Mixer at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, Millennium Park Chicago

Our partnership with the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events wasn’t limited to the Media Mixer – we were thrilled when the city asked us to create six looping edits of films from our collections to screen at the Taste of Chicago. Opportunities like this gave us the opportunity to dig deep into our collections to expose hidden gems including footage of the 1933 Century of Progress World’s Fair.

Since 2005 CFA has hosted Chicago’s Home Movie Day, a community outreach event that highlights the importance of home movies as documents of our social and cultural lives. We bring film inspection and projection equipment to the Chicago History Museum and spend the day talking to people about their family films, inspecting them, providing information and guidance on how to properly care for and preserve home movies, and then projecting them for the public. We have partnered with the Chicago Film Society for the last couple of years and people are always thrilled to see their films looking so beautiful projected on film! We extended our reach to the suburbs this year and worked with the Arlington Heights Memorial Library to host Home Movie Day there as well. The more home movies, the better.

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CFA’s Brian Belak inspecting and repairing a film; the audience at Chicago Home Movie Day

The preservation of the Film Group’s American Revolution 2 was other huge project that was many years in the making. American Revolution 2 is the first 35mm feature length film that CFA has preserved and also marks the last film in the Film Group Collection to be photochemically preserved. Some of CFA’s first National Film Preservation Foundation projects were the Film Group’s short political documentaries in the Urban Crisis and the New Militants series (one of which, Cicero March, is now on the National Film Registry), so this project has been near and dear to Nancy’s heart from CFA’s earliest days. Filmmakers Bill Cottle and Mike Gray were supporters of the archive and helped shape CFA’s mission, so completing the photochemical preservation of the entire body of their work is extremely gratifying.

We premiered the 35mm preservation print at the Gene Siskel Film Center along with a new audio piece commissioned by CFA in honor of Mike Gray. Autopsy, by Chicago-based sound artist Adam Sonderberg, was created using newly digitized audio recordings made by Mike Gray. Supporting Adam in the creation of this new piece using CFA’s collections and preserving a film like American Revolution 2 both reflect two instances of CFA’s emphasis on providing meaningful access to the materials in our collections.

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American Revolution 2 projected at the Stony Island Arts Bank

In collaboration with Rebuild Foundation and the Stony Island Arts Bank, CFA organized a panel discussion on the themes of American Revolution 2 that included filmmaker Bill Cottle, historian Jakobi Williams, activists Mike James and Marilyn Katz, and Henry “Posion” Gaddis (Black Panthers) and Hy Thurman (Young Patriots), who both appear in the film. Following the screening, the panelists and audience engaged in a lively discussion about the political climate of the 1960s and the possibilities for cross-racial activism that the film presents. The film’s nuanced, compelling, and very timely examination of the unlikely relationship that was developing between the Black Power movement in Chicago and the Young Patriots—a group of impoverished, primarily white residents of the Uptown neighborhood who were beginning to organize around issues of social mobility, police brutality, and income inequity, speaks to the current moment just as clearly as it does to the late 1960s.

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Panelists Henry “Poison” Gaddis, Jakobi Williams, Marilyn Katz, Mike James, Bill Cottle, and Hy Thurman at Stony Island Arts Bank

As part of the year-long Art Design Chicago initiative, CFA presented Designed to be Seen: Art and Function in Chicago Mid-Century Film, a four program series that illuminated the diverse factors that have shaped the filmic landscape of the region from the mid-century through the 1970s. Form and Function: The Legacy of the Institute of Design, provided historical context and a new perspective on the lasting impact of Lászlo Moholy-Nagy’s teachings at the New Bauhaus. Two programs, The New World: Industrial, Corporate and Sponsored Films and Creative Broadcast: Communication, Commercials and Advertising, focused on industrial, commercial, sponsored, and advertising films, examine the innovative design work being done on film in the mid-century. Personal Legacies: Materiality and Abstraction, presented personal and experimental films made by the artists who worked for the design studios and corporations highlighted in the second and third programs of the series.

The series uncovered the interconnected histories of artistic and commercial filmmaking in Chicago and shed new light on the multitude of ways in which art and design industries overlapped and intersected in the city. Each of the four programs was introduced by a local scholar whose research provided new avenues and context for thinking about the importance of CFA’s films in telling this history. Brand new preservation scans were made for the screenings and all four programs will be made available on our website, along with research and contextual information, in 2019.

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Artist and scholar Jan Tichy introducing Form and Function: The Legacy of the Institute of Design at the Chicago History Museum

Over the last year, CFA offered a broad spectrum of public programs and events that made space for our audiences to think critically about the world and our place in it. We remain committed to presenting and making available the films in our collections through screenings and our website, and look forward to seeing you at one of our events in 2019!

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