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August 27, 2018

ART DESIGN CHICAGO – Designed to be Seen: Art and Function in Chicago Mid-Century Film

 

 

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We’re thrilled to announce that we will be participating in the Terra Foundation for American Art’s Art Design Chicago initiative. Art Design Chicago is a spirited celebration of the unique and vital role Chicago plays as America’s crossroads of creativity and commerce. Initiated by the Terra Foundation for American Art, this citywide partnership of more than 75 cultural organizations explores Chicago’s art and design legacy and continued impact with more than 30 exhibitions, hundreds of events, as well as the creation of several scholarly publications and a four-part television series presented throughout 2018.

As part of the Art Design Chicago initiative, CFA is presenting Designed to be Seen: Art and Function in Chicago Mid-Century Film, a series of screenings that reframe the history of cinema in Chicago through various lenses and modes of production. This four program series illuminates 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, provides 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, presents 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. As a whole, the series tells a chapter of Chicago’s history on film that has yet to be seen.

This series uncovers the interconnected histories of commercial and artistic film production in Chicago and, in doing so, sheds new light on the multitude of ways in which art and design industries overlapped and intersected in the city. “Designed to be Seen” explores the distinct genres and production models that were most dominant during this period of time and provides a new perspective on filmmaking in Chicago. It illustrates the innovative ways in which artists and designers used the moving image to both tell and sell the stories of their time. The four screenings in the program are timed to compliment other concurrent exhibitions taking place as part of the Terra Foundation’s Art Design Chicago Initiative, including those at our host venues: The Chicago Cultural Center and the Chicago History Museum.

For more information about each of the screenings, please click on the links below.

2:30pm  Sunday, November 4, 2018
The New World: Industrial, Corporate and Sponsored Films
The Claudia Cassidy Theater, Chicago Cultural Center
Program Introduction and Post-Screening Discussion: Lara Allison (Lecturer, Department of Art History, Theory and Criticism, School of the Art Institute of Chicago). Presented in partnership with the Chicago Humanities Festival.

6pm  Wednesday, November 7, 2018
Personal Legacies: Materiality and Abstraction 
The Claudia Cassidy Theater, Chicago Cultural Center
Program Introduction and Post-Screening Discussion: Daniel Bashara (Adjunct Faculty, Department of Cinema and Media Studies, DePaul University)

6pm  Tuesday, November 27, 2018
Creative Broadcast: Communication, Commercials, and Advertising
The McCormick Theater, Chicago History Museum
Program Introduction and Post-Screening Discussion: Michael Golec (Chair and Associate Professor of Art and Design History, Department of Art History, Theory & Criticism, School of the Art Institute of Chicago)

6pm  Tuesday, December 4, 2018
Form and Function: The Legacy of the Institute of Design
The McCormick Theater, Chicago History Museum
Program Introduction and Post-Screening Discussion: Jan Tichy (Assistant Professor, Department of Art & Technology, School of the Art Institute of Chicago)

All four programs are free and open to all.

Support for Art Design Chicago is provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art and Presenting Partner, The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation. Additional funding for the initiative is provided by Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the Joyce Foundation. The Chicago Community Trust, Leo Burnett, Polk Bros. Foundation, and EXPO CHICAGO are providing in-kind support.

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July 30, 2018

Chicago Premiere of the International Media Mixer

The Chicago premiere of the International Media Mixer on July 17 was beyond our wildest imagination!

We couldn’t have imagined a better setting for the live performance of these stunning four works than the Jay Pritzker Pavillion. The evening was cool and clear with the lake just to the east and the glowing skyline of the city to the west. Archival images from CFA and Lab 80-Cinescatti in Italy were transformed by artists Giuseppe Boccassini, Lori Felker, Federico Francioni & Yan Cheng, and Domietta Torlasco and their sonic collaborators Alex Inglizian, Patrizia Oliva, Tomeka Reid, and Stefano Urkuma De Santis into new pieces – each of them magical, challenging, hypnotic, and deeply moving.

The project not only brought together artists working in different parts of the world to create these beautiful new films, it also drew out connections between our contemporary experience and the images that represent our history and our humanity. We already miss our Italian collaborators and friends (curator Karianne Fiorini, musicians Patrizia Oliva and Stefano Urkuma De Santis, and Gianmarco Torri) and are so thankful for the time they were able to spend with us in Chicago.

Thank you to everyone who came to the screening and to those of you who were there with us in spirit!

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Relaxing on the lawn of the Jay Pritzker Pavilion at Millennium Park.

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Our fantastic host and longtime supporter Alison Cuddy.

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Alison Cuddy and musician Stefano Urkuma De Santis.

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Stefano Urkuma De Santis performing with Parallax Dash (Domietta Torlasco & Stefano Urkuma De Santis).

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Alex Inglizian performing with Temple of Truth (Giuseppe Boccassini & Alex Inglizian).

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Musicians Tomeka Reid, Nick Mazzarella, and Patrizia Oliva performing with Octavia (Federico Francioni, Yan Cheng, Tomeka Reid).

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Filmmaker Lori Felker and musician Patrizia Oliva discuss their transcontinental collaboration.

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Patrizia Oliva performing Memoria Data (Lori Felker and Patrizia Oliva).

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DJ (and former Media Mixer artist) Latham Zearfoss ended the screening with some killer sounds set to looping images from CFA’s collections.

 

June 15, 2018

Millie Goldsholl’s “Rebellion of the Flowers”

Millie Goldsholl’s Rebellion of the Flowers (1992) appears to be the last film she completed and one that she poured an incredible amount of creative passion and energy into. Completed three years before her husband’s death, the film is dedicated to “Morton Goldsholl and the Good People who resist the abuse of power in any form.” It’s easy to see Millie’s love and admiration for her husband reflected in the content of the film—in particular its emphasis on respect, humility, and equality.

Narrated by Shepard Strudwick, Rebellion of the Flowers tells the story of a gardener, Jan, who “understood nature’s needs” and worked hard to grow and care for his plants. He protected and looked after his flowers, providing them with “love and gentle care.” He took great pride in his work and, as a result of his labor, felt “filled with purpose” and “close to God.” However, Jan’s love and adoration of the flowers transforms into a distortion of his power, as he becomes jealous of the flowers bowing “under the intense authority of the sun.” Jan’s body reflects this internal transformation, and he becomes a looming totalitarian figure demanding the obedience of his flowers.

When he realizes that his shadow can block the sun, the flowers rebel and twist around his body, drawing him into the earth. The next morning, the sun comes out, and a “sparking and sweet smell” (perhaps Jan’s body transformed into metaphorical fertilizer) mixes with the natural perfume of the flowers.

Rebellion of the Flowers is an uncommon instance in CFA’s collections in that the Goldsholl Collection also holds a wealth of film material associated with its creation. Beyond a few finished positive prints, the collection contains edited negatives, negative trims, internegatives, interpositives, work prints, and magnetic soundtrack reels. While the positive prints are the most immediately useful for actually being able to watch the film, these elements are also important to preserving the work in its entirety and understanding how the project developed for Millie over time.

Most of the film elements are either labeled or on film stock dated 1991 or 1992, when the film was completed. Even so, we’re able to trace through the film stocks of other elements that Millie actually started work on the film at least ten years before then. One negative trim is dated to 7-30-80, while in a work print labeled “1992-06-12, re-edited by Millie,” there are sections of the film printed onto film stock dating to 1985 and even 1981. The 1981 stock in particular dates to before the Eastman LPP “no-fade” stock used for all other more recent elements of the film, meaning the 1981 portions have all nearly completely faded to magenta, while the remainder of the work print has held its color well.

The dates on the work print corroborate a comment made in a 1994 review of the Tenth Annual Chicago International Children’s Film Festival written for ASIFA Central, the Midwest USA Chapter of ASIFA (l’Association Internationale du Film d’Animation), of which Millie was a member. Referring to the Chicago premiere of “Millie Goldsholl’s long awaited ‘Rebellion of the Flowers’” suggests there had been news of its production for years prior.

The various elements offer a record of how the film was made, not just when. For the most part, the negatives were exposed through a gate larger than the final print, so there are notes or extra imagery on the edges that were cropped off when making the positive version. The many layers of hand-drawn cel animation were kept in registration by pins at the top or side of the sheets, which get preserved on a few of the negatives. For some of the close-ups on flowers in the film, the negatives show images with the scientific names of the flowers written beside them. There are also color test cards, leader ladies, slates specifying the negative roll, and plenty of grease pencil markings throughout as editing took place and changes made.

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For now, we chose one positive print labeled “virgin release print” to scan and prepare for digital exhibition, while the other elements were cleaned, repaired, and rehoused for storage and future research. This is all without having an opportunity to transfer the full-coat magnetic sound reels, which may contain additional audio beyond what’s heard in the film, such as outtakes or spontaneous noise captured during recording.

Perhaps because the film took over 10 years to complete and was worked on by a relatively large team of animators (including Ken Mundie, Paul Jessel, Marie Cenkner, Dan Chessher, Mary Jones, and John Weber), its style is quite different than other films made by Millie and the film division at Goldsholl Associates. Drawn illustrations of the flowers and natural world are contrasted with the domineering and almost grotesque figure of Jan. Images of flower petals delicately unfolding are animated with extreme sensitivity. Superimpositions and slow cross-dissolves are used to evoke a sense of fluidity within the natural world.

Rebellion of the Flowers’ critique of power and authority resonates with another award-winning hand-drawn animation created by Millie Goldsholl, Up is Down (1969), that tells the story of a boy who sees the world differently than others and, as a result, is considered a threat to society. Efforts to transform the boy’s positive and hopeful worldview are unsuccessful, and he revolts by asking society to reevaluate its values. Dedicated to Martin Luther King, Jr., the film reflects an emphasis on political and social consciousness that can be seen in the Goldsholl studio’s progressive attitude and early emphasis on gender and racial equality in their hiring practices.

CFA’s 2K scan of Rebellion of the Flowers can be seen here.

May 1, 2018

Categorizing JoAnn Elam’s Films

The following is adapted from a short presentation given by Brian Belak, Collections Manager for Chicago Film Archives, at the Association of Moving Image Archivists’ Annual Conference in New Orleans, LA, on December 1, 2017. The panel “Woman Behind the Camera: Uncovering An Overlooked Perspective” also featured archivists from Northeast Historic Film, the Lesbian Home Movie Project, and the Center for Home Movies discussing their work on the project.

The JoAnn Elam Collection came to CFA in 2011 and consists of over 735 total elements, 516 of which are reels of 16mm, 8mm, and Super 8mm film, with the remainder videotapes, audiotapes, and several boxes of papers and fixed ephemera. Elam herself was a central figure in the Chicago experimental film scene of the 1970s and ‘80s. Her work is engaged with issues of feminism, depiction of women and women’s labor in media, and domestic and everyday spaces on film.

JoAnn Elam in "Boyers & Rhinos" (circa 1981)

JoAnn Elam in “Boyers & Rhinos” (circa 1981)

Although Elam made significant work on 16mm, the majority of her films were made and shown on 8mm, which she argued made the filmmaking “immediate and personal.” As she wrote in a manifesto with her friend and collaborator Chuck Kleinhans, “Small gauge film is not larger than life, it’s part of life.”

Before undertaking this project, our work with Elam’s films was mostly through attempts to build a filmography of finished films to put online. Elam passed away in 2009, and the collection was donated through her husband Joe Hendrix, her sister Susan Elam, and Chuck Kleinhans. From the beginning, we lacked access to Elam and were unable to ask her questions directly. This meant we needed to construct a filmography through research and the memories of her family and friends. This filmography included RAPE (1977) and LIE BACK AND ENJOY IT (1982), Elam’s two best-known works due to their ongoing distribution by Canyon Cinema. These two and a small number of other titles could be identified through clearly labeled printing elements, copies, or outtakes that point to finished works. Many films have printed title cards, and we also have copies of catalogs and screening notices that identify some films by title.

This led us to a working filmography of about 35 titles in 2014, the last time significant work was conducted on Elam’s films. Most of these titles were digitized and put online at that time, while the entire collection was also inspected and rehoused.

In 2017, we’ve taken up digitizing and understanding the remainder of Elam’s collection. A large portion of that are the elements for her unfinished film “Everyday People” about letter carriers in the US Postal Service, a role she held herself and through which was actively engaged in union work. But what has proven harder to make sense of is the significant number of reels without clear marking or identification. Some have simple labels, such as a person’s name or a location. Some have no labels at all. Many came to us in cracker boxes with broad labels like “Old Camera Rolls,” “Camera Rolls,” and “8mm Film.” There are spliced reels, uncut originals, printed elements, and loops.

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Humb,” which we believe is short for Humboldt Park in Chicago, is a great example of the sort of newly digitized material we find difficult to classify because in appearance, the film is engaged with the same themes and formal experimentation as the working filmography developed before, in which we saw techniques like double exposure and montage. However, the reel itself has an obscure, likely incomplete title, and there’s no record of her exhibiting the film to others.

“Humb” (date unknown) — click to watch film on CFA website

Currently the catch-all “Finished Films, Home Movies, and Sketches” section of Elam’s finding aid consists of just one list of over 150 titles, combining the previous working filmography with newly digitized and streaming material. This is a daunting list for researchers that risks elevating certain unfinished or unintentional films to the same status as Elam’s finished and exhibited work.

Sorting through this material has caused us to question how best to subdivide and present the list in an understandable way mindful of Elam’s intent. One simple method could be to use their original box groupings, with the idea that those groupings may indicate meaningful relationships. However, this may separate related objects from each other, such as trims and outs for finished pieces, and break apart intellectual understanding of Elam’s recurring interests. Plus, it’s not guaranteed who grouped these films and if the labels came from Elam, her husband, Kleinhans, or someone else.

Another approach could mean grouping films based on their content, as we can see that Elam was interested in filming similar events or activities over time. Multiple reels depict her and others gardening, an annual art fair in her neighborhood, and visits to a farm in Monterey, Massachusetts, owned by her longtime friend Bonner McAllester. But this approach carries its own complications discerning works from related outtakes. Is a reel labeled “Fire” its own work, or outtakes for another film called “Firelight”? Were any of these related reels intended to be edited into larger pieces, and if so, what evidence survives?

“Firelight” (left) and “Fire” (right) – dates unknown. Elements of the same film or different altogether?

This last point brings up the issue of how to categorize Elam’s films more broadly. Since even her exhibited work is so engaged with the personal and everyday around her, and was mostly shot on consumer formats of 8mm and Super 8mm, how do we consider her films in relation to home movies in the collection? In the Small Gauge Manifesto, Elam and Kleinhans wrote that small gauge “invites films made for or with specific audiences. Often the filmmaker and/or people filmed are present at a screening.” This sounds like a traditional definition of home movies, blurring the distinction between Elam’s art practice and the seeming home movies apparent in the collection. It’s not always clear who shot these home movies, as Elam herself often appears in them in a casual setting. For many, it may have been her husband Joe Hendrix, but the authorship remains unclear. Hendrix has passed, and we are unable to ask him, though Elam’s sister Susan has confirmed that there is a series of films in the collection made by her on a trip to Europe.

The Small Gauge Manifesto also asks us to consider the ways in which we put these films online for anyone in the world to access. Although our computer screens are still smaller than a movie screen, keeping in line with that vision of small gauge on a small screen, there is also the change in the environment of presentation. Elam is not with us as we watch her films online. Most of the time we are not intimately familiar with those featured in the work. Since online presentation therefore requires a translation of Elam and Kleinhans’ vision of personal filmmaking, the challenge becomes how best to acknowledge the translation and contextualize their vision for future audiences engaging with the films.

April 13, 2018

Italian premiere of the International Media Mixer

The Italian premiere of the International Media Mixer project on Sunday March 11, 2018 was such a powerful experience—it’s difficult to put it into words. If you aren’t familiar with the project you can read more about it here. CFA’s Media Mixer project began in 2013 as a way to inspire the creative reuse of our films by contemporary artists working in video and sound. With the generous support of the MacArthur Foundation’s International Connections Fund, this was our first international iteration of the project, and it has been an enormous success!

Video documentation courtesy of the Bergamo Film Meeting

We worked with independent curator Karianne Fiorini to invite two filmmakers based in Chicago, Lori Felker and Domietta Torlasco, to create two new videos using footage from the Lab 80 film – Cinescatti archive, and three filmmakers based in Italy, Yan Cheng & Federico Francioni and Giuseppe Boccassini, to create two new videos using footage from CFA’s archive. The filmmakers were asked to explore, use and interpret this material—from another culture, another country and another era—as they liked. We then paired the US-based filmmakers with Italian musicians and the Italian-based filmmakers with Chicago-based musicians to create soundtracks for the new video pieces. This resulted in a truly collaborative project that brought together artists in Italy and Chicago, as well as our two regional film archives based in Chicago and Bergamo. Four new videos were created by these talented artists. We are in awe of their dedication to the archival film material and their hard work, generosity, and creativity.

Sound musicians Alex Inglizian and Tomeka Reid (joined by Nick Mazzarella) travelled from the US to Italy where they met their Italian counterparts Patrizia Oliva and Stefano Urkuma De Santis for the first time. Sunday began with a lovely lunch hosted by Lab 80 film (thank you to everyone at Lab80, Sergio Visinoni & Giulia Castelletti) where we were finally all in the same room. We got to know one another in the best possible way – over a delicious meal of food from the Puglia region of Italy! After working primarily over email (and across the Atlantic Ocean), this was the first time that sound artists Alex Inglizian and Tomeka Reid met their collaborative partners Giuseppe Boccassini, Federico Francioni, and Yan Cheng. We had a lovely time and quickly moved over to the beautiful festival exhibition space, the Salla Alla Porta S. Agostino (an arched passageway built in 1781 as an armed gate for the Venetian Walls that surround Bergamo’s Cittá Alta) to sound check.

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Photo by Giancarlo Brunelli. L-R: Curator Karianne Fiorini, BFM translator, CFA curator Michelle Puetz, Giulia Casteletti (Lab 80 film – Cinescatti), Sergio Visinoni (Lab 80 film – Cinescatti & BFM), Patrizia Oliva, Stefano Urkuma De Santis, Alex Inglizian, Giuseppe Boccassini, Federico Francioni, Nick Mazzarella, Tomeka Reid, Yan Cheng.

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Photo by Giancarlo Brunelli. Entrance to the Salla Alla Porta S. Agostino and a poster for the festival’s exhibition dedicated to the work of Liv Ullmann and Ingmar Bergman.

The event began at 7:15 and, following an introduction by the team from Lab 80 film – Cinescatti, Bergamo Film Meeting festival director Angelo Signorelli, and curators Karianne Fiorini and Michelle Puetz, we moved into the screening and performance. Each piece was introduced by the artists in attendance, who provided insight into the works and their collaborative process. A heavy rain outside created a haunting atmosphere for the screening. The crowd was great, and each piece looked and sounded beautiful. The live performances by Alex Inglizian, Patrizia Oliva, Tomeka Reid (joined by Nick Mazzarella on saxophone & Federico Francioni on whirly tube!), and Stefano Urkuma De Santis were truly exceptional.

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Photo by Giancarlo Brunelli. L-R: Curator Karianne Fiorini, BFM translator, CFA curator Michelle Puetz, Giulia Casteletti (Lab 80 film – Cinescatti), Sergio Visinoni (Lab 80 film – Cinescatti & BFM).

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Photo by Giancarlo Brunelli. Patrizia Oliva performing MEMORIA DATA (Lori Felker & Patrizia Oliva, 2018, 12 min).

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Photo by Giancarlo Brunelli. Patrizia Oliva performing MEMORIA DATA.

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Photo by Giancarlo Brunelli. Stefano Urkuma De Santis performing PARALLAX DASH (Domietta Torlasco & Stefano Urkuma De Santis, 2018, 8 min).

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Photo by Giancarlo Brunelli. Tomeka Reid and Nick Mazzarella performing OCTAVIA (Federico Francioni/Yan Cheng & Tomeka Reid, 2018, 14 min).

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Photo by Giancarlo Brunelli. Tomeka Reid performing OCTAVIA.

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Photo by Giancarlo Brunelli. Alex Inglizian performing TEMPLE OF TRUTH (Giuseppe Boccassini & Alex Inglizian, 2018, 15 min).

The screening / live performance was followed by a reception (thank you, again, to Lab80 and the Bergamo Film Meeting Festival), and the artists had the chance to relax and talk with the audience.

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Photo by Giancarlo Brunelli. L-R: Tomeka Reid, Federico Francioni, Nick Mazzarella, Yan Cheng.

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Photo by Giancarlo Brunelli. L-R: Federico Francioni, Michelle Puetz, Alex Inglizian, Nick Mazzarella, Yan Cheng.

Relatives of some of the individuals featured in archival material from the Cinescatti collections were in attendance, which was not only a surprise, but incredibly moving. They were so happy to see their family memories honored and transformed through the creation of these new pieces. We ended the evening with a fantastic dinner and lots of hugs. The entire experience was incredible—thank you to our Italian colleagues, and now friends (especially Karianne Fiorini, Angelo Signorelli, Sergio Visinoni, and Giulia Casteletti) for such a memorable experience. We can’t wait to see you again this summer for the Chicago premiere on July 17!

Read more about the talented artists we are working with on this project here.

The International Media Mixer has been made possible with the generous support of the MacArthur Foundation, the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, Lab 80 film – Cinescatti, and the Istituto Italiano di Cultura Chicago.


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April 6, 2018

Designed to be Seen: Art and Function in Chicago Mid-Century Film

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still image from Robert Stiegler’s Licht Spiel Nur I (circa 1967)

We are extremely proud to announce Designed to be Seen: Art and Function in Chicago Mid-Century Film - a four program film series that will screen in fall 2018 as part of the Terra Foundation for American Art’s Art Design Chicago initiative. Art Design Chicago is a wide-ranging initiative spearheaded by the Terra Foundation and developed in partnership with more than 60 cultural organizations to explore the ongoing influence of Chicago’s art and design history.

Designed to be Seen: Art and Function in Chicago Mid-Century Film will present—for the very first time—a series of screenings that reframe the history of cinema in Chicago through various lenses and modes of production. This four program series will illuminate the diverse factors that have shaped the filmic landscape of the region from the mid-century through the 1970s. The first program in the series, “Form and Function: The Legacy of the Institute of Design,” provides historical context and a new perspective on the lasting impact of Lászlo Moholy-Nagy’s teachings at the New Bauhaus. The second and third programs, focused on industrial, commercial, sponsored, and advertising films, examine the innovative design work being done on film in the mid-century. The final program in the series, “Personal Legacies: Materiality and Abstraction,” presents 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. As a whole, the series tells a chapter of Chicago’s history on film that has yet to be seen.

Program 1: “Form and Function: The Legacy of the Institute of Design” Select films include Mort’s Personal Reel (mid-1950s-1979); IIT (1971), a sponsored film that shows scenes of student life at IIT; International Design Conference in Aspen: The First Decade (1961); and Lens Distortion (1971), a demo reel made at Goldsholl Design Associates. Program Introduction and Post-Screening Discussion: Jan Tichy (Assistant Professor, Department of Art & Technology, School of the Art Institute of Chicago)

Program 2: “The New World: Industrial, Corporate, and Sponsored Films” Included are several outstanding examples of the various ways artists and designers pushed the boundaries of these genres. Films include The New World of Stainless Steel (1960, Wilding Studios, Chicago); Western Electric Company “Getting It All Together” (mid-1960s); Unemployed Jr. Executive Man (1970s); Paper: Mirror of Imagination (1975), one of a series of films made for Champion Papers Incorporated; the Container Corporation of America’s CCA & You: Partners in Achievement (1976). Screening Venue: The Claudia Cassidy Theater, Chicago Cultural Center Screening Date: October 10, 2018 – 6pm. Program Introduction and Post-Screening Discussion: Lara Allison (Lecturer, Department of Art History, Theory and Criticism, School of the Art Institute of Chicago)

Program 3: “Creative Broadcast: Communication, Commercials, and Advertising” Advertising agencies such as Leo Burnett have been based in Chicago since the late 19th century. This program highlights the work of a few innovative firms and designers. Films include Addressograph-Multigraph Corporation “The Straight Talking Copy People” (mid-1970s); Allstate Insurance “Another Year of Success” (1969); and various commercials for Sears, Quaker Oats, United Airlines, and ComEd, among others. Program Introduction and Post-Screening Discussion: Michael Golec (Chair and Associate Professor of Art and Design History, Department of Art History, Theory & Criticism, School of the Art Institute of Chicago)

Program 4: “Personal Legacies: Materiality and Abstraction” This final program focuses on more personal and experimental films made by the individuals who were simultaneously working for the studios, agencies and design firms mentioned above. Intersections of the personal and the professional are explored through films including Robert Stiegler’s (Capitulation (1965) and Licht Spiel Nur I (circa 1967); Larry Janiak’s Adams Film (1963); and Byron Grush’s Fotogrammar (1969). Screening Venue: The Claudia Cassidy Theater, Chicago Cultural Center Screening Date: November 7, 2018 – 6pm. Program Introduction and Post-Screening Discussion: Daniel Bashara (Adjunct Faculty, Department of Cinema and Media Studies, DePaul University)

March 15, 2018

2007 Interview with Millie Goldsholl

On April 20, 2007, Chicago Film Archives Executive Director Nancy Watrous interviewed Millie Goldsholl, filmmaker and designer, at her home in Highland Park, Illinois. The following edited excerpts feature Millie describing her earliest work at the School of Design (now the IIT Institute of Design) in Chicago, where she studied under Hungarian-born artist László Moholy-Nagy. Millie passed away in 2012 at the age of 92.

March 7, 2018

CFA International Media Mixer 2018: Meet the Artists!

We’re so thrilled to introduce the amazing lineup of artists who are participating in our first ever CFA International Media Mixer! If you aren’t already familiar with the project, please read more about it here.

Giuseppe Boccassini (IT) + Alex Inglizian (US)
Lori Felker (US) + Patrizia Oliva (IT)
Federico Francioni & Yan Cheng (IT) + Tomeka Reid (US)

Domietta Torlasco (US) + Stefano Urkuma De Santis (IT)

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GIUSEPPE BOCCASSINI

Giuseppe Boccassini is an Italian filmmaker mainly working in Germany and Italy. He graduated in film theory at the University of Bologna and in film direction at The New University of Cinema and Television in Cinecittà (Rome). His work has been shown at several international film festivals and exhibitions, including FID Marseille (France), Torino Film Festival (Italy), FESTACURTAS BH (Brasil), Punto de Vista (Spain), Trentino History Museum (Italy). By transforming and manipulating various sources of archival material, his work reflects upon the notion of a haptic proximity of contemporary media. He considers film as “a phallic conquerer that, folding in on itself, now flaccid deus ex machina, observes itself from the inside like a lysergic membrane that slowly founders between the folds of its own material”. His most recent collaborations includes the film editing for Aldo Tambellini’s solo exibithion Black Matters, at ZKM Karlsruhe (Germany). He is one of the curators of Fracto, a new experimental film screening event at ACUD macht neu, in Berlin. http://giuseppeboccassini.com/

 

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ALEX INGLIZIAN

Alex Inglizian is a Chicago based artist, composer, musician, engineer and educator. His work explores the boundaries of noise, harmony, silence, space, performance, and improvisation. He is a graduate of The School of The Art Institute of Chicago and is currently a co-director and lead recording engineer at Experimental Sound Studio, an internationally recognized non-profit sound art organization. Alex is also a professor of sound for film studies and music technology at Northwestern University. He frequently performs among the vibrant Chicago experimental music scene and regularly collaborates with local filmmakers. Inglizian is deeply influenced by the rich history of experimental electronic music and free jazz, and continues to draw inspiration from the contemporary artists he works with professionally and creatively on a daily basis. https://soundcloud.com/soundofjoy

 

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LORI FELKER

Lori Felker is a filmmaker/artist, teacher, programmer, and performer. Her films and videos attempt to study the ineloquent, oppositional, delusional, frustrating, and chaotic qualities of human interaction. Lori works in a variety of mediums and styles and has shown her work internationally at a variety of film festivals and art spaces. She lives in Chicago, loves to collaborate, and is currently an Assistant Professor at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee and the Film/Video programmer at Roots & Culture Gallery. http://www.felkercommalori.com/

 

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PATRIZIA OLIVA

Patrizia Oliva is a singer, autor, improviser of experimental music that crosses electronics, electro-acoustic, free jazz and performing arts. Her research is aimed on a redefinition of contemporary singer. She has played with many musicians, among other with Gino Robair, Stefano Giust, Pamelia Kurstin, Edoardo Marraffa, Tommy Greenwood, Martin Mayes, Tristan Honsinger Linda Sharrock, Silvia Bolognesi, Alessandro Bosetti and many others. She has toured Italy, U.S.A, Scotland, United Kingdom, The Netherlands, France, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, Slovenja, Croatia, Belgium, Austria and Vietnam. Some places and festivals she has played in: AngelicA (Bologna), Fondazione Mudima (Milano), Reggia Venaria (Torino), Limmitationes/Chilli Jazz Festival (Austria), Hanoi New Music Festival (Vietnam), Area Sismica (Forlì), Museum of Modern Art (Ohio, USA), Piccolo Teatro (Milano), ZDB (PT), ZXZW Festival (NL), Fusion Festival (D), The Empire Gallery Galvanised Festival (UK), Spazio O (Milano), Postgarage (AT) and more. She has recorded an impressive number of albums with several experimental labels such as Setola di Maiale, Afe Records, Sonoscopia and many more. https://patriziaoliva.wordpress.com/

 

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FEDERICO FRANCIONI & YAN CHENG

Federico Francioni (1988) graduated in 2010 with a degree in History of Cinema, discussing a thesis about Otar Iosseliani. In 2013 he’s admitted at the National Film School of Italy, the “Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia”. In 2016 he realizes with his colleague Yan Cheng the medium documentary Tomba del Tuffatore (Tomb of the Diver), which premiered at Pesaro Film Festival. In the same year they started working on their first feature documentary, shot in China. In 2017 he attends a course at “Ateliers Varan”, and he’s currently working on a documentary feature in Paris. He’s also curator of an upcoming interview and monography about the french director Eugène Green. After studying history and anthropology in the United States, Yan Cheng (1991) took up his studies at the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia – the National Film School of Italy (Rome). He has realized various short films and documentaries in China, United States, and Europe. He develops an artistic practice in cinema, contemporary art, and academic research. In 2016 he realizes with Federico Francioni the medium documentary Tomb of the Diver. In the same year they started working on their first feature documentary, shot in China.

 

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TOMEKA REID

Chicago based cellist, composer and educator, Tomeka Reid has been described as “a remarkably versatile player,” (Howard Reich, Chicago Tribune). Equally adept in classical and jazz contexts, Ms. Reid predominantly finds herself in experimental and improvisatory settings and composes for a wide range of instrumentation, from big band to chamber ensemble. Ms. Reid’s music combines her love for groove along with freer concepts. Ms. Reid is an integral part of Dee Alexander’s Evolution Ensemble, Nicole Mitchell’s Black Earth Ensemble/Strings, Mike Reed’s Loose Assembly, the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) Great Black Music Ensemble, and co-leads the internationally recognized string trio, Hear in Now with performances in Poznan, Poland; Paris, France; Rome, Venice, Milan, Italy; Soazza, Switzerland; and in the US: Chicago, New York and Vermont. In addition to the aforementioned ensembles, Ms. Reid performs with many of today’s forward thinking musicians in the world of jazz and creative music including Anthony Braxton, George Lewis, Roscoe Mitchell, Jeb Bishop, Myra Melford, Fred Lonberg-Holm, Mary Halvorson, Denis Fournier, Edward Wilkerson and Harrison Bankhead. Ms. Reid also leads her own trio featuring guitarist Matt Schneider and bassist Josh Abrams, for which she composes. Ms. Reid can be heard on numerous studio recordings. As a composer, Ms. Reid has been commissioned by the AACM, the Chicago Jazz Festival and the Chicago Jazz Ensemble and has had several opportunities to showcase her work abroad at festivals such as Umbria Jazz, An Insolent Noise and Vignola Jazz. She has been nominated and awarded residencies for composition with the Ragdale Foundation and the 2nd Annual Make Jazz Fellowship hosted by the 18th Street Arts Organization. Ms. Reid was selected as a 2012 participant in the Jazz Composers Orchestra Institute held at the University of California: Los Angeles. http://www.tomekareid.net/

 

DomiettaTorlasco

DOMIETTA TORLASCO

Domietta Torlasco is a critical theorist, filmmaker, and associate professor of Italian and comparative literature at Northwestern University. She is the author of two books: The Time of the Crime: Phenomenology, Psychoanalysis, Italian Film (Stanford University Press, 2008) and The Heretical Archive: Digital Memory at the End of Film (University of Minnesota Press, 2013), both investigating cinema’s capacity to remember forgotten pasts and imagine alternative futures. In recent years, her research has expanded into the domain of audiovisual practice and found in the essay its most proper form. While mixing fiction and documentary, her pieces perform an inquiry into the political stakes of a series of aesthetic operations—the framing of spaces, the tracing of borders, the delimitation of enclosures (domestic or otherwise), wherein people are asked to live together. Her video essays have screened at national and international venues, including the Galerie Campagne Première in Berlin.

 

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STEFANO URKUMA DE SANTIS

URKUMA is Stefano De Santis, born in the South-east part of Italy. He began his artistic career as a playwright, and later developed his unique musical approach to translate his theatre concepts into sound. The word Urkuma is specific to the FinisTerrae part of Italy and expresses a state of mind, that is possible to compare with the opposite to the Buddhist concept of nirvana. Urkuma did releases, performances and installations in Italy, Poland, Usa, Austria, Swiss, Slovack Rep., Japan and has collaborated with a wide range of musicians. Live, Urkuma is used to play anything within his reach, including small electronic devices, clarinet, TrumpLoo, home-built instruments and tapes. https://vimeo.com/98934499

March 2, 2018

Inspecting Millie Goldsholl’s Personal Reels

By Olivia Babler

Since joining Chicago Film Archives as a transfer technician last October, one of my main long-term projects has consisted of inspecting, stabilizing and digitizing films from the Mort & Millie Goldsholl Collection as part of the “Woman Behind the Camera” project. While the couple are best known for their mid-century graphic design and advertising campaigns with Chicago-based Goldsholl Design & Film Associates, this grant has enabled CFA to spend more time focusing on the home movies and travel footage Millie Goldsholl (1920–2012) shot across the U.S., Japan, Africa and Europe in the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s.

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Label taped to an otherwise untitled reel in the Mort & Millie Goldsholl Collection

Our first step towards making Millie’s films accessible was to complete inspection of the vast collection, which was donated to CFA in 2006 and 2010. Just last week, the CFA team wrapped up inspecting all 322 16mm films in our Goldsholl collection. In addition to completing condition reports and collecting metadata for each film, we also prepared the films for digitization by attaching fresh leader, measuring shrinkage, and testing the resilience of splices. While there was the occasional unpleasant surprise (Mold! Masking tape splices! Vinegar syndrome! Indecipherable handwriting!), we were delighted to find that almost all of Millie’s films have maintained their vibrant colors (thanks, Kodachrome!) and had not shrunken too much to be transferred on our Tobin telecine. As we inspected, we came across stunning footage and lovely family moments that we are excited to share in the coming months.

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Frames from “Lake Placid Holiday 1941 (M+M 1st vacation)” (1941)

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Frames from “Moss Park & Sand Shrine” (ca. 1964)

Fellow transfer technician Justin Dean and I have also been busy digitizing Millie’s films for access. The films so far have featured a range of activities and settings across the globe—art fairs and carnivals in Chicago, safaris in Kenya, anti-war protests in Washington, D.C., cormorant fishing in Japan—all shot with beautiful and surprising compositions. Millie also captured many tender family moments featuring Mort and their children, Harry and Gleda, laughing and creating art together. My favorite film we have transferred so far is a gorgeous black-and-white film of students playing drums and dancing on the campus of the Dyer-Bennet school of minstrelsy in Aspen, Colorado (it also features a very adorable kitten, as well as a game of croquet!). This film, along with many other films shot by Millie, will soon stream on CFA’s website.

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Still from “Dyer-Bennet School – Aspen” (1949)

February 7, 2018

Italian Premiere of the International Media Mixer in Bergamo!

Video by Cerise Films / Original Track “Birdseed” by Salvatore Córdova

We’re thrilled to announce the Italian premiere of our International Media Mixer project in Bergamo, Italy at the Bergamo Film Meeting Festival on March 11, 2018. This very special screening will feature live audio accompaniment to four brand new commissioned videos that were made using archival footage from the collections of the Chicago Film Archives and Lab 80 filmCinescatti. We are so excited that Alex Inglizian and Tomeka Reid, accompanied by CFA’s Michelle Puetz, will meet up with their Italian collaborators for the first time for this performance in Bergamo.

We are so lucky to be working with such talented artists on this project!

Giuseppe Boccassini (IT) + Alex Inglizian (US)
Lori Felker (US) + Patrizia Oliva (IT)
Federico Francioni & Yan Cheng (IT) + Tomeka Reid (US)
Domietta Torlasco (US) + Stefano Urkuma De Santis (IT)

Mark your calendars for the US premiere, which will take place in Chicago (outdoors on a very, very big screen!) on July 17, 2018.

You can read more about the process here & visit the Bergamo Film Meeting Festival’s event listing here.

This project is one of 15 artistic partnerships supported by the MacArthur Foundation’s International Connections Fund.

 

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December 26, 2017

CFA Media Mixer 2017 (in review)

As 2017 comes to a close, we’re reflecting back on some of our favorite events and this year’s Media Mixer (our 6th annual) was a definite highlight! We had so much fun at the Hideout (as usual!) and this year’s videos were fantastic. They’re streaming below for you to enjoy.

2017′s talented lineup included:

Eric Fleischauer + Matchess
Samantha Hill + Haptic
Marianna Milhorat + Brian Kirkbride

More on this year’s artists here!

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eric fleischauer & Matchess

 

An Anthology of Kinship
Samantha Hill & Haptic

 

Sky Room
Marianna Milhorat & Brian Kirkbride

 

December 18, 2017

Scanning JoAnn Elam’s “Filmabuse (Original)”

By Justin Dean and Brian Belak

One of our missions for the Woman Behind the Camera project is to digitize and make accessible online the film work of JoAnn Elam, but as can be the case, that has sometimes turned out easier said than done. Recently, we found a curious reel labeled “Filmabuse (Original)” that presented a challenge for digitizing and required altering our previously established workflow. This uncut double-8mm reel appeared to be an element of a previously digitized (and already streaming) film, “Filmabuse” (circa 1975), an abstract 16mm film that was likely printed from originally hand-painted film. Although probably not the original hand-painted film itself, “Filmabuse (Original)” appeared to be an element that “Filmabuse” was printed from. From what we can determine, the same footage from “Filmabuse (Original)” is repeated four times on “Filmabuse,” each time with variation in direction and orientation. What was initially striking was how vivid the colors of “Filmabuse (Original)” were when compared to “Filmabuse.” Not only was some vibrancy likely lost in the initial printing, but, due to the color process used to make the print, the color of “Filmabuse” has faded over the years.

“Filmabuse (Original)” – Double 8mm

“Filmabuse” – 16mm

We were excited to digitize and share this unique object, both because of the context it adds to the finished film and because of how beautiful it is on its own. But digitizing the film presented certain challenges, not least because of its odd film gauge. When unexposed, double 8mm (AKA Regular 8mm) is the same width as 16mm, only with twice as many sprocket holes (perforations) on each side. As the film runs through the camera, it first exposes only one half of the film’s width. When the length has been exposed, the camera operator reloads the same film into the camera a second time, now oriented so the other half is exposed. The film developer typically then slits the film in half along its length and attaches the two ends, resulting in a full reel of developed film that is 8mm wide.

Comparison of 16mm and 8mm

Comparison of 16mm and 8mm

This is a typical consumer’s experience with double 8mm, but some artists (like JoAnn Elam) have experimented with using double 8mm in its uncut form as another format for filmmaking. Uncut double 8mm has twice as many perforations as 16mm, but the additional holes are simply inserted in between those normally on 16mm. This means a double-8mm film can usually be treated with the same equipment as 16mm, and every other hole will just be ignored by the 16mm-spaced sprocket teeth. This helps explain why the printed film “Filmabuse” is 16mm instead of double 8mm: the printing process is easy and the finished film could be screened in any venue with 16mm projection.

We would normally be able to treat “Filmabuse (Original)” like any other 16mm film we’ve digitized from JoAnn Elam, but in this case, the film had damage to its perforations and edges and was severely warped. This made transfer with our Tobin Telecine, the machine we use for the bulk of our digitization, very risky. The Tobin is essentially a film projector with a digital camera which captures a video of the film as it travels through the gate. Both the Tobin and a projector use sprockets to pull the film by its perforations through the machinery, so if a film is too damaged to run through a projector, like “Filmabuse (Original)” was, it shouldn’t be run through the Tobin either. Therefore, we decided it was an ideal candidate for scanning using our Kinetta Archival Film Scanner. Unlike a Tobin or film projector, the Kinetta is sprocket-less. It uses rollers instead and is much gentler to damaged films. However, the set-up and production process of a Kinetta scan is much greater than the Tobin—as is the final file size—which is why we typically use the latter when digitizing for access.

Kinetta Archival Film Scanner

Kinetta Archival Film Scanner

This was our first time scanning double 8mm. Because it lacks sprockets, the Kinetta relies on a sensor that detects every perforation in order to stabilize the image. We set what gauge the scanner is working with, and it knows to look for the correct number of perforations and their spacing per frame for that gauge. Because the print of “Filmabuse” is 16mm and the double 8mm version presumably matched that framing (and requires the use of a gate 16-mm wide anyway), we first set the Kinetta to read 16mm perforations. This caused a problem, though, for the stabilization software was getting flustered each time it recognized the additional holes in the double 8mm film. When we set the software to stabilize based on 8mm, we were able to get a stable scan because the software knew to look for perforations with the correct frequency.

There was, however, a downside to scanning as 8mm. Both 16mm and 8mm normally have one perforation per film frame. In the frame-by-frame capture of the Kinetta, this means that for each perforation (and therefore, for each film frame) a corresponding digital frame is created. But because 8mm is intended to be cut to half the size of 16mm, when treating double 8mm like 16mm there are actually two perforations for every “full” frame. As a result, in the raw scan, for every film frame an additional “half” frame was created in between the full ones.

Raw "Filmabuse (Original)" scan

Raw “Filmabuse (Original)” scan

The question then became how to remove these “half” frames to create a file that plays back properly using the full frames of 16mm. It helped to think of the frames in terms of numerical value: frame 1, frame 2, frame 3, etc. That way we could consider the frames as two groups: evens and the odds. Depending which frame in the scan we designated the “first” one, this meant the “half” frames would fall on either every even frame or every odd one. The final file we wanted would then be one that removed every other frame and included only either the evens or the odds that make up the “full” frames.

We decided the quickest way to remove frames was to use the command-line video-editing tool FFmpeg. Manipulating frames in this way requires first converting the digital information of the video file into a raw bitstream. The following line of code does that, taking an .mp4 file and transcoding it to a raw YUV stream.

ffmpeg -i input.mp4 -an -vcodec rawvideo -pix_fmt yuv420p rawbitstream.yuv

From there, FFmpeg can be directed to select only odd or even frames from the video and create a new bitstream using only one or the other.

ffmpeg -r 2 -s 2880×2160 -i rawbitstream.yuv -filter:v select=”mod(n-1\,2)” -c:v rawvideo -r 1 -format rawvideo -pix_fmt yuv420p -an odd.yuv

ffmpeg -r 2 -s 2880×2160 -i rawbitstream.yuv -filter:v select=”not(mod(n-1\,2))” -c:v rawvideo -r 1 -format rawvideo -pix_fmt yuv420p -an even.yuv

Finally, the bitstream is converted into ProRes for minimal compression.

ffmpeg -f rawvideo -vcodec rawvideo -s 2880×2160 -r 24 -pix_fmt yuv420p -i even.yuv -c:v prores -profile:v 3 output_even.mov

However, before we could go about removing frames, it became necessary to figure out which frame we actually wanted to consider the first of the film. That way we would know whether to remove evens or odds. What made this extra tricky was that there were no clear markers distinguishing one frame from another. On exposed film, a solid line normally separates the end of one frame from the beginning of the next. But since this film was originally painted instead of photographed, the color from the paint flows freely along the film strip. It makes it difficult to think in terms of frames when the reel has an appearance akin to color flowing across a scroll. Again, thinking of “Filmabuse” as 16mm, the way we chose to consider “Filmabuse (Original)” was: what sections would be a frame if the reel ran through a 16mm projector? Since splices typically do not cleave directly into frames, we considered the top of the first frame to be right at the first splice where the head leader is attached to the film.

The first splice of "Filmabuse (Original)," indicating the likely first frame

The first splice of “Filmabuse (Original),” indicating the likely first frame

This gave us our starting point, and it turned out that every “half” frame corresponded to an odd frame in our count, meaning we wanted a file that included only even frames. Using the FFmpeg commands, we created a new file of “Filmabuse (Original),” confirmed to correspond to the 16mm playback of “Filmabuse.” This file and the full master now reside in our digital collection storage, and a version will be made accessible online soon. The film itself resides safely in our vault.

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The authors are indebted to the contributors to StackExchange and the AMIA Open Source Committee’s ffmprovisr project, without both of which FFmpeg could not have been implemented into this project.

November 1, 2017

JoAnn Elam’s Everyday People (1978-1990) at Chicago Film Archives

By Aurore Spiers, University of Chicago

The JoAnn Elam Collection (1967-1990) at Chicago Film Archives (CFA) consists of approximately 735 film, video, audio elements and some paper material, which JoAnn Elam’s husband Joe Hendrix donated in 2011. In addition to Elam’s best known films, such as Rape (1975) and Lie Back and Enjoy It (1982), the collection includes dozens of short films and home movies as well as footage and audio tapes for some unfinished projects like Everyday People (1978-1990). Diaries, notebooks, research material, scrapbooks, and production notes for Everyday People complete CFA’s collection, which gives us unprecedented access to Elam’s rich body of work.

JoAnn Elam in the 1970s.

JoAnn Elam in the 1970s.

As I began working on the JoAnn Elam Collection last summer, I became interested in Everyday People, one of Elam’s most personal films that remained unfinished at the time of her death in 2009. According to her diaries and notebooks, she started filming her colleagues from the Logan Square post office in Chicago in late 1977, a few years after she was hired there as a letter carrier. In 1978, Elam wrote about the “post office movie” she wished to make: “It’s about delivering the mail, day-to-day, rather than specific events (1978 strike). Strike, work rules, management harassment, relationship to public. Other issues are brought in as they affect day-to-day.”

JoAnn Elam's Notebooks, ca. 1977-1983.

JoAnn Elam’s Notebooks, ca. 1977-1983.

Following a decade of major strikes leading to the Postal Reorganization Act of 1970, the newly created United States Postal Service (USPS) implemented a series of measures to modernize its facilities and mechanize the sorting of the mail. Several titles from the JoAnn Elam Collection document this moment in the history of the American post office, when tense negotiations between the administration and the postal workers’ unions led to more protests and strikes, and, in some cases, victories for the workers. At least three times between 1978 and 1982, Elam served as one of Chicago’s union delegates to the National Association of Letter Carriers biennial convention. Elam’s “post office movie,” which she renamed “Everyday People” around 1980, would focus on how these events and issues impacted the letter carriers’ work every day.

Cartoon from JoAnn Elam's Scrapbook, date unknown: "If you don't carry your route in 8 hours, I'm going to HARASS you!"

Cartoon from JoAnn Elam’s Scrapbook, date unknown: “If you don’t carry your route in 8 hours, I’m going to HARASS you!”

The version of Everyday People available for streaming on CFA’s website is the most complete rough cut found on a VHS tape (date unknown). This 22-minute version was shot on 16mm and video, in black and white and color, and probably with the help of several friends, including Chuck Kleinhans from Jump Cut. It includes footage and audio interviews of Elam’s colleagues at the post office from the 1970s and 1980s, with and without titles. Elam’s personal diaries and notebooks from 1977 through 1983 and her production notes from the late 1980s help us better understand Elam’s project, her hesitations, the political views she wanted to convey, and the structure and formal devices she intended to use. Together with the rough cut, this extra-filmic material offers a glimpse into Elam’s creative process, from the conceptualization to the editing of Everyday People.

Still from Everyday People (1978-1990).

Still from Everyday People (1978-1990).

The film Elam envisioned was ambitious. In about one hour, Everyday People would describe what the work of delivering mail consisted of, how it was fulfilling to the mailmen and women of the USPS, how the events mentioned above affected them, and how they could become good letter carriers. In Elam’s words, the film’s objectives were: “1) to show people who have no awareness other than getting their mail what it’s like for the people who deliver it—to show what work involves; 2) to show some of the basic fulfilling aspects of work—competence (doing it right), relevance (structured relationships with people), exertion, discipline; 3) to analyze the way the post office operates—how and why things are done, and how mail delivery and the carrier’s work are affected; 4) to make letter carriers more aware of what their job is and how I think it should be done. More specifically, to encourage and reinforce a particular attitude toward the work, the people, and management. How to be a good carrier.” The film would include images of letter carriers delivering the mail and interviews, thus achieving its four objectives visually and formally, through sound and editing. The intended audiences included experienced and new letter carriers as well as the general public, the receivers and senders of mail.

Page from JoAnn Elam's Scrapbook, date unknown: "What Your Letter Carrier Knows About You."

Page from JoAnn Elam’s Scrapbook, date unknown: “What Your Letter Carrier Knows About You.”

What Elam called her “ongoing What-Kind-Of-A-Movie-Is-This? Struggle” was certainly one of the reasons why the film remained unfinished. For instance, on September 23, 1978, Elam wrote to herself: “Keep in mind the movie is really about The Mail (The Mail is an endless mystery) and the Postal Service (the Post Office is an endless folly) and The Weather (Everybody Talks about The Weather and nobody does anything about it), and Conditions of Employment.” A few weeks later, on December 16, 1978, she kept wondering: “What is my relationship to my material? Is it the mailmen or the mail? It’s The Work.” On February 4, 1979, Elam expressed that, “there are several specific things I want to get across, like that people should put their name on their mailbox, put apartment numbers on letters, etc. Other than that, I would like them to understand that some mailmen (many) are proud of doing a good job and are involved in their work. What I want to convey about the work itself is the nature of it (what we do), the material of it—mail, equipment, clothing, mailboxes; the combination of repetition and variation, the attitudes that the role creates, toward the physical surroundings, people, ourselves.” At times, these practical considerations gave way to fantasy, as when Elam mentioned “the ideals. How it [the USPS] should be,” briefly renaming Everyday People “the Fantasy Post Office.” Always on Elam’s mind, however, was to pay tribute to the hard-working letter carriers delivering mail year round, often subjected to harassment, racism, and sexism from management, and undervalued in American society.

Reaching the American public was crucial to Elam’s project, even if the film’s multiple modes of address proved extremely difficult and probably delayed the production further. Although Elam’s notes are unclear, she might have wanted to use sound as a counterpoint to the images, with the “sound message” addressed to the “general audience” and the images to the letter carriers, who would “pick up on subtle messages, unconnected but not conflicting with sound message.” Elam’s film would continue experimenting with sound, images, and titles in a similar way to Rape, where the titles sometimes repeat or add to the women’s testimonies about sexual abuse. But compared to Rape, Elam said, “Post Office will have more variation and conscious pacing. Sections will be broken up by commercials. Sound and picture will develop in parallel (…). Little if any lip synch.”

Pages from JoAnn Elam's Scrapbook, date unknown.

Pages from JoAnn Elam’s Scrapbook, date unknown.

Unfortunately, Elam does not say what commercials she wanted to include and whether those would speak to her “general audience” and/or the postal workers. Still, this reveals Elam’s interest in the way mailmen and women were represented in the media, as her scrapbook of newspaper clippings further evidence. Letters from 1984 to various record companies also indicate that Elam tried to acquire the rights to several popular songs, such as Sly and the Family Stone’s “Everyday People,” Elvis Presley’s “Return to Sender,” and The Marvelettes’ “Please Mr. Postman.” Put in dialogue with the voices of mailmen and women, the commercials and songs would show the social value of postal workers to themselves and to the communities they serve in a profound yet whimsical way.

Cartoon from JoAnn Elam's Scrapbook, date unknown.

Cartoon from JoAnn Elam’s Scrapbook, date unknown.

The extant version of Everyday People from CFA’s collection accomplishes some of these ideas about structure and editing. It starts with sequences showing Nancy Morgan, Juan Ortiz, Joe Hendrix, and Joan Davis delivering mail. As men of color and women, Elam’s four colleagues stand for U.S. Post Office’s diverse workforce. Superimposed yet not synchronized onto this footage, their voices speak of the racial and social diversity and of the opportunities offered to women and African Americans at the USPS. A series of more rapidly edited shots of Morgan, Ortiz, Hendrix, Davis, Elam, and other letter carriers going in and out of buildings follows. Hendrix, Davis, Morgan, and Ortiz (in this order) then talk about their relationship with the communities, their responsibilities, and the difficulties they encounter on the job over footage of them on their rounds. During these two montage sequences, two songs titled “I am a Happy Mailman” and “Watch that dog” (using the melody of “Jingle Bells”) also present their work as gratifying even if demanding. We next see various workers sort the mail at the post office, carry it into trucks, and deliver it, along with archival footage of postal workers from the early twentieth century. Even if this version of Everyday People ends abruptly, with Hendrix stating that these “old days are gone,” it is probably close to what Elam had planned in that it documents the labor required for the American people to receive bills, paychecks, personal letters, and packages every day.

The relation between sound and image that Elam struggled to conceptualize makes her vision of the post office most manifest in the rough cut. While the images convey the repetitive and mechanical nature of the work, the voices of the four postal workers offer a more complex account destined to the general public. Against common ideas about the postal workers’ incompetence and laziness, Everyday People insists on their courage and dedication.

Significantly, Elam’s production notes indicate that Franz Kafka’s “Couriers” was to be used during the closing credits. Kafka wrote that couriers “were offered the choice between becoming kings or the couriers of kings. The way children would, they all wanted to be couriers. Therefore there are only couriers who hurry about the world, shouting to each other—since there are no kings—messages that have become meaningless. They would like to put an end to this miserable life of theirs but they dare not because of their oaths of service.” In Everyday People, Kafka’s world without kings is the USPS, where the growing mechanization and the use of computers has led to the devaluation of human labor. Despite the repetitive nature of their work, Elam explains, letter carriers are not robots, but valuable workers that the general public should support in their fight for decent work conditions.

Page from JoAnn Elam's Scrapbook, date unknown: "Couriers" by Franz Kafka.

Page from JoAnn Elam’s Scrapbook, date unknown: “Couriers” by Franz Kafka.

As a work in progress, Everyday People presents a challenge to film scholars interested in JoAnn Elam. Over a period of at least ten years, Elam changed her goals, the structure of the project, and the material she wished to include several times. She apparently showed versions of the film to some of her friends from Chicago’s experimental film community and to her colleagues from the post office, whose feedback she valued immensely. Traces of her long search for the right aesthetic are everywhere in her diaries, notebooks, and scrapbooks, but the personal nature of these documents often make them obscure to the unintended readers that we are today. Still, Everyday People has shown me the merits of incomplete film works. Because they often reveal so much about their creator’s filmmaking practice, they force us to search for new methods, which would consider film fragments, scraps of paper, and discarded ideas on the same level as more definitive elements. The work of Chicago Film Archives on the JoAnn Elam Collection gives us a place to start.

September 11, 2017

The JoAnn Elam Collection at Chicago Film Archives

by Aurore Spiers, University of Chicago

The JoAnn Elam Collection (1967-1990) at Chicago Film Archives (CFA) is one of the 58 archival projects receiving generous support from the Woman Behind the Camera. It consists of approximately 735 film, video, and audio elements and some paper material, which JoAnn Elam’s husband Joe Hendrix donated in 2011. Since then, CFA has inventoried, digitized, and catalogued some of this material, giving the public unprecedented online access to the filmmaker’s work. 

In addition to Elam’s best known films, such as Rape (1975) and Lie Back and Enjoy It (1982), the collection includes many short films, home movies, and unedited footage for Everyday People (1979-1990) and other unfinished projects. It also features medical films by Elam’s father, James O. Elam, M.D., and home movies by Joe Hendrix. This heterogeneity together with the diversity of formats (8mm, Super 8mm, video, 16mm, and audio tapes) and the scarcity of remaining information about some of the material make the JoAnn Elam Collection an archival challenge, one that I was excited to learn about and work on as CFA’s research intern this summer. 

JoAnn Elam, date unknown.

JoAnn Elam in the late 1970s.

JoAnn Elam was born in Boston in 1949 to James O. Elam, a physician who specialized in anesthesiology, and Elinor Foster Elam, an active member of the League of Women Voters in Chicago. She grew up in various places in New York State and Missouri, as the Elam family moved around for her father’s work. In 1966, she moved to Yellow Springs, OH, where she attended Antioch College and met her first husband, the experimental filmmaker Bill Brand. He and Elam participated in the local, vibrant artistic community of Yellow Springs and Elam’s first finished film, 3 Goats and a Gruff (date unknown), was supposedly shot there in the late 1960s. 

In the early 1970s, Elam and Brand moved to Chicago and Brand enrolled in the MFA program at the School of the Art Institute, where Elam sat in on Stan Brakhage’s lectures. In 1973, Elam, Brand, Warner Wada, and Dan Ochiva formed Filmgroup, later renamed Chicago Filmmakers, which had the mission to showcase their work and the work of other young experimental filmmakers during screenings at the N.A.M.E. Gallery downtown. Chicago Filmmakers remains a staple of independent filmmaking today. Elam’s group of friends at the time, nicknamed the “Rhinos” or the “Rhino group,” also included B. Ruby Rich, Linda Williams, Julia Lesage and Chuck Kleinhans from Jump Cut, and many other filmmakers and scholars. Although Elam did not achieve the same level of recognition as some of the members of the “Rhino group” and Chicago Filmmakers, similar cinematic experiments characterize most of her finished and unfinished works from the JoAnn Elam Collection, such as Filmabuse (ca. 1975), Disabuse (date unknown), and Sprockets (ca. 1976).

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Promotional material for “JoAnn Elam Chicago Filmmaker,” New York City, October 2, 1983. Courtesy of Susan Elam.

Equally influential for Elam was her involvement in the labor movement of the 1970s and 1980s. In 1973, the same year that she co-founded Filmgroup, Elam started working as a letter carrier for the United States Post Office in Logan Square in Chicago. At least three times between 1978 and 1982, Elam served as one of Chicago’s union delegates to the National Association of Letter Carriers biennial convention. Several titles from the JoAnn Elam Collection document this moment in the history of the postal workers’ unions, when tense negotiations with the Post Office administration led to many protests, strikes, and, in some cases, victories for the workers. In Everyday People, which was one of Elam’s most ambitious projects that unfortunately remained unfinished before she died in 2009, she explores the letter carriers’ role in the communities they serve, their difficult work conditions, and the racism and sexism they face every day. The film’s experimental documentary form reveals the ways in which both her experience as a postal worker and her ties to Chicago’s experimental film community informed her film practices throughout her life. 

Knowing about these aspects of Elam’s life has been essential to my understanding of the JoAnn Elam Collection. One of the challenges I still encountered was to determine the production locations and dates and to identify the people in Elam’s films. When none of Elam’s notes remained, the help I received from her sister, Susan Elam, and her close friend, Chuck Kleinhans, proved invaluable. In some cases, the personal photographs and memories of Elam they shared with me illuminated her methods as an experimental filmmaker. For instance, in Collards Garden 1985 (1985), Elam appears on screen planting collard sprouts and then picking fully grown collard greens in a time-lapse fashion. Even if Hendrix stands behind the camera, Kleinhans has described him as Elam’s “helper” responding to her directions and whose participation in her projects should not weaken her artistic authority. 

“Small Gauge Manifesto” (1980), which Elam wrote with Kleinhans as a pamphlet distributed at Chicago Filmmakers, also gives us some insight into Elam’s preferred film formats (regular 8 and Super 8), editing practice, and viewing conditions. With small gauge film, Elam and Kleinhans argued, “filming can be flexible and spontaneous. Because the equipment is light and unobtrusive, the filming relationship can be immediate and personal. The appropriate viewing situation is a small space with a small number of people. (…) The filming and viewing events can be considered as part of the editing process. Editing decisions can be made before, during, and after filming and can incorporate feedback from an audience.” The conclusion of their short manifesto, “small gauge film is not larger than life, it’s part of life,” describes Elam’s consuming devotion to filmmaking well. As she was often bringing her camera along, filmmaking was always part of her life. 

Promotional material for the "Small Gauge Show" with films by JoAnn Elam and Chuck Kleinhans, Chicago, February 23, 1974. Courtesy of Susan Elam.

Promotional material for the “Small Gauge Show” with films by JoAnn Elam and Chuck Kleinhans, Chicago, February 23, 1980. Courtesy of Susan Elam.

Eager to experiment with conventional filmmaking and editing practices, Elam often filmed her garden, the many places she and Hendrix travelled to, the union meetings she participated in, the people gathered around her at barbecues and family reunions, strangers on the street, her cats and dogs at home, her plants on the windowsill, everyday activities like riding in a car or on the subway, and special occasions using defamiliarizing techniques. Some of the films she made in Monterey, MA, in the early 1980s, such as Monterey Goats (1981) and Monterey Maple Farm 81 (1981), exemplify her fascination for natural beauty and farm labor, which the frequent use of superimpositions, fast-paced editing, and disorienting camera movements make all the more intriguing. Even a short film like Sailboat (ca. 1976), in which a sailboat on Lake Michigan gets closer and then further away within seconds through framing and editing, tests the medium’s potential to reinvent both reality and itself. 

JoAnn Elam in her garden in Chicago, ca. 1980. Courtesy of Chuck Kleinhans.

JoAnn Elam in her garden in Chicago in the 1980s. Courtesy of Chuck Kleinhans.

In many instances, Elam’s experiments helped her search for new, empowering ways to film women, not as images produced by and for the patriarchal society, but as voices rising against it. Rape, Chocolate Cake (ca. 1973), Lie Back and Enjoy It, and Daytime Television (date unknown) are compelling examples of Elam’s reflection on violence against women, traditional ideals of femininity, and the representation of women in mainstream media. 

As one of the few women working behind the camera in the 1970s and 1980s, Elam’s contribution to American experimental filmmaking was original and provocative, making her absence from most film histories all the more regrettable. The work of Chicago Film Archives on the JoAnn Elam Collection remedies this oversight and makes it possible for film enthusiasts, students, and scholars to explore Elam’s films today.

JoAnn Elam in Boyers and Rhinos (1981).

JoAnn Elam in Boyers and Rhinos (1981).

 

April 26, 2017

2018 International Media Mixer!

The Chicago Film Archives (Chicago, IL) and Lab 80Cinescatti (Bergamo, Italy) are thrilled to announce a new international artistic collaboration—the 2018 International Media Mixer! This project is one of 15 artistic partnerships supported by the MacArthur Foundation’s International Connections Fund.

The International Media Mixer is a cross-cultural “call and response” exchange, bringing together artists from two different countries to explore the process of creating hybrid works of media art. The project sheds new light on the international practice of media conservation and artistic creation.

Here’s how it works: Michelle Puetz, Curator of Public Programming at the Chicago Film Archives, and Karianne Fiorini, film archivist and curator associated with Lab 80 – Cinescatti, each commissioned two local video artists and two local sound artists to collaborate on the creation of four new videos using archival footage. Here is where the exchange comes in: the two filmmakers from Italy and Chicago create new works using digitized footage from the partner archive (Italian-based artists use footage from the Chicago Film Archives and Chicago-based artists use footage from Lab 80 – Cinescatti). Each new silent video is then scored by the sound artists/musicians from the partnering country. Upon completion, the four new pieces will screen in the US and in Italy with live accompaniment by the musicians who created the scores.

The artists selected for the 2018 International Media Mixer are:

Giuseppe Boccassini (IT) + Alex Inglizian (US)
Lori Felker (US) + Patrizia Oliva (IT)
Federico Francioni & Yan Cheng (IT) + Tomeka Reid (US)
Domietta Torlasco (US) + Stefano Urkuma De Santis (IT)

STAY TUNED FOR MORE UPDATES AND INFORMATION!

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Chicago Film Archives (CFA) is a regional film archive dedicated to identifying, collecting, preserving, and providing access to films that represent the Midwestern United States. CFA’s purpose is to serve institutions and filmmakers of this region and elsewhere by being a repository for institutional and private film collections; serve a variety of cultural, academic, and artistic communities by making the films available locally, nationally, and internationally for exhibition, research, and production; and serve our culture by conserving films that are rare or not in existence elsewhere.

CFA was formed in late 2003 to house, preserve and care for the Chicago Public Library’s collection of 4,500 16mm films—a collection the library could no longer keep. These films became a springboard for CFA to develop as a regional film archive committed to the acquisition, preservation, study, and exhibition of films that reflect the character and heritage of the Midwest. Since 2003, the archive has acquired over 120 collections containing approximately 27,000 films, videotapes, audiotapes, and ephemera—all donated by Midwest filmmakers, collectors, and institutions.

Laboratorio 80 is the oldest cinematographic association in Italy. Active since 1956, when it was known as the Cineforum di Bergamo, Lab 80 offers both theoretical and practical studies in cinema. In 1976, the organization became a worker cooperative and was renamed Lab 80 film. In the late 1990s, Lab 80 film added a production division, and continues to organize festivals and screenings, distribute films, operate a theater, and offer courses and workshops about cinema.

In 2010, Lab 80 initiated an archival project—Cinescatti—which is dedicated to collecting and providing access to home movies and amateur films related to the city and province of Bergamo. The Cinescatti archive consists of 3,000 home movies and amateur films shot in 16mm, 9.5mm, and 8mm between the early 1920s and the 1980s. Made by amateur filmmakers from in and around the city and province of Bergamo, the films represent a variety of cultural backgrounds and experiences. Most of the films in the Cinescatti archive have been digitized and are accessible for specific projects, research, and film production.

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