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February 2, 2021

Uncovering New Stories Through the NEH CARES Grant

Palazzolo Collection

In June 2020, CFA received generous support from a CARES grant, which was made possible by the National Endowment for the Humanities and designed to help us delve into our collections and make more stories and films accessible to the public. During this exceptionally difficult time (on so many levels), we were tasked with finding new ways to work with our collections amidst lockdowns, staggered schedules, and Zoom meet-ups due to COVID-19. The grant supported our ability to focus on the labor-intensive work of stabilizing, digitizing, and cataloguing portions of our large audiovisual collections, which contain precious footage documenting Midwestern culture and history. With help from the NEH, we were able to dedicate much-needed time to the William Franklin Grisham Collection, which documents the history of the early film industry in Chicago; the Frank Koza Collection of mid-century newsreels; the Tom Palazzolo Collection, which captures the outermost fringes of life in Chicago; and the Rhodes Patterson Collection of design, architecture and industry films.

We found plenty of exciting and potentially groundbreaking narratives through our work. For example, the William Franklin Grisham Collection contains elements from The Very Last Laugh (1976), a documentary directed by Grisham that features the only known footage of Luther J. Pollard, the head of Ebony Film Co. and possibly the first African American film producer in history. Work is currently underway to further understand Pollard’s role in the establishment of Ebony Film Co., but for now, The Very Last Laugh presents a fascinating story that is under-acknowledged within film history. Also included in the collection are rare 16mm prints of several films made by Ebony in the 1910s, including The Comeback of Barnacle Bill and A Black Sherlock Holmes, now streaming.

We also found hidden gems within the Frank Koza Collection, which contains wonderful snippets of Midwestern life in the 1950s and ‘60s. CFA brought on contract archivist Jiayi Chen to work on inspecting and stabilizing the massive collection of 2100 reels of news footage shot by the professional cameraman. Jiayi was able to inspect nearly 400 elements over the course of the grant, and CFA staff digitized and catalogued 48 new titles from the collection. Highlights among these newly streaming films include never-before-seen footage of Elvis getting ready to enter the military in 1958, scenes of polio vaccinations being administered in 1960, and a look at Queen Elizabeth’s visit to the Art Institute of Chicago in 1959. 

Collections Manager Yasmin Desouki was also able to dig into the vast Rhodes Patterson Collection, uncovering a surprisingly diverse body of work. Among the architecture and design films we were expecting, Yasmin also came across a film Rhodes made with his wife Norma, The Signal (ca. 1966), which features delightful stop-motion puppetry. Another charming find was The Dogs of Aspen, a humorous film about, you guessed it, the dogs that live in Aspen, CO.

Jiayi Chen

Archivist Jiayi Chen inspects a roll of film from the Frank Koza Collection

 

Digitization manager Olivia Babler and transfer technician Justin Dean were excited to work on the Tom Palazzolo Collection, which contains more than 1700 prints, trims, and elements from the filmmaker known as “Tommy Chicago.” The entire collection has now been inventoried, and this grant also enabled us to digitize and catalogue a number of Tom’s underground documentary films and home movies. We truly enjoyed getting to ask the insightful and goofy filmmaker more about his work over the last six months (and have delighted in the sometimes elaborate, costumed selfies he frequently attaches to his e-mail correspondence). You can now stream some of Tom’s earliest works, his first feature, and even his wedding film on our website.

A heartfelt thank you to the National Endowment for the Humanities for facilitating this work. We are delighted to have been given the capacity required to work on these wonderful collections in the past few months, and to have catalogued upwards of 80 films for our audience to research and enjoy. Below you will find links to view all of the films we have digitized and catalogued for this project.

 

 

NEH-Horizontal-Seal-Black820

 

Frank Koza Collection

Tom Palazzolo Collection

Rhodes Patterson Collection

William Franklin Grisham Collection

August 3, 2020

‘Lost’ Film From 1923 Uncovered in CFA Collection

By Olivia Babler & Yasmin Desouki

In late June 2020, while weathering the coronavirus pandemic, Chicago Film Archives’ staff rediscovered a 35mm domestic distribution print of ‘lost’ silent feature film, The First Degree, within our collections. Hiding in plain sight among agricultural and sponsored films that came out of Peoria, Illinois, was a Universal production that likely hadn’t been exhibited in 97 years. With only 25% of American silent feature films surviving, CFA is thrilled to have uncovered this little known feature, thereby widening our understanding of an important era in cinematic history.

Directed by Edward Sedgwick, The First Degree is a ‘rural melodrama’ that revolves around a courtroom confession of murder. Frank Mayo stars as Sam Purdy, a banker-turned-politician-turned-sheep farmer who is repeatedly blackmailed by his jealous half-brother Will (Philo McCullough) over their mutual affection for Mary (Australian actress Sylvia Breamer). The screenplay by George Randolph Chester and Lillian Chester was based on the short story “The Summons” by George Pattullo, published in the Saturday Evening Post in 1914.¹ The film’s cinematography was done by Benjamin H. Kline. William Worthington was the first director attached to the project, replaced by Sedgwick early in the production.

The film was a member of the Universal-produced and Carl Laemmle-endorsed “The Laemmle Nine,” a group of nine films released between Christmas 1922 and February 19, 1923. Moving Picture World reported in December 1922 that “The Laemmle Nine will be expedited so that the prints will all be in the various Universal Exchanges before the release date of the first of the series.”² The other films in the bunch were A Dangerous Game, The Flaming Hour (also starring Mayo), The Ghost Patrol, Kindled Courage, The Power of a Lie, The Scarlet Car, The Love Letter, and The Gentleman From America; all are now thought to be lost. Universal has the poorest survival rate of all the Hollywood studios (15%), having destroyed their silent film negatives in 1948.³

Spread in Universal Weekly (vol. 16, no. 16), December 2 1922. Via Media History Digital Library.

Spread in Universal Weekly (vol. 16, no. 16), December 2 1922. Via Media History Digital Library.

The First Degree was released on February 5, 1923 to strong reviews. Variety’s review praised Kline’s cinematography and Sedgwick’s direction: “in photography the picture stands out as something unusual, being particularly sharp and clear. The direction sends the story along nicely and holds the interest, the suspense being maintained to the end.”4 Exhibitor’s Trade Review was similarly impressed: “There are five reels of bully entertainment in this picture, with no waste material clogging up the action, and a surprise finish that gets across with tremendous effect.”5 Sedgwick, who primarily directed westerns and comedies including Buster Keaton’s The Cameraman (1928), tells the story largely through flashbacks, and cinematographer Kline includes several impressionistic flourishes.

Most of the reviews for the film also expressed enthusiasm for Mayo’s performance. In a review for Moving Picture World, Mary Kelly wrote “This Universal feature has an assured emotional and dramatic appeal due largely to the splendid performance of Frank Mayo.”6 Exhibitors Trade Review called Mayo’s performance “the best bit of work he has yet accomplished on the screen,” pronouncing it “an intensely vivid and life-like performance quite different from any of his previous roles and a lasting tribute to his versatility and dramatic powers.” Variety argued that Mayo should stick to lighter roles, but noted “[The First Degree] might have been the rip-roaringest meller ever screened had not Frank Mayo given a really corking performance.”7 Mayo appeared in over 300 films during his career, including Souls for Sale (1923), King Vidor’s Wild Oranges (1924), and with Colleen Moore in The Perfect Flapper (1924). He was directed by John Ford in several features that are now considered lost.

Lobby cards for The First Degree, imaged by Heritage Auctions

Lobby cards for The First Degree, imaged by Heritage Auctions

CFA’s print of The First Degree is part of the Charles E. Krosse Collection, which contains over 120 16mm and 35mm films produced and/or distributed by C.L. Venard Productions of Peoria, Illinois. From the teens until the early 1980s, the company offered a full range of film services to central Illinois, including selling and renting film equipment, producing sponsored films for local businesses, and distributing national and international films to local audiences. Their distribution wing offered educational films focused on agriculture, as well as comedies, newsreels, and feature length narratives. Most of the 35mm films in the collection were distributed, not produced, by Venard.

Krosse obtained the collection from Venard in the early 1980s and subsequently donated it to CFA in 2006. That year, archivist Carolyn Faber (then a CFA volunteer) and filmmaker Stephen Parry drove down to Peoria to see the collection, as Parry was looking for footage for a film he was making about the National Barn Dance, The Hayloft Gang. Faber recalls of that day:

I will never forget that trip, the visit with the Krosses: nitrate stored in a closet next to the hot water heater, scorched trees in the back of their amazing ranch house from setting nitrate powder on fire (Charles [Krosse] didn’t know what to do with it so he torched it), tuna sandwiches in the living room, and Steve Parry and I skittishly agreeing to take all the films (not just the ones [Parry] needed for his film) under pressure – despite attempts to negotiate less hazardous transport, Charles said if we didn’t take them he was going to throw them out.

CFA, barely two years old and just about to hit its stride in the archival world, thankfully made the decision to keep the films and ensure that the collection was at the very least moved to our climate-controlled vault, rather than leaving it to languish in an unstable environment. That some of the nitrate films were burned well before arriving at CFA makes the survival of The First Degree’s five reels all the more incredible. Krosse passed away in 2016.

The First Degree has no concrete Midwestern connection; shot at Universal City in Hollywood,8 the film is set in a vague rural setting (“Lincoln County” — of which there are 23 in the U.S.). Given that the work at CFA is driven by the mandate to preserve and highlight films representing the moving image heritage of the Midwest, some of the films in the Krosse collection did not immediately get prioritized. While the donated films were quickly inventoried and checked for obvious signs of deterioration, due to the fact that the 35mm prints were by and large distribution prints with no clear tie to the region, many of them were not fully inspected or catalogued until 2020. CFA’s human capacity and financial resources—as is the case with many archives the world over—are typically focused on different strategic priorities, thus accounting for the fairly recent efforts to research our print of The First Degree, which turned out to be utterly unique and no longer in existence elsewhere.

Upon further evaluation, the fact that the film was found in CFA’s Krosse collection is not altogether surprising: Venard’s distribution wing was heavily focused on agricultural themes, and it makes sense that The First Degree would have appealed to the largely-rural central Illinois region that Venard covered. Why this print stayed in the hands of Venard, and then Krosse, is a bit more mysterious. Silent features were distributed based on a staggered release system, starting in large cities, then on to mid-sized towns, and lastly to rural theatres.9 While Peoria was a “first-run” city, Venard distributed to theatres further afield that may have been among the last in the country to get the latest Universal releases. According to Gary Smith, who worked with Venard (and inherited another large stash of his film collection, which has recently been acquired by CFA), Venard would screen silent films in barns throughout the Midwest.

reelband

Section of an original reel band for reel 2 of The First Degree

Miraculously, the partially-tinted, nitrate distribution print in CFA’s collection has suffered only minor mechanical damage and very little deterioration in the 97 years since it was struck. The edgecodes of the print (Pathe Cinema Paris 2215 5) indicate that it was struck the year of the film’s release but, interestingly, all five reels have head leader for the 1932 film Call Her Savage. There is a moderate amount of sprocket damage but very minimal scratching within the frame. The print is missing a small amount of footage, falling short of the original 4395’ length. Other than damage, another possible explanation for the missing footage could be local censorship to match regional sensibilities. A review of the film in Screen Opinions suggested exhibitors may want to excise an intertitle of questionable morals: “A subtitle which might be eliminated with good moral effect condones a murder on the grounds that the supposed murderer had done a benefit to humanity by committing the murder.”10 Such a title does not appear in CFA’s print, implying that an exhibitor may have taken the advice to heart. (Screen Opinions listed The First Degree’s “moral standard” and “spiritual influence” as “average.”)

Sylvia Breamer in The First Degree

Sylvia Breamer in The First Degree

One of the exciting elements of this film’s discovery is the ways in which it can contribute to our understanding of the melodramatic film genre, which is typically colored by our familiarity with the lush Douglas Sirk productions of the 1950s. The First Degree was marketed as a rural melodrama, and it’s clear that the intended audience was male and primarily from the heartland. The aesthetic choices made by the filmmakers serve to highlight the psychology of Sam Purdy, who is wracked with guilt, haunted by images of murder and in desperate search for redemption. The romantic plot is secondary to the issues of masculinity and morality that the story explores, which results in a film that inevitably skews our heavily gendered perception of the melodramatic genre. It will be interesting to uncover further research on the particularly niche ‘rural melodrama,’ and understand what it can tell us about moviegoing audiences during the 1920s.

Since identifying the print of The First Degree, CFA’s Director of Film Transfer Operations Olivia Babler has scanned all five reels on our 4K Kinetta Archival Scanner. Providing access to the materials we preserve has always been one of CFA’s utmost priorities, and we hope to be able to hold a theatrical premiere with live accompaniment once we are able to safely gather again, and we also plan to stream the film in due time (the film entered the public domain in 2019). We additionally hope to secure funding for a full photochemical preservation of this print, to ensure its continued accessibility for future generations.

While uncovering this previously lost cinematic gem is an important milestone for CFA, we hope that it ultimately underscores the vitality of independent regional archives, and their crucial work in preserving and interpreting the filmic legacies of their respective locales. CFA’s collections represent a wide swath of local history, and incredibly diverse film styles and genres that speak to the innovation of film production—both amateur and professional—in the Midwest. The vast majority of the works housed at CFA are singular—documentaries and experimental films made by important yet historically excluded filmmakers, home movies that serve as visual documents of eras gone by, and other works made outside of the mainstream of commercial filmmaking. Arguably, these lesser known works made on the margins of society are more revealing than the mainstream fare we have grown accustomed to. The First Degree is unusual for CFA’s collections—as an archive that does not actively seek commercial, feature length films—and we are delighted that it has ended up safely in our vault. However, we do hope that this discovery sheds light on the many one-of-a-kind films housed at CFA, and the importance of preserving them and ensuring their accessibility to a wider audience.

Ad for The First Degree  in Universal Weekly (vol. 16, no. 16), December 2 1922. Via Media History Digital Library.

Ad for The First Degree in Universal Weekly (vol. 16, no. 16), December 2 1922. Via Media History Digital Library.

Notes:

(1)  The film originally took its title from the short story, but was changed to The First Degree in November 1922. “Studio and Player Brevities,” Motion Picture News, November 4 1922: 2274.
(2) “Will Push Work on the Laemmle Nine,” Moving Picture World, December 2 1922: 422.
(3) David Pierce, “The Survival of American Silent Feature Films: 1912–1929,” Library of Congress, 2013: https://www.clir.org/pubs/reports/pub158/
(4) Review of The First Degree, Variety, February 1 1923: 42.
(5) Mary Kelly, review of The First Degree, Moving Picture World, February 3 1923: 477.
(6) Exhibitors Trade Review, vol. 13, no. 11: 574.
(7) Review of The First Degree, Variety, February 1 1923: 42.
(8) “Universal City Active,” The Film Daily, October 11 1922: 4.
(9) David Pierce, “The Legion of the Condemned – Why American Silent Films Perished,” Film History vol. 9, no. 1, Silent Cinema (1997): 5.
(10) Screen Opinions, vol. 11, no. 15 (March 1923): 247.

June 26, 2020

CFA Receives NEH CARES Relief Grant

Chicago Film Archives is proud to announce that it is the recipient of a CARES grant awarded by the National Endowment for the Humanities. The award, in the amount of $54,743, will be used to uncover the Midwest histories hidden within four varied and distinctive collections in our care. According to the National Endowment for the Humanities, the NEH received “more than 2300 eligible applications from cultural organizations, for projects between June and December, 2020. Approximately 14 percent of the applicants were funded.”

This support will allow CFA to focus on the labor-intensive task of stabilizing, cataloging and digitizing portions of four large audiovisual collections that document Midwestern culture and history: the Tom Palazzolo Collection which captures the outermost fringes of life in Chicago; the Frank Koza Collection of newsreels; the Rhodes Patterson Collection of design, architecture and industry films; and the William Franklin Grisham Collection, which documents early African-American filmmaking in Chicago and elsewhere.

 

Palazzolo reels

 
This grant will also allow CFA to re-acclimate our operations to the new environment of social distancing and remote work. Over the last three months, CFA staff, like most others, have pivoted from working in close proximity to actively learning new and distant means of communication and coordination of our full-time activities. These changes have allowed us to focus on aspects of our work that have been neglected in order to address the day-to-day tasks we would typically face in the office. This new arrangement has given each of us time to be more reflective and innovative about the work that we do at CFA.

We see the remaining months of 2020 as a time of experimentation and transformation for our organization. We hope to find new means of amplifying the accessibility of our archival materials, and new ways to more effectively move our mission forward.

Huge thanks to the NEH, and congratulations to the other deserving grant recipients.

June 4, 2020

ENGAGE!

One of the earliest collections that arrived at CFA’s door was from William Cottle and Mike Gray of The Film Group. The work of Don Klugman (Nightsong), JoAnn Elam (Everyday People) and DeWitt Beall (Lord Thing) followed closely behind. The appointed stewardship of these collections invigorated our own understanding of CFA’s mission to preserve, highlight, and amplify the voices and histories of traditionally marginalized groups, which are reflected in these films and many others that have followed since. We quickly came to understand that the subjects of these works can best represent themselves – that their voices need to be heard whenever possible. CFA remains committed to ensuring the continued accessibility of this vital archive, which sheds tremendous light on the recent protests against police brutality.

The Film Group’s donation of their collection to CFA helped us to uncover important historical documents that trace movements of social change during another turbulent era. From thereon, we have worked hard to ensure their preservation. In 2005 and 2006, CFA photochemically preserved seven films contained in the Urban Crisis and the New Militants Series from the Film Group Collection. This was accomplished through the support of the National Film Preservation Foundation (NFPF). In 2006, CFA produced To Bear Witness: The Question of Violence” - one of our earliest programs designed to include the voices of those who are represented in the films in this collection. The program was presented at the ICE Theater in Chicago’s south side Chatham neighborhood, followed the next evening by a presentation at the now-defunct LaSalle Bank Cinema on Chicago’s north side.

“To Bear Witness” began with the screening of three newly preserved films from the Urban Crisis series: Cicero March (1966)Black Moderates and Black Militants (1969), and The People’s Right To Know: The Police vs. Reporters (1968). It was followed by a discussion moderated by Tracye Matthews, with a panel that included photojournalist Paul Sequeira, community activist and leader of the 1966 Cicero March for fair housing Robert Lucas, and Black Panther Bobby Lee. You will find the 2006 discussion in full below.

CFA is proud that the entire Film Group Collection has since been photochemically preserved. This includes feature films American Revolution II (1969; in partnership with the NFPF and the Rebuild Foundation) and The Murder of Fred Hampton (1971; in partnership with the NFPF and the UCLA Film and Television Department). You can watch our preservation of AR2 here.

It is important to remember that the moment we are in is not a moment. Racial injustice and the subjugation of Black Americans at the hands of law enforcement has persisted as an ugly stain on our national conscience for far too long. American Revolution II and The Murder of Fred Hampton are testaments to the ongoing struggle, and to the voices and minds that have stood up and demanded deep and true change.

We will work hard to preserve these essential films, and ensure their continued accessibility to the general public via our website, social media platforms, and through future public programming. Like many other organizations across the nation, we are taking this time to reflect and evaluate the ways in which we can be of better service to our community. We recognize the fact that we can and should do more. If you have any ideas or simply want to connect and share your thoughts and feelings about these films, we urge you to get in touch with us via social media or send us a message at info@chicagofilmarchives.org.

Finally, please consider getting involved or making a donation to Chicago Community Bond Fund, Black Lives Matter Chicago, Assata’s Daughters, Brave Space Alliance, BYP100, Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, Safer Foundation, and other organizations that uplift Black voices & seek justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Laquan McDonald, Rekia Boyd, and other victims of police brutality.

July 3, 2019

CFA Media Mixer 2019 (in review)

We had a fantastic time at the 8th annual Media Mixer on May 9 and are absolutely thrilled with the incredible work produced by this year’s artists! Thanks to everyone who came and participated!

If you couldn’t make it (or if you want to watch the work again!), we now have two of the pieces available to stream below. Read more about the artists here.

2019’s talented lineup (video + sound):

Brian Ashby + Bill MacKay
Emily Eddy + Natalie Chami (TALsounds)
Amir George + Lilianna Zofia Wosko

Amour Pour Une Femme
Emily Eddy + Natalie Chami

Flight Logs
Brian Ashby + Bill MacKay

April 26, 2019

The Morrison-Shearer Foundation gifts their dance media collection to Chicago Film Archives

EarlyNorthbrook-s_13-colorcorrected

Sybil Shearer performing in Early Northbrook (circa 1956)

Chicago Film Archives is enormously pleased to announce the gifting of the Morrison-Shearer Foundation dance media collection to CFA. Our relationship with the Trustees and staff at the Foundation has been lengthy and has deepened considerably over the past ten years. Our combined inquiry, research, conservation work and collaboration has culminated in a profound mutual respect not only for the works in the collection, but for the interests, expertise and passions of all the individuals at both the Morrison-Shearer Foundation and Chicago Film Archives.

The Morrison-Shearer Foundation collection is comprised of unique and original film materials that reflect the artistry of photographer/filmmaker Helen Balfour Morrison and choreographer/dancer, Sybil Shearer. As a young dancer, Shearer dwelled deeply and thoroughly in the modernist dance movement taking shape in New York City, but began to forge her own creative path, pushing choreographic boundaries in new directions. In 1942 she moved to Chicago to teach and work close to nature, preferring the wide-open Midwest environment. It was here that she met the photographer Helen Balfour Morrison who became Shearer’s artistic collaborator. Morrison became skilled in using the motion camera not only to document Shearer’s work, but also to respond to and harmonize with the dancer she filmed.

The fortuitous and spiritual convergence of these two artists is fully expressed in this collection. Had they not met, this collection of dual motion-based artistry would not exist…their individual work perhaps barely known. These films are extraordinary because of the synthesis of artistry that emanates from both sides of the camera. We think of these films as poems.

Critic Walter Terry has called Shearer “one of the world’s foremost modern dancers and choreographers” of her time.

MS-0063-s_02-colorcorrected

Sybil Shearer in the center, performing with her company in Northbrook (circa 1957)

EarlyNorthbrook-s_07-colorcorrected

Sybil Shearer performing in Early Northbrook (circa 1956)

We encourage you to read and learn more about the Morrison-Shearer Foundation here. To learn more about the collection and view some of the dances performed by Shearer and her company of dancers, please find the Morrison-Shearer finding aid on Chicago Film Archives’ website here.

April 7, 2019

CFA Media Mixer 2019: Meet this Year’s Artists

We’re so thrilled to announce the amazing lineup of artists participating in this year’s CFA Media Mixer event. Now in its eighth year (!!!), the Media Mixer has grown to be one of CFA’s most anticipated and exciting public programs. The project began in 2012 as a way to open up our vault of archival footage to Chicago-based contemporary artists, and to support the creation of a new video work by pairing visual artists with artists working with sound. At the heart of the Media Mixer is a desire to give our archival collections new life through the creative interpretation of a new generation of makers.

This year’s artists are (video + sound):

Brian Ashby + Bill MacKay

Emily Eddy + Natalie Chami (TALsounds)

Amir George + Lilianna Zofia Wosko

Please join us at Constellation on May 9 for the world premiere of their collaborations - performed with live audio!

Tickets are available for advance purchase here.

More on this year’s artists:

BrianAshby_headshot

Brian Ashby is a Chicago-based filmmaker, and co-founder of the documentary production company Scrappers Film Group. He recently produced and edited The Area, a five-year chronicle of displacement in a South Side neighborhood, which the Reader calls “an eye-opening saga of resistance.” He co-directed Central Standard: On Education and Scrappers, one of Roger Ebert’s Best Documentaries of 2010. His work as producer includes Hairy Who & the Chicago Imagists and Westermann: Memorial to the Idea of Man If He Was an Idea. He spends his free time browsing Chicago Film Archives’ YouTube page.

ChamiTALSounds

Natalie Chami adopted the TALsounds moniker in 2009 for her explorations in the drone, ambient, and electro-acoustic improv disciplines. In live performance, Chami’s analog synthesizers weave together into drifting loops that evolve in tandem with her vocal leads and choral harmonies. Her meditative sessions stretch into hypnotizing depths of stream-of-consciousness multi-instrumental input, sinking into expanses of infinite sustain and cresting into bursts of noise from an arsenal of oscillators and effects pedals.

After a series of tape releases on labels like Hausu Mountain and Moog’s own physical imprint, Chami released her first TALsounds LP, Love Sick, with New York’s Ba Da Bing Records. She has performed across America and Canada, and traveled to Europe in 2018 for a string of dates with Chicago composer Haley Fohr (Circuit Des Yeux). As a member of free music trio Good Willsmith, she has toured the US and released eight albums since 2012, including the LPs The Honeymoon Workbook (2014) and Things Our Bodies Used To Have (2016) on Mexico City-based label Umor Rex. Chami also performs as half of ambient duo l’eternebre and regularly collaborates in informal improv ensembles with musicians from Chicago and beyond, including frequent tour-mate Whitney Johnson (Matchess). She is Lebanese, was born in Ontario, and lives in Chicago. http://talsounds.com/

EmilyEddy_PhotobyDanielleCampbell

Photo of Emily Eddy by Danielle Campbell

Emily Eddy is a film, video, and digital media artist and curator based in Chicago. Combining many forms of moving image, her work utilizes strategies of video diaries, archival practices, and experimental documentaries. She is the Development and Marketing Manager at Video Data Bank where she is proud to promote artists’ video, and she directs the Nightingale Cinema where she has curated film, video, and media works since 2013. Emily also serves as programmer of the Onion City Experimental Film + Video Festival, a project of Chicago Filmmakers. Emily has curated screenings and exhibited work at many venues in Chicago as well as in Los Angeles, CA; Milwaukee, WI; Reykjavík, Iceland; and her hometown, Portland, OR. http://emily-eddy.com

AmirGeorge_web

Amir George is a filmmaker and curator based in Chicago. George is a programmer at True/False Film Fest and the founder of The Cinema Culture, a grassroots film programming organization, and co-founder (with curator Erin Christovale) of Black Radical Imagination, a touring experimental short film series. As an artist, George creates spiritual stories, juxtaposing sound and image into an experience of non-linear perception. George’s films have screened at institutions and film festivals including the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, Anthology Film Archives, Glasgow School of Art, The Museum of Contemporary Arts Detroit, Ann Arbor Film Festival, Trinidad and Tobago International Film Festival, BlackStar Film Festival, Afrikana Film Festival, and Chicago Underground Film Festival, among others. http://amirgeorge.com/aboutme

BillMacKay_PhotoMikelPatrickAvery

Photo of Bill MacKay by Mikel Patrick Avery

Bill MacKay’s blissful harmonic control and just-outside-the-box guitar mastery are one with his compelling songwriting. His creative voyage and imaginative influences are fully displayed on his Drag City debut, Esker, and his live performances are unmatched. MacKay cut his teeth in various bands and projects spanning genres across the United States, and has created an extensive body of original work, while energizing the folk, avant-garde, and experimental diaspora.

His most recent records Esker (Drag City, 2017), SpiderBeetleBee (Drag City, 2017) his second duo set with Ryley Walker, Altamira (Ears & Eyes, 2015) by his band Darts & Arrows, and Bill MacKay plays the songs of John Hulbert (Tompkins Square, 2015) reveal a startling range – from the folk of Appalachia, avant-rock, and blues to gospel, jazz, raga-esque excursions, and western-country modes. His records have received praise in reviews by the Chicago Reader, Mojo, The Ear, Uncut, Downbeat, Paste, Pitchfork and New City among other publications. https://billmackay.com/

Lilianna_April7

Lilianna Zofia Wosko is a Chicago based classically trained cellist with primary focus on solo and chamber music performance. Lilianna received her Masters in Music in Cello Performance from Roosevelt University Chicago College of Performing Arts Music Conservatory.

Lilianna has appeared with classical, jazz, new music and international music ensembles in the Chicago area and abroad. She has performed with the Illinois Philharmonic, The Paderewski Symphony Orchestra, and Lira Ensemble, and was a principal cellist of The New North Shore Chamber Orchestra. In her commitment to expanding her repertoire, Lilianna incorporates elements of different musical genres into her style and has been a part of Alama de Tango Ensemble, Tangata Ensemble, Tomorrow Music Orchestra, Dolce String Quartet, and Star Gate Orchestra. Often asked to perform for various cultural and music events, Lilianna has been a part of the MusicNow concert series at the Chicago’s Harris Theater for Music and Dance, The Rose of Stambul production at Chopin Theatre with Chicago Folks Operetta, Chris Preissing’s Thunder Perfect Mind production with NON:op, and has played with Borderbend Arts Collective at the Baha’i Temple as part of the “Devotions with Music” series.

Actively involved in the Chicago music community, Lilianna has worked and performed with Fred Lonberg-Holm, Frank Rosaly, Paul Giallorenzo, Matt Ulery, Mike Reed, Timothy Daisy, Joel Styzens, Eric Leonardson, Christopher Preissing, Ben LaMar, Renee Baker, Quinlan Kirchner, Kahil El Zabar, and Theaster Gates. Lilianna has recorded music for commercials at Earhole Studios, performed and recorded with Grazyna Auguscik, and released four of her own CDs: My Christmas, Edited to form, Episodes 1-12, and Lilianna Zofia Woskowww.liliannazofiawosko.com

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!

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.