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April 7, 2014

Earthkeeping, Episode Five: “Sodbusters”

The historical approach taken in “Sodbusters” differentiates the episode from the others in Earthkeeping – the narrative draws a comparison between the pioneer mindset of westward expansion/Manifest Destiny and the sense of entitlement possessed by corporate developers in the twentieth century. How much have modern practices of resource exploitation changed since the days of John Jacob Astor and the American Fur Company?

On The Yesterday Show, Robert Trashman (John Belushi) stands up for the environment, squaring off against cowboy star Jack Crabbe (Joe Flaherty) and industrialist C. Steel Mills (Harold Ramis).

Second City's "Yesterday Show" sketch (l-r: Joe Flaherty, John Belushi, Harold Ramis)

Also in the episode, David Rasche recites a stanza from Walt Whitman’s poem, “Pioneers! O Pioneers!”:

We primeval forests felling,
We the rivers stemming, vexing we and piercing deep the mines within,
We the surface broad surveying, we the virgin soil upheaving,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

April 2, 2014

Robert & Theresa Davis Collection Update

Oh, the glorious Kodachrome...

Last week (March 24-27), CFA hosted University of Alberta associate professor Liz Czach as she conducted research on our Robert & Theresa Davis Collection. Liz is currently researching a number of travelogue filmmakers, but her particular interest in the Davis Collection stems from its relative completeness – in many instances, archives only hold on to the travelogue films themselves and perhaps a few other relevant artefacts. In the case of the Davis Collection, the films are not limited to final prints, but also include outtakes and various other production elements. Additionally, large amounts of complementary presentation material, such as ¼ inch audio soundtracks, full narration scripts, and Robert Davis’ personal cue cards, are being preserved along with the films. The collection also includes over twenty boxes of other promotional and personal material. This additional ephemera provides insights not only into the working habits and biographies of Robert & Theresa Davis, but also helps to shed light on the history of the travelogue genre and circuit.

In order to fully understand the contexts in which these films were presented, the preservation of many different elements is essential. The footage from the Davis’ travels was used in several different iterations – besides the lecture films (which ran about an hour and twenty minutes and were presented with live narration by Robert Davis), the films were also re-edited and sold as shorter educational programs (which typically ran roughly twenty minutes). As an example, here is a selection of materials related to the Davis’ educational film, Incredible Iceland (one of their favorite travel destinations):

Title card to the film

Above: Promotional materials for Incredible Iceland – “Meticulous attention to detail guarantees an unusually pleasing travel tonic.” Click the thumbnails for full-size images.

A page from a narration script draft, with Robert Davis' edits in pen

Cue cards featuring Robert Davis' signature shorthand. We're still trying to figure out how these were used...

Sound effects employed in the film. PUFFIN EFFECT!

Although the films have been inventoried, neither they nor the paper materials have been processed. Liz’s visit greatly helped to shine a light on what we have on our hands, but there is still a lot of work to be done. Updates on the Robert & Theresa Davis Collection, including digitized film transfers, biographical information on Bob & Terry, and more on the travelogue genre, will be appearing in the weeks to come.

April 1, 2014

Early 8mm Films of the Chicago World’s Fair Arrive at CFA

This year, we were fortunate to acquire five more reels of home movies featuring the 1933 Chicago “Century of Progress” World’s Fair. They were shot by Russell V. Zahn (1901-1993) of Racine, Wisconsin and part of a larger collection of home movies donated by the family (you can read more about our Zahn Home Movie Collection here).

Previously, we only had two 16mm reels documenting the fair, one in our Ferd Isserman Collection and another in our David Gray Collection. The Isserman film is and reads very much like a home movie, while the Gray film *appears* to be a silent commercially produced film spliced together with home movie footage. I almost prefer the home movie footage over the commercially produced films about the fair. Each home movie gives a unique on-the-ground (and sometimes overhead!) perspective, shaky camera and all. They often highlight family members & friends and even include quiet downtime moments or breaks from the hustle and bustle, giving us 21st century viewers a more personal experience of the fair.

What’s particularly unique about these five newly donated reels is that they were shot on 8mm, a celluloid format that entered the market in 1932 (just to point out the obvious, only a year before these were shot!). More on the 8mm format via Kodak:

“By 1932, with America in the throes of the Great Depression, a new format, the “Cine Kodak Eight”, was introduced. Utilizing a special 16mm film which had double the number of perforations on both sides, the filmmaker would run the film through the camera in one direction, then reload and expose the other side of the film, the way an audio cassette is used today…. After development, the laboratory would slit the film lengthwise down the center, and splice one end to the other, yielding fifty feet of finished 8 mm movies. The success of 8mm film was almost immediate, and within about fifteen years, 16 mm film became almost exclusively a format of the professional filmmaker.”

These five reels (now streaming on our site and below via CFA’s Youtube channel) are the oldest 8mm films we have and they happen to document one of our favorite subjects in all its troubled splendor. At this time, it’s unclear what order the reels were shot, but we have labeled them Reels 1-5 in order for us to differentiate the titles among reels (all were titled simply “1933 Chicago World’s Fair,” but each contains unique footage). Enjoy!






March 31, 2014

Earthkeeping, Episode Four: “Megapolis”

Architect Harry Weese describes the structural design of Park Forest South, IL (today known as University Park)

Over the next six weeks, CFA will present newly digtized episodes of Earthkeeping – a series produced in the early 1970s for WTTW that explores environmental, ecological and sociological issues. In presenting this series, we hope to reintroduce DeWitt Beall, a Chicago-based filmmaker primarily active in the 1960s and 70s. Now to episode four, “Megapolis” (pardon the color fade):

[*Stream the episode here, on the CFA website]

“Megapolis” contains insightful interviews with Lewis Mumford, who was a prominent early figure in urban planning and the history of cities. Mumford predicted the expansion of cities into megalopolises in the 1930s in his book, The Culture of Cities, and in this episode reflects on how cities will continue to evolve. The episode also looks at Illinois-specific neighborhood development through an interview with architect Harry Weese. At that time, Weese was working on the design of Park Forest South, IL (today known as University Park). As Weese predicted for the community in 1972, “Park Forest South is not going to be an instant Paris, or anything of its kind, but it will be a community big enough to encompass many activities, including employment, education… it also provides for varying lifestyles and income groups.” (Any Park Forest South/University Park residents out there care to comment on this prediction?) Weese and the narrator put emphasis on the neighborhood’s innovative walkway system, which allows for pedestrians and bicyclists to travel without intersecting with major roads.

Much of the content in “Megapolis” is common knowledge today (cars are bad for the environment, etc.), but it is necessary to consider the episode in context, looking at how it relates to the history of environmental activism. The Earthkeeping series was produced only three years after the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency, and as the other episodes of the series attest, during a period of rapid urban growth and industrialization. The episodes of Earthkeeping are by no means objective; the series is less documentary and more a call to action. The content of Earthkeeping greatly reflects the personal ideology of the filmmaker. In an email correspondence, Elina Katsioula-Beall (DeWitt’s second wife) pointed out how important the issues of the series were to DeWitt’s personal life: “It is certainly safe to say that DeWitt was very interested in all sociological and ecological issues. He had a respect for earth and for all life, long before this was fashionable.”

Just as the “City Life” episode concludes with a plea for community participation, so does “Megapolis” implore viewers to take action. Architect Richard Saul Wurman (who later co-founded the TED conference) expresses his disdain for public inaction: “Apathy has destroyed the city more than wanton destruction. I mean, there has to be a change of attitude to save the city.” Ultimately, it is up to the citizens of the city to control the growth of our man-made environments.

March 24, 2014

“Small gauge film is not larger than life, it’s part of life.”

This Wednesday, March 26th, we’re celebrating Home Movie Day in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood. Per usual, we’re inviting the community to bring their celluloid home movies (16mm, 8mm and/or Super 8mm) to have them projected in front of a live audience. Don’t have any films? Don’t fret! We also have a program of CFA home movies in store (more on that soon).

This is a very collaborative event all around. We were invited by The Post Family to help create and co-host the event. They’re a Chicago art collective with their own printmaking studio, office, and gallery space, and they’ve courageously taken over Comfort Station programming for the entire month of March (you can peek at their remaining events here). We’re also teaming up with Northwest Chicago Film Society, who will offer their wisdom & expertise by projecting these treasured celluloid films for all to see, and Logan Square International Film Series (Comfort Films), who continue to help spread the word. The Post Family has also enlisted the help of Synesthetic (Angel Elmore : piano, Joe Vajarsky : tenor saxophone, Norman Long : field recordings, Dan Godston : trumpet & Lou Ciccoteli : drums) to accompany any or all films.

JoAnn Elam in "Boyers & Rhinos," an 8mm film from 1981

We’re using this community-fueled event as a good excuse to crack open our JoAnn Elam Collection, or more specifically, to showcase rarely screened 8mm home movies from the collection.

Just in case, some quick background:  JoAnn Elam (1949-2009) is a central figure in the history of Chicago’s experimental film community. Her short experimental and documentary films capture the spirit and ethos of a politically active, feminist, and socially conscious artist. She also happened to be a Logan Square resident, often filming her neighbors, community events, gardens, co-workers & friends with her 8mm Carena Zoomex camera.

JoAnn always thought of her films as home movies and validated them as such. These feelings were upheld in JoAnn’s “manifestette,” which she co-wrote with fellow filmmaker & friend, Chuck Kleinhans (Northwestern University, Jump Cut), for a joint show:

Small gauge film (regular 8 and Super 8 ) is low cost, technically accessible, and appropriate for small scale viewing.

Because it’s cheap and you can shoot a lot of film, 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. Therefore it invites films made for or with specific audiences. Often the filmmaker and/or people filmed are present at a screening. 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. Connections can be made between production and consumption, filmmaker and audience and subject matter.

Small gauge film is not larger than life, it’s part of life.

JoAnn Elam
Chuck Kleinhans

"Boyers & Rhinos," 1981

The intimate Comfort Station Logan Square provides an “appropriate viewing situation” as well as a geographically meaningful space to screen JoAnn’s 8mm films. This Wednesday’s program isn’t a retrospective of JoAnn’s work, but rather a showcase of the Logan Square-centric home movies found in her collection. The selected films include scenes of Palmer Square Art Fairs, back porch lounging, a double exposed bbq and energetic black kittens. One reel, simply titled “Belden & Kimball,” documents smaller neighborhood moments – potted plants, parallel parking and youthful sidewalk shenanigans.

To compliment JoAnn’s films, we’ll also be screening very Chicago home movies from our other collections (primarily, the Rhodes Patterson Collection). These 16mm reels were all shot during or around the same time as JoAnn’s, but go beyond the neighborhood of Logan Square. Highlights include a shaky helicopter ride around the loop, a crowded lunch break at Grant Park, a trip down late 1970′s Maxwell Street Market and a panorama of Great America in 1977.

Join us from 7-9PM to celebrate home movies, small gauge cinema, Logan Square and JoAnn Elam with YOUR home movies and the following program:

-Loop Christmas (Rhodes Patterson, circa 1969, 16mm., Color, Silent, 5 min.)
-Blizzard of ’79 (JoAnn Elam, 1979, 8mm., Color, Silent, 4.5 min.)
-Helicopter Chicago Loop (Rhodes Patterson, 1973, 16mm., Color, Silent, 6 min.)
-Belden & Kimball (JoAnn Elam, circa 1977, 8mm., Color, Silent, 3 min.)
-Grant Park Frisbee (Rhodes Patterson, 1971, 16mm., Color, Silent, 4.5 min.)
-Palmer Square (JoAnn Elam, circa 1976, 8mm., Color, Silent, 13 min.)
-Apollo 11 Chicago Parade (Rhodes Patterson, 1969, 16mm., Color, Silent, 8 min.)
-Julia & Kittens (JoAnn Elam, circa 1979, 8mm., B&W, Silent, 2.5 min)
-Great America 1977 (Rhodes Patterson, 1977, 16mm., Color, Silent, 6 min.)
-Boyers & Rhinos (JoAnn Elam, circa 1981, 8mm., Color, Silent, 5 min.)
-Walls & Helen – Chicago’s Maxwell Street Market (Glick-Berolzheimer Collection, 1978, 16mm., B&W, Silent, 5 min.)
-Palmer Square Art Fair ‘85 (JoAnn Elam, 1985, 8mm., Color, Silent, 7 min.)
More here and here


March 17, 2014

Earthkeeping, Episode Three: “Little Big Land”

Over the next six weeks, CFA will present newly digtized episodes of Earthkeeping - a series produced in the early 1970s for WTTW that explores environmental, ecological and sociological issues. In presenting this series, we hope to reintroduce DeWitt Beall, a Chicago-based filmmaker primarily active in the 1960s and 70s. Now to episode three, “Little Big Land”:

Last week’s episode, “Greenbacks,” introduced the “external costs” tied into urban expansion, looking at how the real costs of development exceed the explicit dollar value.  “Little Big Land” further explores this by visiting the rapidly disappearing farmlands and diminishing areas of nature.  The growth of cities like Chicago and the expansion of the highway, while beneficial to a growing urban population, have also come at the cost of the landscape. The episode looks critically at land privatization, and warns that “if present trends continue, the urban blanket will be drawn indiscriminately across the landscape – house by house, shopping center by shopping center.”  Some potential prevention strategies are introduced, including the idea of instituting a green belt.

The challenges of balancing urban expansion and environmental preservation are further complicated by the increasing birth rate in the United States.  The episode features a brief interview with Dennis Meadows, who had just recently published his co-authored study, The Limits to Growth.  The study utilizes computer models and programming, plugging in a number of variables to examine the rate at which population will exceed production. Although the results found in The Limits of Growth have been somewhat polarizing, it is still interesting to see the ways in which computers were used for environmental predictions and calculations some forty years ago.

Second City’s David Rasche has a solution to the increasing demand for new urban developments: Grand Canyon Estates, which has transformed “a useless hole in the ground into the most unique community you’ll ever be fortunate enough to invest in.”  The new development will feature the world’s deepest artificial lake, as well as the “largest collection of plastic vegetation ever assembled in one place.”  It’s an exciting investment opportunity too good to pass up.

Early in the episode, the narrator predicts that in the future, “Chicago will grow outward, as will Indianapolis, Gary, Milwaukee, forming one giant megapolitan region around Lake Michigan.”  This introduction to the megalopolis serves as a nice segue into next week’s episode.

We’ll be taking a quick break next week, but stay tuned Monday (March 31st) for our next episode, “Megapolis” …

March 10, 2014

Earthkeeping, Episode Two: “Greenbacks”

Second City's "Pass the Buck" sketch (from l-r: Eugenie Ross-Leming, Jim Fisher, Ann Ryerson, Harold Ramis)

Over the next six weeks, CFA will present newly digtized episodes of Earthkeeping- a series produced in the early 1970s for WTTW that explores environmental, ecological and sociological issues. In presenting this series, we hope to reintroduce DeWitt Beall, a Chicago-based filmmaker primarily active in the 1960s and 70s. Now to episode two, “Greenbacks”:

Aside from the explicit financial cost, what is the true price of industrial production? Further, how are these costs transferred to the public?

Greenbacks” takes us to two sites to explore these various hidden (or “external”) costs. The first stop is America’s “carpet capital,” Dalton, GA.  On the one hand, the influx of new industry that moved into Dalton after the Second World War can be seen as an economic boon. However, while the new factories provided many jobs for Dalton residents, the resulting air and water pollution created long-term environmental detriments – the Conasauga River and nearby Drowning Bear Creek have become so polluted that nothing can live in their waters.  Although a secondary water treatment facility was constructed in Dalton as a response, the water cannot be truly pollution-free without a more expensive method of tertiary (advanced) water treatment.  The price of tertiary treatment is only more expensive in the short term – without it, Dalton’s water supply remains polluted and the treatment facility is only a token to assuage local fears of water pollution.

The St. Louis district of Soulard, surrounded by a Monsanto plant and the Anheuser-Busch brewery, is used as another example of these hidden costs.  As the episode’s narrator explains, “… a one percent increase in sulfur trioxide was matched with a similar decrease in property values, so the pollution was paid for – not by the sources that produced it, but by the homeowner whose home was worth less.”  Economist Robert Heilbroner illustrates how these types of hidden costs, which also include increasing health problems for local residents, are not reflected in the cost of products. Therefore, the companies can get away with charging less than what the product really costs (Heilbroner refers to the Consolidated Edison energy company in his example.)

Finding a culprit for these environmental concerns often entails much finger-pointing and blame-shifting, a process satirized in the Second City game show sketch, Pass the Buck: the regular panelists are representatives from Government (Joe Flaherty), Management (Harold Ramis), and Labor (David Rasche).  These three contestants face off against one another, as well as a representative of the public (Ann Ryerson), in trying to quickly create a scapegoat for hypothetical environmental problems.

Stay tuned next Monday (March 17th) for our next episode, “Little Big Land” …

March 3, 2014

Online Launch of DeWitt Beall’s Earthkeeping series

Opening title card of Earthkeeping

Over the next six weeks, CFA will be presenting episodes of Earthkeeping, a series produced in the early 1970s for WTTW that explores environmental, ecological and sociological issues. In presenting this series, we hope to reintroduce DeWitt Beall, a Chicago-based filmmaker primarily active in the 1960s and 70s.

Earthkeeping was written, directed and produced by DeWitt, who himself professed a personal interest in the same topics examined in the series. Originally born in Sherman Oaks, CA, DeWitt moved to Chicago after graduating from Dartmouth College in 1962. His filmography illustrates a balance between ‘filmmaker-for-hire’ works (commercial work for Sears, educational films for the National Safety Council and the National Dairy Council) and the projects closer related to his interests.  These more personal projects include a documentary about the formation of the Conservative Vice Lords (“Lord Thing”, a film that provided the Vice Lords with a platform to tell their own story), and a sponsored film about the challenges black Americans face in entering the workforce (“Making It”).  Further evincing his commitment to social change, DeWitt was a co-founder of a scholarship program called Foundation Years.  This program provided disadvantaged black Chicagoans the opportunity to attend his alma mater with a chance to matriculate (two of the interviewees in “Making It” were participants in this program). [1]

Although the footage in Earthkeeping is largely rooted in Chicago, the series also travels to other Midwest locations (and even makes a quick jaunt down to Dalton, GA in the “Greenbacks” episode).  The series features interviews with prominent scholars from different fields, including economist Robert Heilbroner, ecologist Barry Commoner, and sociologist/urbanist Lewis Mumford.  Additionally, the series utilizes topical interludes written and performed by members of the Second City, including the recently departed Harold Ramis and pre-SNL John Belushi.  This gives us an opportunity to glimpse performances from these comedians that would go otherwise unseen.  Just like network programming, we will upload and stream one episode of Earthkeeping per week for the next six weeks.  Please feel free to share your thoughts and comments on the series below.

[1] The Foundation Years program was, regrettably, short-lived.  In 2011, Chicago Magazine did an in-depth piece on the program, which can be read here.

This week’s episode: City Life

“City Life” focuses on the sociological consequences inherent in the rapid growth of urban landscapes.  The episode first orients the viewer by explaining how city growth has transformed the concept of ‘community’: the transition from village life to city life has necessitated the development of neighborhoods, which are established in order to retain the same sense of community once found in the village.  Without these new forms of community, the narrator asserts, the city would be nothing more than “…a collection of strangers; an anonymous and faceless place,” despite its size and population.

Additionally, the narrator makes the claim that our cities “have been built for profit, not people,” and the episode employs two architectural examples to evidence this.  The first is the Pruitt-Igoe housing project in St. Louis, MO, a thirty-six building development which is equated to a “prison for the poor.”  The design of Pruitt-Igoe favored minimizing expenditure over benefiting its citizens – for example, designing the development without a single playground, despite the projected high number of children that would be living there.  This idea of housing projects as a ‘prison’ is reinforced through interviews with urbanist Lewis Mumford and economist Robert Heilbroner.  Both interviewees elaborate on the effect of large-scale migration from rural to urban environments:  whereas the first generation to move to the city had family in the country to fall back on should things not work out financially, that is no longer the case for most impoverished city dwellers.

On the other side of the socioeconomic scale is the architectural example of waterfront properties developed along Chicago’s Lake Michigan waterfront.  “City Life” documents the efforts of the Chicago’s Citizens’ Action Program (CAP) as they seek to prevent further impediment on the city’s waterfront.  Lewis Mumford, among other interviewees, encourages citizens to engage in their local politics, as doing so is the only way that positive changes may be affected within a city.  In a fiery hearing, CAP representative Paul Booth testifies that the construction of new waterfront high-rises would benefit only a small minority at the cost of destroying the lake’s beauty for the rest of the city. The hearing eventually devolves into a screaming match between CAP members and Illinois State Senator Hon. John L. Knuppel.  However, the episode concludes with an empowering message, returning to the idea of the ‘village’ and the duty of the citizen to politicize and participate in city affairs:

“At the heart of a healthy city is the village, the small community, the neighborhood.  At the heart of the neighborhood is the individual who feels that if something is wrong, he can do something to change it.  A healthy city is one in which the people, all the people, have a stake in the functioning order; something to lose if that order breaks down; a sense that it is responsive to their needs.”

Stay tuned next Monday (March 10th) for our next episode, “Greenbacks”….

February 25, 2014

CFA Media Mixer 2014: Meet this Year’s Artists

It’s hard to believe that our little toddler of a fundraiser, CFA MEDIA MIXER, turns three this year (right?!). At the heart of each year’s event is the premiere of 3 video collaborations made entirely with footage from CFA. More specifically, we ask three artists and three musicians to team up with one another to create and score a short film using digitized footage from our vault. We then screen each pairing’s finished film (sound & image) at the Hide Out as part of our annual fundraiser.

We’re already hard at work organizing this year’s MEDIA MIXER (Thursday, June 19th at the Hideout). In fact, just last week we confirmed this year’s CRAZY TALENTED line up of artist pairings, and we’re delighted to share them with you (filmmakers listed first, followed by musicians):

Lori Felker AND Cheer-Accident
Deborah Stratman AND Olivia Block 
Latham Zearfoss AND Bastardgeist 

More on this year’s artists…


Lori Felker chose Filmmaking as her official second language in 2003-ish, bumping German into third place. Eventual fluency is important to her, so she employs many forms/formats, practices frequently with others, and tries hard not to shy away from expressing her thoughts on human behavior, participation, frustration, failure, in-eloquence and political irritants. Lori has many lives to live simultaneously. They currently live, make films/videos, teach, project, program, and compulsively collaborate in Chicago.

Deborah Stratman is an artist and filmmaker interested in landscapes and systems. Recent projects have addressed freedom, sinkholes, surveillance, the paranormal, sonic warfare, faith and comets. She lives in Chicago where she teaches at the University of Illinois.

Latham Zearfoss is an artist and cultural producer living and working in Chicago. His artwork often centers on reclaiming historical and mythological texts, and revising them to incorporate radical notions of love and sex, possibility and probability. His commitment to art and activism has also manifested in the creation of sporadic, temporary utopias like Pilot TV and Chances Dances. Latham graduated from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago with a BFA in 2008 and the University of Illinois at Chicago with an MFA in 2011. He has exhibited his work internationally and all over the U.S.


Bastardgeist is Chicago-based songwriter and performer Joel Midden. On his latest release Infinite Lives, he has crafted a lush and dizzying album about memory and displacement. Through nine, kaleidoscopic songs, Midden—featuring contributions from Sam Scranton of Volcano! (Leaf Label), Oliver Barrett of Bleeding Heart Narrative (Tartaruga Records), and James Mabbett of Napoleon IIIrd (Brainlove Records)—employs hypnotic kalimba cycles, warm string arrangements, haunted samples, and ethereal vocals to craft an album that is at turns nervous and peaceful, fragile and ecstatic.

Olivia Block creates original sound compositions for concerts, site-specific multi-speaker installations, live cinema, and performance. Her compositions often include field recordings, chamber instruments, and electronic textures. Additionally, she performs multi-speaker electronic compositions, and compositions for inside piano and objects. Her latest LP/download release, Karren (Sedimental, 2013), an electroacoustic and orchestral piece performed by Chicago Composer’s Orchestra, has been chosen as “Best of 2014″ by The Wire, Pitchfork, and Artforum, among other publications.

Hailing from the singularly vibrant musical hotbed known as Chicago, CHEER-ACCIDENT has been a creative, vital force in rock music for over 20 years. They constantly strive to surprise their audiences and themselves through relentless reinvention. From dreamy pop to angular art-rock, CHEER-ACCIDENT strikes a powerful balance between personalized and unique studio wizardry and the visceral excitement of a well-honed, explosive live rock band. The band is a quintet at its foundation, but they often presents themselves in various configurations…including this year’s CFA Media Mixer lineup of Jeff Libersher (guitar, vocals),Thymme Jones (drums, vocals), Evelyn Davis (piano, vocals) & Dante Kester (bass).

More news to come! but in the meantime, you can view CFA MEDIA MIXER 2012 collaborations here & 2013′s here.


February 11, 2014

LORD THING Restoration Complete

Reel 1 & 2 of the new restoration print of LORD THING

We recently received the 16mm restoration print of LORD THING, and boy is it beautiful! DeWitt Beall’s LORD THING (1970) is a film that documents the Conservative Vice Lords of Chicago’s near-west side and dozens of small neighborhood gangs from different parts of the city, that in time, unite forces in a common cause. Only a muddy VHS copy of the film had been circulating until CFA recently discovered 16mm prints & original elements in storage and under the care of Beall’s widow (these prints & elements now reside within CFA’s Dewitt Beall Collection). Thanks to a 2012 grant from the National Film Preservation Foundation, CFA was able to create a new restoration print from original production elements.

Maryland based Colorlab did an exquisite job creating the two reels of LORD THING from original A/B Rolls and a master 16mm magnetic track. We’re especially impressed by the improved audio quality, which is significantly richer in comparison to our existing composite prints (meaning, prints with synced imaged and sound) of LORD THING currently stored at CFA.

Interested further in the restoration process of LORD THING? Read on!

Inspection bench detail of the new restoration print of LORD THING

We were really lucky to have original production elements (A/B Rolls, Mag Tracks, etc) to create a new composite print of LORD THING. A lot of the times with restoration projects, we’re left having to make a new print from an original or master positive print (no complaints! It’s just not an ideal scenario since it often leads to some degradation of image and sound). Having original elements allowed Colorlab to produce a print comparable or perhaps even better to the original composite prints struck by Dewitt Beall & co in the early 1970′s.

We were also fortunate to have three composite prints on hand for reference during the restoration process of LORD THING. The tricky issue with these prints, though, is that we began this process with two complete copies of LORD THING (Version 1), and only 1 copy of LORD THING (Version 2), which happens to have French subtitles. In others words, there was no composite print of Version 2 without subtitles (CFA considers Version 2 of LORD THING to be the more complete as well as final version of the film). This restoration project has remedied this tricky situation, giving us (a universal “us”) a presentable preservation print of Version 2 (without subtitles) for the first time! Be on the lookout for a restoration premiere sometime this fall – we’ll be sure to keep you posted! We recommend joining our mailing list if you don’t want to miss out.


December 19, 2013

CICERO MARCH…an educational film

As mentioned in our previous post, CICERO MARCH was one of a seven part “module” or educational film series (“The Urban Crisis and the New Militants”) produced by the Chicago-based Film Group Inc. The majority of the series dealt with the 1968 Chicago Democratic National Convention, while two of the films (Cicero March and Black Moderates, Black Militants) are concerned with similar issues of civil rights and civil disobedience but were not filmed during the Democratic Convention.

The Urban Crisis series gains further meaning when placed in this educational context, or rather, when you consider the targeted audience of the films – junior high, high school and college aged students. Being a kid of the ’80s and ’90s, it’s hard for me to imagine sitting in my social studies classes and being presented with direct cinema or cinema verité style educational films. In a downstate public school (don’t get me wrong, I’m proud of my public school roots!), our classroom audio-visual selections were often limited to straightforward talking head documentaries produced alongside textbooks, or if we were lucky, a program distributed by PBS (I even remember watching Newsies in my high school U.S History class?!).

For me, CICERO MARCH and the Urban Crisis series gain power when I consider their place within the classroom. These films presented tough, raw and REAL content to students, and let them figure it out, or at least consider it on their own terms. Giving teenagers this interpretive power would have provided such a valuable space for them to explore various issues surrounding racism, citizens’ rights, social protest, police brutality, the media industry and politics at large, to name a few.

It’s hard to say how many schools and libraries purchased or rented the series or individual films when they were released in the late ’60s. According to the Film Group’s surviving member, Bill Cottle, the series unfortunately didn’t have many sales. Also frustrating the search is the fact that the films’ distributor, Henk Newenhouse Inc, is now defunct, with their main operating years being between the years 1967 and 1969. The Chicago Public Library circulating film collection (now housed at CFA) contained and rented the whole series, while a quick WorldCat search shows that York University Libraries in Toronto is the only other institution who currently has a print of CICERO MARCH. Who knows how many prints from the series have been de-accessioned over the years, or even properly cataloged and entered into a union catalog like Worldcat. I pass this investigation along to whomever is inclined…possibly an empowered student!

Below are promotional materials from Henk Newenhouse Inc. These would have been provided to schools and libraries to entice them to purchase or rent the film and/or series. Click on the images to view them in more detail. HUGE shout out to Andy Uhrich for the scans!

You can stream the entire Urban Crisis series on our site here, or over on our Youtube channel.






December 18, 2013


Cicero March (1966, Film Group)

Each year the National Film Preservation Foundation board names 25 films that are culturally, historically or aesthetically significant to our national heritage. CHICAGO FILM ARCHIVES is honored and pleased that CICERO MARCH has been chosen to join the list of films that make up the National Film Registry.

CICERO MARCH is visceral and relentless in its portrayal of barely contained racial violence during a civil rights march in a middle-class suburb of Chicago. Filmed during the time that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. came to organize for fair housing in Chicago, it undeniably reflects elements of our community psyche in 1966 — racism, gathering black push back, and a building sense of necessity (and obligation) by authorities to protect non-violent black civil rights marchers in the then hostile and mostly white streets of Cicero, Illinois.

It is well documented that Chicago city officials, including Mayor Richard J. Daley, negotiated a Fair Housing agreement with Dr. King in exchange for the cancellation of this march.  Nevertheless, Robert Lucas and other members of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) felt that the march was strategically necessary and proceeded with it anyway.  It is also important to note that if the Chicago-based Film Group had not made the decision to document this march, very few traces of this event would remain today.

This film is part of a seven part module or educational film series (“The Urban Crisis and the New Militants”) produced by the Film Group that, “teach by raising questions rather than by attempting to answer them.” The modules tell their story through editing rather than voice-over narration and show “real events, with real people acting spontaneously,” as the Group explained to an educational film distributor.

Discovered in CFA’s Chicago Public Library Collection, CICERO MARCH was first screened in 2005 at CFA’s second film screening ever, CHICAGO IS…”. In 2006, CFA sought out and received funding from the National Film Preservation Foundation to photo-chemically preserve this powerful piece of cinema vérité. This 16mm restoration print now resides in CFA’s Film Group Collection.

This year CFA submitted CICERO MARCH for consideration for the Registry. It is a fitting time for the film’s acknowledgment. The confluence of historical and social forces that brought about this incident and its documentation was partially embodied in two men whom we have recently lost. Robert Lucas, who chaired the Chicago branch of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), led the volatile march in Martin Luther King, Jr.’s absence. Lucas passed away in March of last year. Filmmaker and author Mike Gray, who documented this march in Cicero and who also leaves behind a legacy of activism, died this past April (more on Mike Gray and the Film Group here).

Mike Shea (1925-1995), a Chicago LIFE Magazine photojournalist who transitioned into cinematography with the Film Group, shot CICERO MARCH. Shea went on to become a cinematographer on feature-length films in LA. He died in a helicopter crash while working on his last film.

Heartfelt congratulations go to William Cottle who is the surviving principle member of the Film Group. He and his wife Judy live in Winnetka, IL.

In the video below, Robert Lucas recalls the 1966 march in Cicero after a CFA Screening (“To Bear Witness: The Question of Violence”) held at the ICE Theater in 2006.


CICERO MARCH is available for viewing both on CFA’s website and Youtube channel.

December 4, 2013

Giving Thanks

CFA has a lot to be thankful for this holiday season. This week we learned that CFA was awarded three grants – one from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), one from the Gaylord & Dorothy Donnelley Foundation and another from the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation.

The NEH grant ($6000) will go towards purchasing steel archival shelves for two massive collections – the Frank Koza Newsreel Collection and the Robert & Terry Davis Travelogue Collection. Combined, these two collections have over 2,700 film & audio elements. We are delighted (and thankful!) to give these collections a nice and stable home within our temperature controlled vault.

A treat from CFA’s Robert & Terry Davis Collection, OBEY YOUR AIR RAID WARDEN (1942, Robert Davis & Harry Hilfinger):

We are also excited to announce that the Gaylord & Dorothy Donnelley Foundation matched our recent NEA grant of $20,000 with $34,500 to digitize the remainder of the Ruth Page Dance Collection. This collection contains dance rehearsals and performances that date back to 1922 including footage of Rudolph Nureyev soon after his defection from the Soviet Union, Balinese dances filmed during Page’s 1928 Asian Tour, and performances of The Merry Widow on the Ed Sullivan Show. It also contains the original and master tapes of numerous interviews with dance critics such as Clive Barnes and John Martin, dancers such as Larry Long, Delores Lipinski, Anne Kisselgoff and Maria Tallchief, and a comprehensive series of interviews and oral histories with Page herself that date from 1957 through 1987.

A portion of the inspected 16mm films in CFA's Ruth Page Collection

Combined, the NEA & Donnelley grants will help fund the digitization of over 900 unique moving image and audio items, including 16mm films, rare video formats (including 2″!), Betacam SP tapes and a handful of 1/4″ audio reels. This Donnelley Foundation grant also allows CFA to strengthen our digital storage and digitization workflows, making it easier for us to get these digitized materials streaming on our website and therefore accessible to you.

And speaking of access…also in the works is a Midwest dance program, featuring the work of Ms. Page alongside the provocative work of the talented dancer-choreographer Sybil Shearer (1912-2005). (More on this 2014 screening soon!)  In the mean time, though, you can view 63 freshly digitized Ruth Page films & videos on our site, including two recently restored 1928 Ravinia performances (here and here), a handful of television appearances by Ruth Page & Co (view one here), home movies filmed during Page’s 1928 Asian Tour (view one here) as well as a sprinkling of rare 1″ and 1/2″ video tapes digitized by Bay Area Video Coalition.

And! last night we learned that the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation awarded CFA an $8000 grant for 2014 General Operations. SO SO THANKFUL! Chicago Film Archives is a 501(c)(3) non profit and depends on grants like these AND the support from our followers to thrive. Please consider donating to CFA here. Each contribution both large and small is critical to our continuing work.

October 11, 2013

Chicago Home Movie Day 2013 (everyone’s invited!)

CFA and Northwest Chicago Film Society have lots in store for you at this year’s home movie day, which takes place Saturday, October 19th at the accommodating Chicago History Museum. This international event (started 11 year ago by the Center for Home Movies) provides a unique opportunity for those with 16mm., 8mm, and/or Super 8mm home movies to have their films inspected and projected by local archivists and skilled projectionists.

We also have lots of entertainment for those without films to share: Home Movie Day Bingo (win prizes!), popcorn (mmmm), live accompaniment by local pianist David Drazin PLUS a selection of curated home movies from two culturally rich Chicago neighborhoods – Bronzeville and Ravenswood Manor. Why these two neighborhoods? Well, community orginzations from these two neighborhood approached CFA separately about having their own neighborhood home movie days in 2014 (Ravenswood Manor turns 100 next year, btw!!). We thought we could get a head start by featuring these two communities at our 2013 city-wide event. Of course, all Chicagoans (and their home movies!) are encouraged to attend and participate in Home Movie Day, but here’s an idea of what you’ll see in this year’s 2PM curated program:

Representing Bronzeville: The home movies of Olympic Champion & politician, Ralph Metcalfe!

Once called “the worlds fastest human,” two-time track & field Olympian Ralph Metcalfe nabbed glory in both Los Angeles in 1932 and in Berlin in 1936. While a skilled competitor in his own right, Metcalfe is likely best remembered for his part in the gold medal-winning 4×100 relay team that competed in Berlin. Following military service and a career in the private sector, Metcalfe started his political career by representing Chicago’s Third Ward on the city council in 1949. The Democrat took office in the Senate in 1971, and represented Illinois there until his death in 1978.

We are very excited to share personal home movies from the Ralph Metcalfe Collection at this year’s home movie day! Expect to see 1957 scenes from inside Chicago’s Third Ward Office, mid-century track & field events, Queen Elizabeth II’s 1959 visit to Chicago and a 1961 bake sale held at Howalton Day School, the first African American private school in Chicago. Ralph’s son, who is working tirelessly to preserve and promote his father’s legacy, will be on hand at Home Movie Day to narrate his family’s home movies.

Representing Ravenswood Manor: teenage antics shot on Super 8 sound film!

Back in the early 1970′s, a gaggle of Ravenswood Manor teens documented their wild neighborhood antics and shot chaotic short films on their Super 8mm cameras. Go back in time to an era of Yes & Pink Floyd t-shirts(!), wood-panelled basements, Chicago River explosions and unsupervised pyrotechnics.

and as a special treat, newly acquired CFA home movies of the 1933 Chicago’s World’s Fair!

CFA just acquired a collection of  home movies from the Zahn Family of Racine, Wisconsin. Included in this donation were 5 (yes, 5!) 8mm home movies shot at the 1933-1934 Chicago World’s Fair (aka the Century of Progress International Exposition). At this year’s Home Movie Day, we will project our favorite World’s Fair reels from the Zahn Collection (teaser: animatronic King Kong!!!). The 8mm film format came about in 1932, so this is an extremely rare chance to watch some of the earliest 8mm out there …

Home Movie Day 2013 is from 11AM-3PM, with the curated program beginning at 2PM. Folks with celluloid home movies should feel free to mozy on over anytime between 11AM-2PM to have their films inspected and, if in good shape, projected. For more info on the event, click over to our HMD 2013 events page. Not in Chicago? Check out the *official* and growing list of Home Movie Day locations here (via The Center for Home Movies). Happy Home Movie Day to all!



October 9, 2013

More Janiak Films Head to CFA

You may remember back in April when CFA announced the acquisition of three experimental films by Chicago-based filmmaker & designer Lawrence Janiak (in case you missed it, you can read about it here)….. well, we are THRILLED to announce that Larry has donated more of his films (and affiliated ephemera) to CFA!

New to the collection: 10 composite prints (5 with printing elements!), 1 8mm videocassette, 1 audiocassette and a packed box of ephemera that holds 2 Chicago International Film Festival Hugo awards, books on underground film & animation and Center Cinema Co-op catalogs designed by Larry (more on this ephemera filled box later). Here’s a sneak peek of the new 16mm films added to the collection:

Allegro, Lawrence Janiak, 1960, 16mm., Color, Sound, 3 min.

Like Larry’s previously donated films, Disintegration Line #1 (1960) and Disintegration Line #2 (1970), Allegro is a direct animation film. This time around, though, Larry hand painted and scratched the surface of the celluloid and set the dazzling results to a classical soundtrack. According to Larry, the film screened at the second annual International Design Conference at Aspen in 1961. After the screening Larry and fellow Chicagoans Wayne Boyer and Mort & Millie Goldsholl joined Canadian animator Norman McLaren for ice cream floats (!!). Here, McLaren told Larry that Allegro was “the best film I’ve seen drawn on 16mm.”

Glasshouse, Lawrence Janiak, 1964, 16mm., B&W, Sound, 7 min.

Through double exposures, stillness/movement and a handmade scratch soundtrack, Glasshouse introduces viewers to an unnamed illusive structure. (Side note: Larry compared the soundtrack to “tap dancing bugs clicking in nature.”)

Agamemnon in New York, Lawrence Janiak & Wayne Boyer, 1960s, 16mm., B&W, Sound, 4.5 min.

Made with fellow Institute of Design classmate and Goldsholl Associates colleague, Wayne Boyer, Agamemnon in New York tells a humorous tale of Agamemnon visiting a modern day New York City. Janiak delivers the story (outtakes and all), while Boyer films it.

Hale House, Lawrence Janiak, 1965, 16mm., B&W, Sound, 11 min.

Before we dive into this one, let’s first cover some local history: The Vivekananda Vedanta Society of Chicago is a branch of the Hindu Ramakrishna Order whose motto is “For one’s own liberation and for the welfare of the world.” The historical roots of the society can be traced back to Swami Vivekananda’s visit to Chicago in the July 1893 to attend the World’s Parliament of Religions. During his 1893 visit, Mrs. and Mr. George Hale’s home on 120 E. Dearborn Ave served as Swamiji’s headquarters in the Midwest. Thirty years later, Swami Jnaneswarananda, a monk of the Ramakrishna Order arrived in Chicago to start a center in the city of Swami Vivekananda’s triumph, establishing the Vivekananda Vedanta Society of Chicago and the Hale’s home as its official headquarters. With a devout interest in Eastern religions and as a member of the Society (now headquartered in the southwest suburb of Homer Glen), Larry went to the Hale House and filmed architectural details both inside and outside of the home. These images are paired with traditional Hindu music and prayers. The Hale home (located at 1415 North Dearborn Street) was demolished in the late 1960′s and a high rise apartment complex built on the site.

Life & Film, Lawrence Janiak, Robert Stiegler & Jeffrey Pasco, 1966, B&W, Sound, 4.5 min.

Chicago based designers and artists experiment (and have fun) with their cameras to the tune of “Tomorrow Never Knows” by the Beatles. This film about filmmaking was shot at the nearby Michigan dunes and Chicago’s Humboldt Park.

Vedanta Temple Dedication Ceremony, Lawrence Janiak & Steohen Rose, 1966, 16mm., B&W, Sound, 25 min.

A documentary film made by Larry Janiak and Stephen Rose for Swami Bhashyananda about a Vendata Temple Dedication in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood (5423 S Hyde Park Boulevard to be exact). Hindus, Christians, Unitarians, Jews, Muslims and Buddhists unite to celebrate the dedication of the Vivekanada Vedanta Society of Chicago’s new home.

Homage #5 [unfinished], Lawrence Janiak, 1970, 16mm., Color, Sound, 6 min.

An unfinished film or “preliminary sketch” by Larry that he describes as “an early experiment of collage image editing style with a slow pace spoken narration soundtrack, with a non-literal relationship between the two.” The images seen are those of a rural Wisconsin, while the audio was transferred from an audiocassette recording of a Baba Ram Dass lecture at the University of Illinois.


Although Larry hasn’t completed a new film in decades, he continues his conceptual art practice today through various mediums. My favorite example is the surprise I found inside his medicine cabinet :


Stay tuned for more news on this exciting new acquisition!