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March 30, 2015

CFA Media Mixer 2015: Meet this Year’s Artists

We are SO EXCITED to announce the artists for this year’s CFA Media Mixer event – our annual video re-mix benefit held at the Hideout. Over the next couple of months each filmmaker will work closely with his musical pairing to create and score a short video piece made from digitized films from our vault. We’re currently loading up our filmmakers with loads and loads of footage of their choosing (plus a few curve balls chosen by our staff). This year’s lineup is so awesomely talented that I had to take a break from writing this and head towards a window and scream a little bit. We hope to see you at the Hideout on Thursday, June 18th to both support CFA and to watch the world premiere of three films made by our artist pairings.

This year’s artists (filmmakers listed first, followed by musician(s)) include:

Amir George + The O’Mys
Jesse Malmed + ONO
Fern Silva + Phil Cohran

More on this year’s artsits:



Amir George is a motion picture artist and film programmer born and bred in Chicago. Amir creates work for installation, the cinema and live performance. His video work and curated programs have been screened in festivals and galleries across the US, Canada, and Europe. In addition to founding Cinema Culture, a grassroots film programming organization, Amir is also the co-curator of Black Radical Imagination a touring experimental short film program. He currently teaches and produces media with youth throughout Chicagoland.


Jesse Malmed

Jesse Malmed is an artist and curator, working in video, performance, text, occasional objects and their gaps and overlaps. He has performed, screened and exhibited at museums, microcinemas, film festivals, galleries, bars and barns, including solo presentations at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Photography, University of Chicago’s Film Studies Center, Chicago Cultural Center among others. Additionally, Jesse programs at the Nightingale Cinema, co-directs the mobile exhibition space Trunk Show, programs through ACRE TV and spends part of each summer as a Visiting Artist Liaison with ACRE. His writing has appeared in Incite Journal, YA5, OMNI Reboot, Big Big Wednesday, Temporary Art Review, Bad at Sports and Cine-File. A native of Santa Fe, Jesse earned his BA at Bard College and his MFA at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He was named a “2014 Breakout Artist” by Newcity, is a DCASE In The Works resident and is a 2014-15 Artistic Associate at Links Hall, where he is organizing the Live to Tape Artist Television Festival May 18-24 2015.



Fern Silva (b. 1982, Hartford, CT) uses film to create a cinematographic language for the hybrid mythologies of globalism. His films consider methods of narrative, ethnographic, and documentary filmmaking as the starting point for structural experimentation. He has created a body of film, video, and projection work that has been screened and performed at various festivals, galleries, museums and cinematheques including the Toronto, Berlin, Locarno, Rotterdam, New York, Hong Kong, Edinburgh, Images, London and Ann Arbor Film Festivals, Anthology Film Archive, Gene Siskel Film Center, Wexner Center for the Arts, San Francisco Cinematheque, Museum of Art Lima, Cinemateca Boliviana, Brooklyn Academy of Music, Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston, Museum of Contemporary Art/Chicago, Museum of Modern Art P.S.1, and Cinema Du Reel and the Centre Pompidou. He was listed as one of the Top 25 Filmmakers for the 21st Century in Film Comment Magazine’s Avant-Garde Filmmakers Poll, is the recipient of the Gus Van Sant Award from the 49th Ann Arbor Film Festival and was nominated for Best International Short Film at the 2012 Edinburgh International Film Festival. He received a BFA from the Massachusetts College of Art, MFA from Bard College and is currently based in Chicago, IL where he teaches at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.




The O’My’s are the new sound of Chicago Soul. Rising stars in the midst of a Chicago music and cultural renaissance, The O’My’s have recorded and shared stages with Chance the Rapper, Wyclef Jean, ZZ Ward, Ab Soul, Twista, NoName Gypsy, Mick Jenkins, Save Money, Yo Yo Ma, and Kids These Days. A multi instrument, multi-ethnic crew, The O’My’s are led by co-founders and songwriters, singer/guitarist Maceo Haymes and keyboardist Nick Hennessey. The crew’s rhythm section is comprised of bassist Boyang Matsapola and drummer Barron Golden. Erick Mateo on sax, William Miller on trumpet, and J.P. Floyd (formerly of Kids These Days) on trombone complete the horn section. All Chicago natives, The O’My’s sound captures the tremendous love, pain, warmth and bitter cold found in the city’s streets. Delicate arrangements, a pounding rhythm section and soaring horns provide a perfect home for Haymes’ commanding, smokey rasp and smooth falsettos. Drawing from Chicago’s rich musical traditions of blues, jazz and rock, The O’My’s pick up where their musical forefathers left off, taking Roots Rock’n’Soul to the present. The O’My’s are now in studio recording their third project, Keeping the Faith, a Psychedelic Soul record slated for release in the late fall of 2014. +



ONO‘s members span several generations, ethnicities, and genders, but at its core the group consists of Travis Travis Travis, P. Michael Ono and Shannon Rose. As Moniker Records explains, “ONOMATOPOEIA BEFORE MUSIC was the band’s founding principle, and this conflation of language and noise has always been deeply, if not explicitly, political…Founded in 1980 and reemerging in the late 00s with astonishing vehemence and an expansive, multi-generational lineup, they’ve been embraced by a more fertile and experimental Chicago scene. travis has always referred to fellow-founder P. Michael ONO as the ‘leader of the band,’ but anchor might be more appropriate—P. Michael’s groundswelling bass and nasty, insectoid beats are unquestionably the glue that binds the sprawling noise. But then there’s travis, whose fierce brilliance carries echoes of punk prophets like Patti Smith, Iggy Pop and Gil Scott-Heron but is always pure, raging ONO…ONO’s original mission statement (1980) runs through this music more truly and deeply than ever, so to quote it in full and let it speak for itself: ONO1980// Experimental Performance, NOISE, and Industrial Poetry Performance Band; Exploring Gospel’s Darkest Conflicts, Tragedies and Premises.” +



“Women in wool hair chant their poetry. Phil Cohran gives us messages and music made of developed bone and polished and honed cult. It is the Hour of tribe and of vibration, the day-long Hour. It is the Hour of ringing, rouse, of ferment-festival. On Forty-third and Langley black furnaces resent ancient legislatures of play and scruple and practical gelatin. They keep the fever in, fondle the fever. All worship the Wall.” – Gwendolyn Brooks, “Two Dedications: II The Wall August 27, 1967″

Born in 1927 in Oxford, Mississippi, Phil Cohran played with Sun Ra’s Arkestra and co-founded the AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians) before establishing the Affro-Arts Theater in 1967. The honorific title Kelan was bestowed on him by Chinese Muslims on a tour of China in 1991. 

More on Cohran’s career via The HistoryMakers:

In 1950, Cohran joined Jay McShann’s touring swing band, playing with Charlie Parker and Walter Brown. He recorded with McShann for Houston’s Peacock Records where he backed up Big Mama Thornton and Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown. Drafted that year, Cohran trained Naval bands at Annapolis, Maryland. Discharged in 1952, Cohran moved to Chicago where he studied the Schillinger system and played with Jimmy Bell and Walter Perkins. For the balance of the 1950s, Cohran was a part of Sun Ra’s cutting edge Astral Infinity Arkestra where he played trumpet, zithers and harp on recordings such as Rocket Number Nine and We Travel the Spaceways…Cohran lives in Chicago, where many of his children are noted musicians in their own right.”

In 1966, Cohran’s Artistic Heritage Ensemble included Amina Claudine Myers, Ajramu, Larry King, Eugene Easton, Don Myric, Aaron Dodd, Bob Crowder, Pete Cosey, Charles Hany, Louis Satterfield, Verdeen White and Maurice White. The latter three later formed the nucleus of the musical group Earth, Wind and Fire, utilizing the thumb piano sounds pioneered by Cohran. One of his 1966 concerts at 63rd Street Beach in Chicago drew 3,000 people. As founding director of the Affro Arts Theatre in 1967, Cohran hosted a weekly cultural extravaganza that featured poets like, Haki Madhubuti (Don L. Lee), Carolyn Rodgers and Useni Eugene Perkins; dancers like Darlene Blackburn and Alyo Tolbert; and musicians from the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) that he founded with Muhal Richard Abrams. In 1968, Cohran left Affro Arts to teach at Malcom X College.

From 1975 to 1977, Cohran operated Transitions East, a Chicago Southside venue featuring music and health food. In the 1980s, Cohran twice co-chaired Artists for Harold Washington. In 1987, he composed the award-winning music for the Sky Show at Chicago’s Adler Planetarium. His music has been featured in countless venues including the Chicago Jazz Festival. Honored numerous times for his musicianship and teaching, Cohran was honored with the name “Kelan” by Chinese Muslims while on tour in 1991.

Cohran lives in Chicago, where many of his children are noted musicians in their own right.

For even more on Cohran and his amazing career we recommend reading “Blues and the Abstract Truth” – by PETER SHAPIRO (The Wire magazine, issue 207, May 2001).


Again, we hope to see you on Thursday, June 18th at the Hideout! More event info TBA…



January 12, 2015

Introducing the Jerome L. Schulman Collection


a good ol’ before & after shot of the Schulman Collection

Chicago winters are rough. We all know that. Both your body and emotions seem to be at war with the subzero. But for me, with this battle comes stronger emotions, or rather, the latching onto anything that makes me smile or feel a little more intensely - my neighbor’s frolicking huskies*, a good film, the discussion at last month’s CFA Crashers screening, listening to loud music while I walk to work, and lately, CFA’s Jerome L. Schulman Collection.

In September of 2014, Dr. Jerome L. Schulman and his wife, Joan Rehm, donated thirteen reels of 16mm film to CFA. The films were all produced by Jerome L. Schulman, M.D., who was a Child Psychiatrist in Chicago for more than forty years. He retired in 1993 after serving as Professor of Pediatrics and Psychiatry at Northwestern University Medical School and Chairman of Child Psychiatry at The Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago. During his long career he authored numerous articles and books as well as wrote and produced a number of award-winning short films. Since September, we have hand inspected, re-housed, digitized and published Dr. Schulman’s films on our website for all to see. 


“Another Side of Summer” (1979) inside its new, archival quality home

All of Dr. Schulman’s films relate to the interaction of illness and emotions, particularly in children, and were intended for professional (doctors, nurses and hospital staff) and non-professional (patients and their families) audiences. In the majority of them, young patients and their families speak for themselves about their experiences with illness, handicaps and hospitalization. 

It’s hard to ignore the heaviness of the topics at hand - mortality, life-threatening illness and the psychological effects of hospitalization, to name a few. But often overriding these subjects is a general sense of hope and positivity, especially from the patients themselves. We primarily see this in the documentaries of the collection, including  “Another Side of Summer” (1979) - a film about a summer camp for children with cancer and the campers’ remarkable abilities to cope with his/her respective illness. We see this in “Our Son John” (1973) - a film that deals with the heartwarming interpersonal relationships of a multiply handicapped, retarded child and his family. We see this in “Coping” (1974) - a film about an 11 year old boy dying of leukemia – as well as “Donnie” (1976) and its follow-up film, “Mostly I Can Do More Things Than I Can’t” (1983) - films that follow a young boy and his family as they discuss their experience with hospitalization and the social issues surrounding this experience. The positivity and calmness among these subjects is overwhelming. They truly make me want to be a better person. 

The dramatized films, often geared towards professional audiences, have a different tone. “The Chain” (1968) highlights the many opportunities for error within a hospital setting, or more specifically, the potential for error when prescribing medication to patients. The film is guided by a narrator and unusually upbeat music and utilizes a mix of actors and medical professionals to dramatize various scenarios. Through photo-montage (plus one very trippy intro), “The Child Beater” (1968), presents a dramatized and singular instance of child abuse. As the narrator states, the film “strives for an understanding of a unique problem.” Structurally speaking, “Point of View” (1967) (also streaming below) is the standout from this group. As the title suggests, we see hospitalization through a child’s eyes, or POV, and become witness to the child’s psychological response to hospitalization firsthand (and can we talk about the amazing fish/turtle/hamburger/etc sequence at 18m42s?!).

If you’ve been clicking around to the various titles, you may have noticed the majority of the color films are unfortunately faded. But despite this aesthetic flaw, the content holds strong and is definitely worth exploring. We invite you to browse and view all 13 titles here.

And warm shout outs to our intern, Sally Conkright, for her help with processing the collection. And to Monica Sullivan (the mother of John in “Our Son John”) for reaching out with appreciation and support…it was felt! So happy to hear that John is doing well in 2015.


November 21, 2014

JoAnn Elam Collection Update (part 2)

I thought it was about time to share an update on one of our most complicated and cherished collections – the JoAnn Elam Collection. Over the past few months, we’ve made a lot of progress and discoveries. And just this past week, we received a valuable package from JoAnn’s widower and former USPS colleague, Joe Hendrix. In the package was an unassuming blue-marbled Mead notebook, and inside this notebook were more detailed thoughts and notes by JoAnn about her unfinished film, EVERYDAY PEOPLE.


Shot & edited between the years 1979-1990, this work-in-progress  (which you can stream herehere) chronicles the work life of Chicago postal workers. It’s primarily based on Elam’s own experiences as a letter carrier for the US Postal Service as well as the political struggles JoAnn and her colleagues faced with the administration and the union.

This Mead notebook isn’t the first behind-the-scenes look into the project we’ve come across. Other notebooks, papers and approximately 250 film, video and audio elements associated with the film already reside here at CFA. Combined with this new acquisition, these materials provide an unparalleled level of access to her creative process, political and artistic ideas, and the practical, economic, and ethical issues that impacted her work as an independent artist and filmmaker (to learn more about JoAnn and to see more samples of her writings, we recommend checking our Jessica Bardsley’s amazing CFA Media Mixer film here).

So what’s so special about this particular notebook? In it, JoAnn more directly discusses the whys and hows of the project, or rather, offers detailed artist statements & musings and even notes on filming techniques and video equipment.

The first page of the notebook (pictured below. click for a larger view!) is my favorite. I know I’m kind of “in the zone” here, but it’s the type of reading that makes me wish I could time travel to meet and chat with JoAnn. It’s so personal. Raw but with a playful tone.


Also in the notebook are notes on how to use various film and video editing equipment, including this great rendering (click for a larger view) by JoAnn:


There’s so much more to explore with JoAnn’s papers and ephemera…but to not bore you with my own musings & romantic sentiments, I’ll move on to JoAnn’s collection as a whole. In the past few months, we decided to organize the collection finding aid into series. We did this to help researchers and viewers gain an efficient grasp of her collection. The series include:

SERIES I: Finished Films, Home Movies and Sketches by JoAnn Elam
SERIES II: EVERYDAY PEOPLE Work Prints, Elements and Outtakes by JoAnn Elam
SERIES III: Medical Films by James O. Elam, M.D.
SERIES IV: Collected Films, Videos and Audio

The prints and elements in these series have all been inspected and re-housed, but not all have been digitized and published to the finding aid (so please stay tuned as we add more to these series in the upcoming months!). In general, we hope this organization helps people access (both virtually & intellectually) JoAnn’s collection more easily.

I’d also like to point out that we originally were going to separate JoAnn’s personal films (Series I) into sub-series (home movies, finished films, etc), but this just felt weird to us. Who are we to judge or determine what’s a home movie or sketch and what’s a finished film?…especially since JoAnn left us with such insight (& even a “manifestette“) regarding her filmmaking process. This kind of ambiguity is what makes JoAnn’s collection complicated, but also what makes her collection so unique and special. In the end, we kept her films together and invite you to dig through her varied filmography here. And also don’t forget to check out her father’s fascinating medical films here. As as I hinted at above, we will be adding more films and media to these series in the upcoming months. And who knows…perhaps another update post is in store.

Endless thanks again to Susan Elam, Chuck Kleinhaus, Joe Hendrix, Michelle Puetz, Kenneth Belcher and Sandy Ihm for their continued help and support with JoAnn’s Collection. Plus special shout outs to Lauren Alberque and Travis Werlen for their help in processing the collection.


Pic of JoAnn




September 12, 2014

Announcing our new YouTube Channel: “Wrestling From Chicago”

“This is Russ Davis, ringside, International Amphitheatre Chicago…”

“This is Russ Davis, ringside, International Amphitheatre Chicago…”

We are proud to announce the launch of our new YouTube page, Chicago Film Archives presents “Wrestling from Chicago.” The channel consists of digitized wrestling films from our Russ & Sylvia Davis Collection, and with one hundred videos already uploaded, visitors will have the opportunity to binge watch golden age wrestling predominantly shot in the early 1950s. To read more about the history and contents of the Russ & Sylvia Davis Collection, please visit its page here.

The wrestling matches found in this collection were filmed in Chicago’s International Amphitheatre and feature ringside narration by Russ Davis. The films were produced by Imperial World Films aka Imperial Wrestling Films (IWF), a production company started by Davis and his wife Sylvia in 1949. Russ Davis had formerly worked for Chicago’s WBKB as one of television’s earliest wrestling announcers. IWF filmed and edited the wrestling events in Chicago and subsequently distributed the finished films to television stations throughout the United States.

Bruiser and Thesz

One challenge in organizing and publishing this collection has been that many of the reels are labeled with identical titles. This means that when two reels have the same title, they could be duplicate copies of the same wrestling match, different production elements from one match (negative, soundtrack, workprint), one long match that continues onto a second reel, or a different match that features the same wrestlers. Another publishing challenge was that many of the reels included multiple bouts or match-ups on a single reel. For ease of viewing on our new channel, we edited down these compiled reels into distinct streaming links.

We encourage everyone to explore the channel and delve into the colorful world of faces and heels: see the Teuton Terror Hans Schmidt take on Killer Kowalski in a grudge match! See Ivan Rasputin, Chest Bernard and Fritz von Schacht team up to take on Don Beitelman, Farmer Don Marlin and Pat O’Connor in a 3-on-3 Australian tag team match! See June Byers apply her ‘Byers Bridge’ finishing move on Penny Banner! All that and much more on the new page, Chicago Film Archives presents “Wrestling from Chicago.”

Staff favorites:

Travis’ Top Five Wrestlers:
Dick the Bruiser
Fuzzy Cupid (not afraid to fight dirty)
Haystacks Calhoun
Yulie Brynner
Farmer Don Marlin (don’t make him mad… you wouldn’t like him when he’s hoppin’ mad)

Anne’s Top Five Wrestlers:
Yulie Brynner (“the world’s ugliest woman”)
Yukon Eric (he wrestles in bootcut jeans…hello!)
Lisowski Brothers (for that glistening pre-bout attire)
Shirley Strimple (blinding platinum blonde)
Gorgeous George (and his butler!)

Nancy’s Favorites:
June Byers
Penny Banner
Yulie Brynner
and the droll (devil-may-care) announcer, Russ Davis




Russ Davis posing ringside

Announcer Russ Davis posing ringside


Verne Gagne taking it to Great Togo

Verne Gagne taking it to Great Togo


"To a Valued Friend from Verne Gagne" (Click for larger image)

“To a Valued Friend from Verne Gagne”



“IWF President Sylvia Davis handles last minute details for evening’s ‘shoot’ of Amphitheatre show”


"Director Frank Diaz edits completed works prints of a wrestling shoot: three reels house film from three separate cameras along with a magnetic sound track. To effect perfect sound-motion sequence, all four films must be kept in sync during editing.

Director Frank Diaz edits completed works prints of a wrestling shoot: three reels of house film from three separate cameras along with a magnetic sound track. To effect perfect sound-motion sequence, all four films must be kept in sync during editing.


Russ Davis

Russ Davis



August 4, 2014

45 years ago….the Chicago Apollo 11 Parade

As Collections Manager at CFA, I love finding connections among our collections, or better yet, finding documentation of the same event spread across various collections. Whenever this happens I admittedly find myself daydreaming of filmmakers crossing paths…possibly chatting with each other, comparing cameras and stocks. 

In the context of our collections, having multiple films shot on the same day of the same subject is a fairly common phenomenon for big and notable public events. Examples of this include the ’33 Chicago World’s Fair, the tumultuous 1968 Democratic Convention, or more generally, rowdy Chicago parades. One of my favorite Chicago “same day” subjects is the Apollo 11 parade, which took place 45 years ago this month (August 13, 1969 to be exact) in downtown Chicago. Thousands gathered to get a glimpse of the first humans on the Moon aka Neil A. Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin, Jr. To celebrate this sapphire anniversary, here are stills and films of the parade found across genres and collections…plus one special guest appearance courtesy of Tom Palazzolo!

Our first example is a social-issue documentary by Dewitt Beall….

LORD THING (DeWitt Beall, 1970, 16mm.; found in CFA’s DeWitt Beall Collection)

This Thursday, CFA is delighted to premiere the 16mm restoration of LORD THING as part of the Gene Siskel Film Center’s 20th annual Black Harvest Film Festival. The film chronicles the genesis and transformation of the Conservative Vice Lords, one of Chicago’s oldest street gangs. In one particular scene, an “LSD” (Lords, Stones & Disciples) coalition marches on city hall during the Apollo 11 parade festivities. Along with LSD protests at various Chicago construction sites, the march took place to encourage the hiring of black youth for city sponsored construction projects. Unlike the other examples highlighted below, LORD THING doesn’t attempt at capturing the astronauts or parade as a whole, but rather keeps it lens tight on the LSD and their colorful berets.

Now from social-issue documentary to unedited B-Roll….

APOLLO 11 PARADE (Rhodes Patterson, 1969, 16mm.; found in CFA’s Rhodes Patterson Collection)

Chicagoan Rhodes Patterson wore many professional and artistic hats during his lifetime; he was a designer, cinematographer, photographer and writer. In the mid 1950s, Patterson started working for the Container Corporation of America (CCA), writing much of their advertising material, designing internal publications, and documenting various aspects of the corporation and its activities. The diverse subject matter and style of Patterson’s films reflect the interconnected communities of industrial and graphic design, commercial and industrial film production, fine art, and architecture in Chicago. Whether made “just for fun,” as documentation, or for commercial purposes, his films reflect his humor, interest in art and design, imagination and creativity. One unedited reel in his collection captures the Apollo 11 parade from various vantage points. Here it is streaming in full below:

+ my favorite shot of the film…a girl with her 8mm camera:

and now from B-Roll to home movie…

ASTRONAUTS PARADE 1969 (Carl Godman, 1969, 8mm.; found in CFA’s Carl L. Godman Collection)

CFA recently acquired the Carl L. Godman Home Movie Collection- a collection of films documenting the Godman family of Chicago and Evanston from the early 1960′s to mid 1970′s. It contains a whopping 95 reels of 8mm film, the majority of which were shot when 8mm Kodachrome was at its most saturated prime – the early to mid 1960′s.  Included among birthday, holiday and vacation films was a single reel documenting the family’s experience at the parade as well as attempts at capturing the famed three – Buzz, Neil and Michael. Stay tuned as we begin to publish streaming films of this exciting new home movie collection on our site. In the meantime, here are stills from the aforementioned reel appropriately titled “Astronauts Parade”:

and now from home movie to educational film…

THE METOOSHOW: “Where Does My Street Go?” (Gordon Weisenborn, c. 1969, 16mm.; found in CFA’s Jack Behrend Collection)

The MeTooShow was a Chicago produced educational program, focusing on children’s interactions and interpretations of the world around them. It was made by Chicago-born Gordon Weisenborn, a prolific director of educational and sponsored films (and creator of a CFA favorite, MURAL MIDWEST METROPOLIS). CFA is lucky to have a handful of Weisenborn titles in our Jack Behrend Collection, including two episodes of the Meetooshow. Unfortunately, though, both episodes are severely color faded. In the show’s  “Where Does My Street Go?” episode, footage of the city and its people are intercut with children at play within the classroom, providing real-world examples of their imaginative play. One of these city scenes features footage of our topic at hand, including shots of the astronauts and a streamer-lined LaSalle Street (pictured below with the show’s opening title card).

and now from educational film to experimental documentary…

YOUR ASTRONAUTS (Tom Palazzolo, 1970, 16mm.; courtesy of  Tom Palazzolo)

Chicago filmmaker (& legend) Tom Palazzolo generously offered us permission to stream his 1970 film YOUR ASTRONAUTS, which captures his distinct and witty perspective of the parade. During a recent phone conversation with Tom, he described the parade as “just one of those electric days.” He found it most intriguing that the majority of the crowd schlepped in from the burbs. To emphasize the strangeness of this suburban takeover, Tom added a soundtrack of cafeteria noise over footage of parade attendees (interpret as you will). Here it is in full courtesy of Tom:

+ one of my favorite shots from the film:


For the time being, that’s it for Apollo 11 Parade footage at CFA. We’ll continue to add to this post as we come across any additional footage. And this may be stating the obvious, but loads and loads of photographs and films (especially home movies) of the parade exist outside of our vault. I recommend checking out the Chicago Tribunes collection of photos here (the bunnies!).  


July 14, 2014

Nancy in the Tribune!

(E. Jason Wambsgans, Chicago Tribune)

This past weekend CFA’s Executive Director, Nancy Watrous, was spotlighted in the Chicago Tribune. Take a look here or read below….


Nancy Watrous, film archivist


Executive director of Chicago Film Archives preserves pictures of the city in reel time

July 13, 2014|By William Hageman, Tribune Newspapers

Being executive director of Chicago FilmArchives has its perks. Why, you could sit all day and watch the movies of Margaret Conneely (an amateur Chicago filmmaker who worked in the latter half of the 20th century).

Not that Nancy Watrous has the time. Her calendars are full running the CFA, a nonprofit in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood that collects, preserves and makes available to the public films reflecting Chicago and Midwest history and culture that otherwise would be lost. It hosts events and has films viewable on its website,

Watrous, born in Riverside and raised in Glen Ellyn, was the moving force in establishing the CFA, which was incorporated in 2003. It was a natural progression for someone who quit school (Miami University in Ohio) to travel and later went to work in the film industry. When the Chicago Public Library was looking for a home for its collection of 5,000 films, Watrous was the right person at the right time.

Part of the library’s collection were the films of Conneely.

“She used to do these fiction story films, using family and friends,” Watrous said. “They all had this dark streak running through them. The first one we saw, we thought it was a mistake. But then we watched more. Now her films have been shown at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., in London. Her work is traveling.”

Watrous, who lives in Chicago, is married and the mother of a 19-year-old son. What follows is an edited transcript.

Q: Were you always a film buff?

A: One of the places I took off to when I was in my early 20s was New Orleans. I got introduced to the film business there. I met a producer who had come out of New York, producing trailers. We talked, and he said he’d hire me once he got started. And he did. I was a production coordinator, I took script notes, arranged for locations. Later I got hired as an assistant in a prop department for films. My first film was “J.D.’s Revenge” (1976). When I moved back to Chicago (where she got a degree in Latin American studies and international relations from the University of Illinois at Chicago), I stayed in the business. This was late ’79.

Q: Did you just advance through the ranks?

A: I had a background in film production. I’ve been a (Directors Guild of America) assistant director (for) commercial and industrial films and feature films in Chicago. I worked on “Nothing in Common” (1986) with Jackie Gleason and Tom Hanks. That’s how I made my living during the late ’70s and early ’80s.

Q: How was the CFA born?

A: I heard about the Chicago Public Library’s collection, and that they were getting rid of it (the library was moving to a new location). There was an experimental filmmaker who made a little noise because he heard the films were going to be thrown out. I went to the library and made a proposal that before they got rid of the films they do an assessment. They had about 5,000 films. I made the case for keeping the collection together, with the idea that I could help decide where the collection would be placed. … It became clear nobody wanted all the films. … Eventually they offered the collection to us if I’d start a nonprofit. I had help from people in film preservation, and people from the University of Chicago graduate program. We were offered space in a building on LaSalle Street, free. We used that for awhile — we actually broke their elevator; films are heavy. We decided we had to take this seriously. So we found the space we’re in now.

Q: And the library’s films were just a start.

A: Industrial films, home movies, experimental films. We now have 93 film collections, 20,000 films. A lot of the collections are amateurs, home movies, industrial films, all genres. Documentaries.

Q: People don’t think of Chicago as a film center.

A: Historically, the work that comes out of Chicago has been ignored. Chicago has always had a second position with regard to the coasts, definitely with the film industry.

Q: How? Why?

A: In Los Angeles, New York, even Austin now, it’s a major industry. Ever since I was young, people asked, “How can we become like Los Angeles, become like New York?” I’ve come to realize Chicago has always been huge for incubation. It doesn’t have the industry constraints or business constraints you have to deal with in L.A. or New York. (People in Chicago) do wonderful work, often more brilliant than things people do in those other places. Artists and musicians don’t have those standards they have to live up to. They can work outside the box and do work that’s unexpected, not derivative.

Q: What draws people to these films?

A: I think there’s a human continuity component that focuses on films from before our time, and people want current and past films to be there for the future. It’s part of the human continuum, whether it’s researchers who want to learn about architecture that no longer exists or people who want to learn about social movements or people who come to Home Movie Day (a CFA event where people can share their home movies; this year it’s Oct. 18 at the Chicago History Museum).

Q: The films you get, what condition are they in?

A: Some of them, it depends on how often they were used. And it depends on the stock. In the ’60s and ’70s the stock faded easily. That’s what got Martin Scorsese into preservation; he saw that films were deteriorating.

Q: Talk about some of the collections.

A: We’ve got a pro wrestling film collection from the ’50s from California. It’s one of our favorites. We got it from Russ and Sylvia Davis (who lived and worked in Chicago for many years); they produced these wrestling matches. He was the commentator. Very dry sense of humor. They’re really entertaining to watch. The cans were rusted out, but the films were in great shape. Then there’s Frank Koza’s collection. He was a newsreel photographer who passed last year. We haven’t been able to process (the collection) but Frank had over 1,000 reels. It’s one we really want to get to, but we have another large collection we have to do. Travelogues. Right now I’m looking for funding for the travelogues.

Q: What do you do with films when you get them?

A: We stabilize them. We hand inspect them and enter any data, put on a new leader, fix splices. It’s pretty time-consuming.

Q: Do you learn the history of some of these collections?

A: With a lot of the filmmakers, we try to get there and film them. Margaret Conneely was one of our first collections. We got her on film. She was in her late 80s when I first met her. (She died in 2007.) I think she’s a clever filmmaker, very funny and pretty bold.

Q: Any personal favorites?

A: I love the Margaret Conneely collection in general. Another film we’ve got that I also like is “The New World of Stainless Steel.” On the can the title was “Iran,” and on the leader was “Iran.” We put it on a projector, and it was this industrial film by Republic Steel. Hilarious. It was made in 1959 or ’61. Everyone is talking about all the uses of stainless steel. It’s very surreal. I haven’t found it anywhere else. It was in phenomenal condition.

Q: Do you have a favorite discovery?

A: There are really so many great finds, I can’t say I have a favorite. The Ruth Page collection goes back to the 1920s. There are hundreds of films of her performing that no one has ever seen. And they were sitting in a closet, these explosive, decaying nitrate films. Because she was so well known we were able to get funding from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Donnelley Foundation to get the film stabilized.

Q: Do you get random calls from people who have old film?

A: Yes, we do. There’s a lot of people who can’t bear to throw away any of their film reels.

Q: What can we get out of these old films?

A: We’re building this historical picture, a 20th-century picture, of Chicago through these films. But not famous events; life behind the scenes. We’re building this century of Chicago through these orphan films.

Q: Do you dream of finding a treasure trove of old films?

A: Yes, every film archivist does. The mother lode. You might find footage, even if it’s damaged, of 1909 Chicago. But most (film) from before 1920 is lost, 90 percent is the number they use. That mother lode isn’t as important as the orphan films.

Q: To do what you do, a person has to be very orderly and precise. Did that come naturally to you? Can a person improve that skill in themselves?

A: I think all archivists have an “organizing streak” to them. We all like order. But it’s not necessarily because that’s how our minds work. In my case my brain seems to take in different influences and messages all at once and on top of each other. … It’s sometimes pure chaos up there and it’s very useful to have organizing tools to deal with my very unorganized mind. I particularly like color-coding. I recommend color-coding for everyone.

Q: What do you do in your spare time?

A: I don’t have a lot. I’m sort of angry because I like to travel. That’s one thing I worry about; everybody does. Everybody today is too busy with their jobs. I feel that sometimes you have to walk away from your job a little so you can come back (recharged).

Q: Where would be the first place you’d travel to if expense were not an issue?

A: Brazil. My husband grew up there, and he, our son and I went there a few years ago. We spent a lot of time with a large Brazilian family he became close with while growing up.

Q: Are you a music person?

A: I love jazz. That’s worked out here because there are silent films, and we’ve been partnering and commissioning jazz musicians to score some of them.

Q: Who are some of the artists you enjoy? Maybe someone who needs more fame?

A: I’m lucky that I know (music writer) Peter Margasak because he turns me on to current names that bring me to that same zone where I was years ago. So I’ve come to know Mike Reed’s work a little, David Boykin and Jeff Parker. Not sure if they deserve or need more fame but maybe more money.

Q: Who has influenced your life? A great filmmaker?

A: There’s many people, but probably my first was when I studied dance with Frances Allis. She was probably in her 70s. She was a modern dancer and toured the world. She was such an artist. She taught us how to move. She was one of the first who knocked my socks off. I never became a great dancer; I was an OK dancer, though. But it went beyond dance. She taught us how to take in and appreciate the different aspects of art. She was the real deal.

Q: Do you have an all-time favorite film, not one at the archives?

A: John Cassavetes’ “A Woman Under the Influence.”

Q: At the movies, popcorn or Raisinets?

A: Twizzlers. I don’t like raisins. And the quality of movie theater popcorn got bad somewhere along the line.

Drawing inspiration

“I’m inspired by what I don’t know yet,” Nancy Watrous said. “As I get older, and my experiences accumulate and the people I meet and engage with expands, I realize how much more there is to know and understand. What I don’t know feels a lot more vast and more exciting to me than when I was younger.”

July 3, 2014

Ruth Page Collection Update + a Surprise Find


We’re almost finished uploading all of the Ruth Page films to the Ruth Page Collection Finding Aid (we have about 25 films more to go). After that we will be uploading the collection’s videos, whose formats range from 2″ and 1″ open reel formats to the more familiar cassette varieties of Betacam and Betacam SP.  Thanks to a grant from the NEA and Donnelley Foundation, we were able to ship the tapes out to Bay Area Video Coalition to have digital preservation files made of each video. Be on the lookout for these uploaded videos in the upcoming months! The content of the videos range from oral history type interviews with Ruth Page collaborators to taped rehearsals and performances.

Pamela Krayenbuhl

I’d also like to remind you all that none of these Ruth Page Collection films or videos are fully cataloged quite yet (more on our decision to publish these materials early here). But we have good news! Thanks to another grant from the NEA, we’re currently in the beginning stages of cataloging. As we’ve mentioned before, describing a dance collection can be tricky and requires a deep understanding of dance and dance history.  We are delighted to welcome Pamela Krayenbuhl on board to complete this project. Pam is a PhD student in Screen Cultures and a Mellon Foundation Fellow in Interdisciplinary Studies at Northwestern University, and holds an MA in Screen Cultures and a Graduate Certificate in Critical Theory from Northwestern as well as a dual BA with highest honors in Rhetoric and Interdisciplinary Studies from U.C. Berkeley. Her research focuses on screendance, primarily dance film, while her other academic interests include intermediality, adaptation, authorship, and American popular culture. Pam is also a ballet dancer, choreographer, photographer, and poet. Pam’s dance background and academic interests will certainly prove invaluable throughout the year long process to catalog CFA’s Ruth Page Collection dance films and videos.  


While uploading the remaining films we came across what we think to be a pretty rare find. It’s a 16mm camera original reversal print featuring another pioneering Ruth of dance – Ruth St. Denis (1879 – 1968). In the reel (embedded below) Ruth performs her famous East Indian Nautch dance….enjoy!



June 24, 2014

Introducing CFA CRASHERS

**CORRECTION** – please note the new start time of 6:00PM 

Exciting news! We have a new film series in the works. It’s called CFA CRASHERS and it starts this August (over happy hour) at the Hideout.

We’ve invited some of our favorite locals to guest curate a program of CFA films all their own (no rules or strings attached). The general motivation behind the series is to have a lot of different communities and voices engaging with our materials, as we’re increasingly interested in collaborating with those who are eager to mix it up with the CFA films in ways not thought of before. It’s also a nod to those around town who make us proud to call Chicago home -or selfishly, a good excuse for us to collaborate with some people we admire ; )

So…mark those calendars (!) and join us at the Hideout the second Tuesday of every month. Expect a mix of films and topics, ranging from women in the workplace to local architecture and the existence of UFOs, all of which will be presented in 16mm thanks to our tabletop Eiki. Each program will begin roughly at 6:30PM 6:00PM (feel free to stop by early!) and end at 8PM before the Hideout’s live music programming commences. And we realize most of you might be craving a snack or dinner around that time (we sure do). We’ve got food trucks and general snacking options in the works…stay tuned !

Now let us introduce you to our guest programmers aka Crashers: 

August 12, 2014: JESSICA HOPPER 

Jessica Hopper kicks off the series with two films about women in the workplace.  Jessica is a Chicago-based music journalist and the author of The Girls Guide to Rocking. She is the music editor at Rookie, an editor at The Pitchfork Review and an advice columnist for the Village Voice. An anthology of her criticism is due out next spring.

WOMEN IN BUSINESS (1980, LSB Productions, 16mm., Color, Sound, 24 min., found in CFA’s Chicago Public Library Collection)
Six different women who have successfully started their own business are profiled in this upbeat motivational film. Owners of a moving company, a security guard firm, a cooking school, a commodities brokerage & other businesses demonstrate how entrepreneurial spirit & hard work have made dreams into satisfying realities.

THE WILLMAR 8 (1980, Lee Grant, 16mm., Color, Sound, 50 min., found in CFA’s Chicago Public Library Collection)
Activist, actor and director Lee Grant shares the story of eight unassuming, apolitical women in America’s heartland–Willmar, Minnesota–who were driven by sex discrimination at work to take the most unexpected step of their lives and found themselves in the forefront of the struggle for women’s rights. Risking jobs, friends, family and the opposition of church and community, they began the longest bank strike in American history in a dramatic attempt to assert their own equality and self-worth.

event link:  


September 9, 2014: THE-DRUM 

Chicago production duo The-Drum consists of Jeremiah Chrome and Brandon Boom. Since arriving on the hybrid online electronic music scene in 2010, the two have put their touch on a variety of impressive releases (Le1f , Dre Green and as part of their R&B collective, JODY, to name a few). Just this past month they released their label’s debut compilation, Lo Motion Singles Vol. 1, which features 14 cuts of faded R&B from The-Drum and friends. More on Chrome and Boom here (via Britt Julious & Noisey).

Film program TBA
October 14, 2014: LEE BEY

Architecture Critic, Lee Bey, is one of Chicago’s keenest observers of architecture and urban planning. For four years he published the WBEZ blog, “Beyond the Boat Tour,” and before that he worked at the Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Central Area Committee  and was Deputy Chief of Staff for Planning and Design for Chicago Mayor Richad M. Daley. Today, Bey is civic engagement and special projects manager at the Arts Incubator with The University of Chicago Arts and Public Life Initiative, where he manages strategic initiatives and partnerships with arts organizations, community groups and civic leaders.

Film program TBA
November 11, 2014: CHRISTEN CARTER

Christen Carter founded the Busy Beaver Button Company in 1995 after spending some time in England, where buttons (called “badges” over there) were still very popular. She moved back to the States and started making buttons for bands and record labels. Busy Beaver has gone from a one-woman operation in Christen’s college apartment to a Logan Square storefront with fifteen employees. Over the last 17 years, the Busy Beaver crew has overseen over 60,000 designs and produced millions upon millions of custom buttons for clients like Brooklyn Brewery, NBC Entertainment, The Art Institute of Chicago, Threadless, WordPress as well as thousands of bands, non-profits, small businesses and other great folks. Along with her brother, Joel Carter, Christen also founded The Busy Beaver Button Museum, one of the world’s only museums dedicated solely to pinback buttons.The museum, which is located at the company’s Logan Square headquarters, displays over 9,000 historical buttons and is open to the public M-F from 10-4 or by appointment.

Film program TBA
December 9, 2014: MIMI NGUYEN

Mimi Thi Nguyen is Associate Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies and Asian American Studies at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Her first book, called The Gift of Freedom: War, Debt, and Other Refugee Passages, focuses on the promise of “giving” freedom concurrent and contingent with waging war and its afterlife (Duke University Press, 2012). She continues to understand her scholarship through the frame of transnational feminist cultural studies, and in particular as an untangling of the liberal way of war that pledges “aid,” freedom, rights, movement, and other social goods, with her following project on the promise of beauty. Nguyen was recently named a Conrad Humanities Scholar for 2013-2018, a designation supporting the work of outstanding associate professors in the humanities within the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Illinois.

She is also co-editor with Thuy Linh Nguyen Tu of Alien Encounters: Popular Culture in Asian America (Duke University Press, 2007), and co-editor with Fiona I.B. Ngo and Mariam Lam of a special issue of positions on Southeast Asians in diaspora (Winter 2012). She publishes also on queer subcultures, the politics of fashion, and punk feminisms. In 2012 and 2013, she went on the POC Zine Project/Race Riot! Tour to discuss and read from zines by people of color.

Film program TBA
January 13, 2015: GREG EASTERLING

Chicago native Greg Easterling got his start in radio while in twelfth grade at New Trier High School and later honed his skills at the University of Illinois’ WPGU. Now we know Greg as the voice of Chicago’s WDRV (97.1FM) overnight show, which airs Monday through Friday from midnight-5AM.

Film program TBA


May 15, 2014

Earthkeeping, Episode Six: “Help Yourself”

The final episode of Earthkeeping delves into behavioral concepts such as nature vs. nurture, and investigates the ways in which the environment shapes personal behavior. Several psychological questions are raised, such as the degree to which an individual may act independently of his/her environment.

The work of Dr. Roger Park, who spent 25+ years living in and studying a small Kansas town, is used as a case study for understanding how social etiquette is informed by different environments. This relationship is introduced as the “behavior setting”, and described as the “intersection of two environments: the physical and the social”. The “environment” in Oskaloosa is depicted as continuously in flux; it is constantly evolving depending on the actions of Oskaloosa’s citizens.

Once again, the members of Second City provide interludes to the program by staging a parody game show. On “This Was Your Life”, the host (Jim Fisher) runs through some of the important chapters of Jesus Rodriguez’ (John Belushi) life. These events include the destruction of Jesus’ childhood home due to urban renewal developments and making various acquaintances with characters like Harry the Junkie (Harold Ramis). The selected events of Jesus’ life are presented as a snowball effect, leading Jesus to life on the streets with a $90/day dope habit, and eventually doing multiple stints in prison (convicted by “an all-white jury and an all-white judge”).

Thanks for watching and reading, and please check out the other DeWitt Beall works we have streaming here! Additionally, stay tuned for more information regarding the “Lord Thing” restoration premiere at the Siskel Film Center this fall.

May 1, 2014

Helen Balfour Morrison (1901-1984)

Self Portrait, Helen Balfour Morrison

Our FIRST STEPS program tonight spotlights dancers/choreographers Ruth Page and Sybil Shearer, but let’s not forget about another talented woman behind these films – Helen Balfour Morrison. Helen collaborated with Sybil Shearer to produce a large collection of extraordinary dance photographs and films. Helen was behind the camera, while Sybil was in front of it.

The Morrison-Shearer Film Collection, which is owned by the Morrison-Shearer Foundation and housed and cared for by CFA, contains over 430 16mm films, 195 8mm films and 200 1/4″ audio reels. Almost all of the moving-image materials were shot by Helen.

Helen Balfour Morrison (1901-1984) was born in Evanston, Illinois, the daughter of Fannie Lindley and Alexander Balfour, an engineer and a proud, aristocratic Scotsman. When Helen was 17, her mother died, and Helen took a job in a photography studio to help support the family. At this studio she learned to use the portrait camera and helped expand the studio’s business with creative ideas of her own.

In the 1930s, Helen embarked upon a personal photography project – the Great Americans series. She photographed some 200 notable personalities including Robert Frost, Helen Hayes, Nelson Algren, Frank Lloyd Wright, Alice B. Toklas and Gertrude Stein, Mies van der Rohe, Amelia Earhart, Jane Addams, and Saul Bellow. Most of these portrait sessions took place in Chicago or in New York and were exhibited widely in museums throughout the country.

In 1942, Morrison met Sybil Shearer, and although her portrait work and exhibitions of the Great Americans continued, her attention gradually shifted to Sybil as her primary subject. She finally abandoned the Great Americans series in 1945. Her collaboration with Sybil Shearer produced a large collection of extraordinary dance photographs and films, as well as an intense and sensitive documentation of the life of this artist. Today her extensive portfolio remains largely unpublished and unknown, something the Morrison-Shearer Foundation and now, CFA, are working to rectify.

In a real sense, Helen sacrificed her own career to promote that of Sybil. Besides designing the lighting, Helen took over the complete management of Sybil’s publicity, performances, travel arrangements, and hospitality. She experimented with the role of impresario, presenting dancer Ruth St. Denis in 1946 and both dancer Eleanor King and sculptor Richard Lippold in 1948. In 1949 she conceived a short-lived series of programs which she called “Rondo,” presenting other artists, including Uta Hagan, Merce Cunningham, pianist William Masselos, and Frank Lloyd Wright. In later years she made films to record Sybil’s dances, and made one artistic film of her own.

See Helen’s moving-image work tonight at FIRST STEPS  – Thursday, May 1st (7PM) at Columbia College’s Film Row Cinema (1104 S. Wabash, 8th Floor). More on the program here

April 30, 2014

Premiere of Jeff Parker Film Scores

For tomorrow’s FIRST STEPS program at Columbia College we enlisted the talented Jeff Parker (pictured above) to score all of the silent Ruth Page films and home movies, including:

DANSE MACABRE (1922), BOLERO (1930), VARIATIONS ON EUCLID (circa 1938),  FRANKIE & JOHNNY (1938), and Ruth Page Home Movies shot in Bali, Indonesia (circa 1928)

We have been blown away at the quality of Jeff’s work and are really really excited to share his scores with the public for the first time. Each score melts naturally into the film, making the previously silent images feel more alive and accessible rather than interrupted or interfered with.

Jeff Parker is a guitarist, composer, educator, and sculptor of sonic textures. Since 1990, he has focused on being adaptable in musical environments that are constantly changing. His sonic palette may employ techniques from sample-based technologies, analog and digital synthesis, and conventional and extended techniques from his 35 years of playing the guitar.

Recognized as one of contemporary music’s most versatile and innovative electric guitarists, his music is characterized by ideas of angularity and logic, as well as an instantly recognizable tone on the instrument. He works in a variety of mediums, from Jazz to contemporary music, using ideas informed by innovations and trends in both popular and experimental music. He creates works that explore and exploit the contrary relationships between tradition and technology, improvisation and composition, and the familiar and the abstract.

He is a founding member of the critically acclaimed and innovative groups Isotope 217˚ and Chicago Underground, and a longtime member of the band Tortoise. He has released several collaborative albums under his own name. Currently he has been focusing on solitary work and solo performance – to cultivate and establish an idiosyncratic relationship between electronic and acoustic compositional properties in music and sound. (bio courtesy of Jeff Parker)

You can see and hear it all at FIRST STEPS – Thursday, May 1st (7PM) at Columbia College’s Film Row Cinema (1104 S. Wabash, 8th Floor). More on the program here

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.

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