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April 7, 2017

CFA Media Mixer 2017: Meet this Year’s Artists

We’re so thrilled to announce the amazing lineup of artists participating in this year’s CFA Media Mixer event. Now in its sixth year (!!!), the Media Mixer has grown to be one of our most anticipated and exciting public programs. The project began in 2012 as a way to open up our vault of archival footage to Chicago-based contemporary artists and support the creation of a new video work by pairing these visual artists with local sound artists and musicians.

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

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

The evening will be hosted by Alison Cuddy, and former Media Mixer artist Latham Zearfoss will be our guest DJ!

At the heart of the project is a desire to give our archival collections new life through the creative interpretation of a new generation of makers. Last month our three visual artists sent in prompts and ideas for their projects, and we pooled our knowledge of CFA’s collections to load them up with source footage (including rarely seen gems and a few staff favorites!). They are just starting to work on editing their pieces and are already in conversation with the three talented and diverse audio artists they have been paired with.

On June 8 you’re all invited to the Hideout to celebrate the world premiere of their collaborations and benefit your favorite Midwest film archive! Tickets can be purchased here. It’s CFA’s Media Mixer 2017!

More on this year’s artists:



Eric Fleischauer is a Chicago-based artist, curator, and educator.  Working across various mediums Fleischauer utilizes conceptually–driven production strategies in order to examine the ramifications of technology’s expansive influence on both the individual and cultural sphere.   His work has been exhibited internationally at venues including The Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Interstate Projects, Rooftop Films, Microscope Gallery, Hallwalls, Corcoran Gallery of Art, the Kunstmuseum Bonn – with solo exhibitions at Document, threewalls, and the Gene Siskel Film Center.  Fleischauer’s projects have received critical acclaim in publications such as in, The Chicago Reader, The Washington Post,, and Afterimage. His work is in the collection of the Museum of Contemporary Photography. Currently he is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Film, Video, and New Media at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.




Matchess is the solo work of musician Whitney Johnson. The project considers the reproduction of sound and meaning through a range of historical material processes, including live tape looping, cassette sampling, and field recording. With the limited palette of a 1960s Ace Tone organ, viola, analog drum machine, stereo reel-to-reel, and voice, she crafts qa sound collage of ephemeral songs on a surface of droning ambient noise. Matchess invokes music of the past, including musique concrète, komische, and early electronic experiments, while also referencing texts of the past, including symbolist poetry, science fiction metanarrative, and her own lyrical technique of the sigil mantra. In addition to her solo work, Matchess collaborates widely in Chicago with such artists as Circuit des Yeux, Gel Set, TALsounds, and many others.




Samantha Hill is a transdisciplinary artist from Chicago with an emphasis on photographic archives. She utilizes archives as source material for multi-media installation projects to connect an individual’s experience to historic developments within regional culture. Hill participated in exhibitions at the Anchorage Museum, Mary & Leigh Block Museum, Hyde Park Art Center and McColl Center for Art & Innovation. She is a recipient of International Sculpture Center Award, Rasmuson Foundation Artist Residency Program and Philadelphia Sculptors Award. Hill’s work is also featured in the book Problematizing Public Pedagogy, published by Routledge Press. Her latest endeavor, the Kinship Project, is an archive of over 150 years of African American family photographs, artifacts and ephemera ranging from 1839 to 2012.




Since 2005, Chicago-based experimentalists Haptic (Steven Hess, Joseph Clayton Mills, and Adam Sonderberg) have explored the intersection between composition and improvisation in concerts, installations, and a string of critically acclaimed recordings. They often work with filmmakers, dancers, and other artists in projects that cross traditional boundaries between music, sound, literature, visual art, performance, and everyday life.




Marianna Milhorat is a Chicago-based filmmaker, originating from Vermont, USA. She received her MFA from the University of Illinois-Chicago in 2012 and BFA from the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinéma at Concordia University in 2007. Working in film and video, she utilizes landscape and duration to disrupt and transform notions of space and perspective. Milhorat’s work has screened internationally at festivals and galleries, including the International Film Festival Rotterdam, the Ann Arbor Film Festival, and the Museum of Contemporary Art- Chicago. Her work has received awards at festivals including the Images Festival, EXIS (Ex-Now), and the Chicago Underground Film Festival.




Brian Kirkbride is a musician, sound artist, and software developer whose cross-disciplinary practice integrates field recordings, synthesizers and found sound through conceptually-driven processing. Inspired as much by the marvels of the natural world as the underbelly of the human one, his work has generated the sounds of birdsong from photographs of ferns and drowned excerpts of post-World War II travelogues under waves of overdriven 80s pop melodies. He was delighted to learn that “cat ghost revenge story” represents an entire genre of Japanese film. With his partner, artist Jenny Kendler, Kirkbride has collaborated on several large-scale sound art and data-driven projects, which have been exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, EXPO Chicago, the Lincoln Park Conservatory for Experimental Sound Studio and at Millennium Park for the Arts Club of Chicago and Art Institute of Chicago. Kirkbride founded the artist website service OtherPeoplesPixels and co-founded the OPPfund, which supports the arts, social justice and environmental preservation. He occupies a leadership role in ClimateMirror, an effort to protect at-risk climate data from an anti-science administration, and is currently working on a collaborative art + tech project centered around this work.


We hope to see you on Thursday, June 8th at the Hideout! Please check out our event page for more information about the event, raffle prizes, and to purchase tickets!


March 22, 2017

Bobby Lee (1942-2017)


Our friend Bobby Lee passed away yesterday. Bob was a community organizer and a member of the Chicago Black Panthers. His home has been the 5th Ward in Houston over the past few decades, and he is indeed known as “Da Mayor” of the 5th Ward.

Bobby Lee was one of those rare people who had the ability to form unlikely friendships and connect to the humanity of whoever he was engaged with, whether it was a transplanted, white Appalachian mom or a Chicago police commander, or myself…a girl who grew up in the suburbs, trying to find the audience for her upstart film archive.

I can’t remember if I met or only “knew of” Bob in the early ’80s through photographer Michael O’Sullivan. But I came to know Bob so much better in 2006 when I asked him to be a panelist at an early program CFA created called To Bear Witness: The Question of Violence. He shared the stage with Robert Lucas, who led civil rights protesters in the 1966 Cicero March, and Paul Sequeira, a gifted Chicago photojournalist whose work was prolific here in Chicago during the ’60s and ’70s. The discussion that night veered most often to that careful balance between anger and purpose and loss.

During this time, Bob would call me a lot, and we had long conversations about his past and the work he did in the 5th Ward. This work often constituted mowing older neighbors’ lawns, collecting clothes and toys for the kids in the ward, and building community centers. I was a worried mom then, worried about the dangers that my pre-teen kid might face, and we talked about that too. We talked about Mike Gray, Jim Dennett, and Bill Cottle of the Film Group. We discussed Howard Alk who directed The Murder of Fred Hampton and American Revolution II and his difficult and crazy shortened life. Bob’s losses were considerable over his lifetime. He lost brothers in the Panthers, his younger blood brother El Franco Lee and his nephew, James Byrd who was dragged behind a pickup truck until he died by white supremacists in Jasper, Texas.

In 2008 I went down to Houston to tape Bob for a CFA retrospective on Howard Alk. Bob met me at the airport, parking his big black sedan (if I remember that correctly) right outside the baggage claim. He stepped out of the car with his arms open wide, one of them grasping a cane that seemed to extend into eternity. That began a three day visit I will never forget. I stayed with Bob and his wife Faiza at their house while I was there. We ate ribs, visited his work, and shot that interview about Alk. Each morning that I was there, Bob would get up at 4am to prepare coffee and breakfast for Faiza and me. That is when he also quietly worked on his newsletters (or artistic pronouncements of activities, movements and beliefs). Faiza would go to work, and we went to work preparing to tape his interview.

But the most startling and memorable time I had during that visit was having dinner with Faiza and Bob in their bedroom watching not-too-significant television. I was in my pajamas on the floor, Bob was in a chair, clearly set up for his support and comfort, and Faiza in bed, all of us eating some great food she had prepared and laughing at really stupid stuff. I remember for one sliver of a moment thinking this is both so surreal and so comfortable.

Bob had MS the entire time I knew him. He used a cane and then more often used a wheelchair as time moved on. He was the most positive and forceful person I have ever met.


January 31, 2017

Collaborating with the Korean Film Archive

KOFA’s Sangam facility in Seoul, South Korea

In September of last year CFA was approached by Eric Choi from the Korean Film Archive (KOFA) with a proposition: Eric works in the acquisitions department of KOFA and was inquiring about collaborating with CFA to make any Korea-related material held by CFA accessible to researchers in South Korea through KOFA. We said yes.

KOFA, located in Seoul, South Korea, was first established in 1974 as the Korean Film Depository, a name it used until a restructuring in 1991 changed it to KOFA in 1991. The national film archive for South Korea, KOFA currently holds over 6,000 Korean films, along with thousands of items of film-related ephemera, and operates the archive, a museum, library, and cinematheque. For anyone not in South Korea, KOFA also runs the Korean Movie Database and a YouTube channel featuring full-length films for free (highly recommended).

Pamphlets and DVDs from KOFA

Eric’s project specifically was to seek out documentary footage of Korea held in foreign archives and obtain copies that could be brought back to South Korea and made available for viewing on-site at the KOFA library locations. Particularly footage of the country during and prior to the Korean War (1950-1953) is difficult to find within South Korea due to the poor economic state of the country at that time. Most of the documentary film shot was exported for international newsreels and travelogues.

Since CFA’s mission is to collect and focus on Midwestern film, it might seem surprising that we had any material at first that would aid KOFA in this project. However, even before visiting us in Chicago, Eric was able to identify three films in our collections that do exactly that. Coming from the Frank Koza, Margaret Conneely, and Carl Godman Collections, the three films are a mix of newsreel segments and home movie footage from Godman, a Lieutenant in the Navy during the war. Once Eric was here, we were able to show him two more: another newsreel segment from Koza, and more home movie material from the Howard Prouty Collection, shot by a currently unknown soldier.

At the time, our only digital copies of these films were made in SD from our Tobin telecine machines, but KOFA was looking for the highest resolution possible to store in their archive. Therefore, over the next couple of months, we worked to scan each film on our Kinetta scanner and produce 2K masters to send to KOFA. Each file was also watermarked with CFA’s name to document its provenance. In turn, KOFA will direct any researcher viewing these materials in South Korea to CFA for more information.

Scene of Seoul during the war, from the Koza Collection

Featured in these films are primarily scenes of American troops at combat and leisure in various parts of Korea during the war. One produced by Frank Koza is particularly intimate for a newsreel and important to our understanding of Frank and his collection, as it features a shot of Frank himself, labeling his film cans and sending notes about his observations back to the U.S. The film then shows the occupying American troops exploring war-torn Seoul and encountering the residents.

The two home movies (from Godman and Prouty) are even more intimate, as they weren’t shot with an eye for distribution. Instead, the films show rare moments of soldiers at camp within the Korean wilderness, glimpses of U.S.O.-sponsored entertainment, travels aboard Naval ships, and scenes loading and unloading at places like Wonsan, North Korea—all in bright 8mm Kodachrome color.

American soldiers at camp in Korea, from the Prouty Collection.

American soldiers at camp in Korea, from the Prouty Collection.

The final files were delivered back to KOFA this weekend on a hard drive they had previously sent to us. Also included in their package with the hard drive were two copies of the KOFA-published magazine 영화천국 (Cinema Heaven) that include an article Eric wrote about CFA and his visit to our office. We’re glad to have had this chance to collaborate with KOFA and strengthen our ties internationally to give access to these films and get them seen more broadly!

CFA in the pages of 영화천국 (Cinema Heaven)


January 11, 2017

CFA’s New Year Awards and Grants Roundup

The turn of the year has been full of news for CFA! Here’s a round up of the grants and awards we have received recently, which we are extremely grateful for. Lots of reasons to keep checking back in with us to see what we’re up to!

CFA and Partners Awarded “Hidden Collections” CLIR Grant


Chicago Film ArchivesNortheast Historic Film and the Lesbian Home Movie Project are extremely pleased to announce that we have been awarded a “Hidden Collections” grant, a granting program of the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) that is generously funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. This collaborative project will unleash the work of 50 women filmmakers by supporting the digitization of their works. CFA is particularly happy to increase exposure to the work of Millie Goldsholl and JoAnn Elam, two twentieth-century filmmakers who are largely unknown.

Millie Goldsholl (1920-2012) headed up the filmmaking division of the renowned Chicago design firm, Goldsholl Design and Film Associates. She attended classes at Laszlo Moholy-Nagy’s new School of Design when the New Bauhaus movement was just taking hold in Chicago. Her work is playful, political and highly innovative. The Goldsholl’s studio gave space and guidance to new experimental filmmakers such as Larry Janiak, Byron Grush and Robert Stiegler, all who have archived their work at CFA. A large portion of the personal films made by Millie will be digitized and made accessible as a result of this grant.

JoAnn Elam (1949-2009) was a champion of the small gauge film, and an experimental filmmaker as well. She, too, was highly political and at an early age made two feminist films RAPE and LIE BACK AND ENJOY IT. Both still are in distribution. Her collection of films is vast and not easily decipherable. A closer look often reveals a home movie to be subtle commentary. Many of her films depict every day events with shadings of political overtones. So, it’s unclear what is and is not a “finished” film. JoAnn died before finishing her documentary named EVERYDAY PEOPLE. In the coming years, CFA hopes to take a stab at extending her themes into unexpected places.


CFA Acknowledged by the Ruth Page Center for the Arts


Chicago Film Archives, along with the Batsheva Dance Company, will receive the 2017 Ruth Page Award for significant contributions to the world of dance. This unexpected honor came to us just recently for CFA’s “dedication to preserving the legacy of Ruth Page.” With enduring trust from the Ruth Page Foundation and financial support from the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, CFA spent three and a half years stabilizing, digitizing and describing this large collection of films and videos that dates from the early 1920s. Today hundreds of performances, rehearsals, home movies and dance films can be viewed streaming from CFA’s website

This award will be presented Friday, January 27th at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance after the performance of Last Work by the Batsheva Dance Company. Hope to see you there!


CFA Goes International!


CFA is happy to announce we have been awarded a grant from the MacArthur Foundation International Connections Fund to produce an International Media Mixer!!

Chicago Film Archives (Chicago, IL) and Lab 80 film (Bergamo, Italy) will partner in this exciting project by exchanging digitized film footage from our respective repositories. Each organization will then commission two media artists (from our respective countries) to create new works using the partner’s footage (digitized, of course!). Upon completion of these four new silent video works (2 in Italy and 2 in the US), the partnering organizations will once again exchange the works so that two musicians/bands from the partnering country can score the new pieces.

Once completed, these four new media works will be screened in the Chicago area and in northern Italy with live accompaniment by the musicians who created the scores. Our Italian colleague, Karianne Fiorini, will be representing Lab 80 film to identify the Italian artists, curate the project, and coordinate the screenings on her side of the ocean. CFA will be doing the same in Chicago.

The goal of this project is twofold. It will allow archivists and filmmakers to explore the process and outcomes of creating culturally hybrid works of media art with archival footage. It’s a sort-of cross cultural “call and response” exercise, mixing and layering artistic audio/visual expressions that emanate from artists of two different cultures. It will also bring definition and a sense of scope to the international practice of media conservation, combining the practices of art and archiving to produce new artistic works.

This project is based upon an artistic collaboration that Chicago Film Archives has sponsored locally over the last five years. CFA provides footage to three Chicago media artists to create original video works. These videos are then handed over to three local musicians, bands or audio artists who each score one of the new works. These three new fully-realized media works are then premiered at CFA’s annual Media Mixer at the Hideout. This MacArthur proposal will add an international component to the mix.

October 12, 2016

Preserving the Bill Stamets Collection

This past summer, CFA was lucky enough to have Shahed Dowlatshahi as an intern. Amongst other things, he did significant work processing the Bill Stamets Collection. Here is what Shahed had to say about what he found in Stamets’ films.


As an unobtrusive observer capturing life as it happened in the 1970s and 1980s, Bill Stamets shot thousands of feet of Super-8mm film on the streets of Chicago. This professional documentarian and photographer filmed protests, parades, political events, and many more public proceedings. A few years ago, some 40 years after these efforts, he donated a large amount of footage, which consists almost exclusively of Super-8mm film reels (there are a few U-matic tapes), to the Chicago Film Archives. Many of the reels are smaller pieces of film, perhaps outtakes, spliced together into 50ft, 100ft, or 200ft reels.

Harold Washington, Chicago’s first African-American mayor, was a major inspiration to Bill Stamets, and much of the footage in the collection consists of Washington’s many public appearances throughout his term. There are examples of footage of Harold Washington as varied as him casually smoking a cigarette in an indoor space as one of his colleagues is giving a speech to celebrating and accepting his inauguration as mayor in Navy Pier.

Art Jones + W

Harold Washington speaks in “Art Jones + W.”

Over the summer, I had the opportunity to inventory the entire collection, inspect the smaller reels, and digitize several of his materials.

While much of the Super-8 films in this collection have magnetic stripe soundtracks, they remain unheard even on the comparatively few films in the collection that were digitized due to the very specific equipment required to digitize these soundtracks. The silence adds a certain timelessness and lyrical quality to the documented scenes of protest and celebration.

The lack of sound helps to focus the viewer’s attention on the images. For example, during “Pilsen Demo – El Salvador – 18th Street,” the camera zooms out from a “God Bless America” mural to the protestors and their banners alleging that the US Governments supported genocide abroad. This focus on the movement of the camera, imposed by the lack of sound, pulls attention to how Stamets, behind the camera, is choosing to interpret the scene around him.

Pilsen Demo – El Salvador – 18th Street

Stamets juxtaposes the words on the wall with the words on the banner in “Pilsen Demo – El Salvador – 18th Street”

Stamets’ strong point-of-view is clear in other films as well. In “Art Jones + W,” a white-supremacist group is gathered for a demonstration in a park. While they assemble their banners and organize, the camera frames a black police officer, standing still. I presume this officer is on duty protecting the right of the demonstrators to exercise free speech. Once again, the strong framing and camera movements bring the irony of the scene into sharp focus; no voice-over commentary, script, or diegetic sound is needed to remind the viewer of America’s racist legacy. The image itself engages the viewer with questions of free speech, hate-speech, and the separation of a person’s professional duties and their sense of right and wrong.

Art Jones + W

A police officer at work in “Art Jones + W.”

These powerful images of protests, parades, political events, and public proceedings are unique. Almost every piece of film in this collection is a reversal positive; this means that these pieces of film are the same exposed as were developed at the lab and the product is a viewable positive with no negative produced. Thus, no copies are available in any other format, and each image is the only one of its kind. Until twenty years ago, many film archives would not have considered such material of value as it falls outside of the professional scope.

Inspecting the Bill Stamets film collection at the Chicago Film Archives in the summer of 2016

Thankfully, shifts in thinking regarding the value of such footage have occurred, and many archives the world over now collect and preserve such “orphan films.” While the Stamets collection occupies a middle-ground between amateur home-movies and professional film-making, the historical and cultural value of these outtakes is undeniable, and thanks to the CFA’s existence and increased advocacy in preserving such material, it is now in safe hands for future generations.

Images of Chicago’s past are given a second life by the Chicago Film Archives

-Shahed Dowlatshahi, September 2016

September 26, 2016

Maggie And The Somersaulter-Moats and Somersaulter Finding Aid


This past summer, CFA was lucky enough to have Maggie Sivit as an intern. Amongst other things, she crafted the finding aid for the Somersaulter-Moats and Somersaulter Collection for us. Here is what Maggie had to say about her experience creating the finding aid:


Two months ago, I arrived at Chicago Film Archives as a summer intern. One of the projects I worked on during my time at CFA was the development of a finding aid for the Somersaulter-Moats and Somersaulter collection.

What is a finding aid?

A finding aid is a kind of research guide to a particular collection. It is a compendium of records of the works, organizations, and individuals associated with a group of films. It typically includes an abstract and overview, which answer questions such as: What films are included in this collection? When were they made, for what purpose, and by whom? Additionally, a finding aid includes metadata (e.g., geolocation tags, Library of Congress Subject Headings, production dates, etc.), access and restriction information, and media samples.

Why are finding aids important?

Finding aids are useful to researchers, as well as to anyone who wants to learn about the collections in an archive. Without these records, films might be archivally preserved, but no one would know anything about them or how they related to one another. (Furthermore, unless you visited the physical archive, you might have no idea that they existed.) A finding aid communicates a body of work clearly and succinctly; it provides a collection with context and coherence.

How is a finding aid created?

Creating a finding aid is essentially a process of cataloguing. Cataloging is an act of gathering and organizing (or reorganizing) information. At its most basic level, cataloging a film collection involves creating records, populating these records with information, and linking these records to one another in the appropriate ways.

CFA uses a data management system called Collective Access to digitally manage its collections. Each collection is initially arranged in a hierarchical database model, which organizes data into “trees”, or “parent-child” relationships. Each item (a “child” of the “parent” collection) received upon accession is given a corresponding digital record. Under the Somersaulter-Moats and Somersaulter collection, the “child” nodes consist of all 253 items (master prints, internegatives, audio reels, etc.) that arrived with the collection. This mirrors the way the physical items are grouped in the vault.


Hierarchical organization of Somersaulter-Moats and Somersaulter collection, as seen from backend of Collective Access. Much dry, so boring.

This is not particularly useful to researchers (nor members of the public), who do not normally need or want to know about every duplicate print, A- and B-roll, internegative, or spliced segment that arrived in a canister, box, or bag.

Consider that the Somersaulter-Moats and Somersaulter collection totals 253 items. This includes 11 different film reels associated with the film The Silverfish King (“Silverfish King A-roll”, “Silverfish King B-roll”, “Silverfish King Print #1”, etc.). That is a lot to slog through — especially when you multiply this (or a similar number) by 30 works.

To begin cataloging the collection, I knew that I would need to create a record for each of the works. Additionally, I would need to create another type of record — called an “entity” — for several organization and individuals (production company, filmmakers, etc.) that were new to CFA’s database. Then, I would continue fill in the records by writing abstracts, descriptions (for works and the collection) and biographies (for people and organizations). Finally, I would link all of these together by creating relationships within the database.

Creating work records

The first thing I did to begin assembling the finding aid was to create a work record corresponding to each work in the collection. In total, I created 30 work records for the Somersaulter-Moats and Somersaulter collection. (Again, while there are e.g., 11 items associated with the film The Silverfish King, there will be only 1 work record.)


Work record for The Silverfish King, seen from backend of Collective Access.

Unlike item records, which treat films as physical objects (a reel inside a canister stored on a shelf in the CFA vault, subject to certain principles of damage and deterioration, etc.), work records treat the films as viewable works. A work record is broken into the following categories, each of which contains a set of fields:

  • Basic info (e.g., Identifier, Run time, Digital copy available?)
  • Cataloging description and notes (e.g., Production date, Abstract, Description, Language, Genre, Form, Subject)
  • Credits (e.g., Sponsor, Main Credits, Additional Credits, Corporate names)
  • Access and Use (i.e., who can view the work and how they may use it)
  • Relationships (related works, items, entities, collections, and series)
  • Media (stills or streaming files, if the work has been digitized)

Subject headings

One of the most important steps in populating a work record is “tagging” works and collections with subject headings (under “Cataloging Description and Notes”). Subject headings enable people to search for films by subject matter (“Domestic life”, “Industry”, “Lake Michigan”), genre, and form, and is a powerful tool for researchers. CFA uses two subject indices in its work records: a controlled vocabulary tailored to CFA, and the Library of Congress Subject Headings.

Let’s look at an example: The Silverfish King, a short film by Somersaulter-Moats and Somersaulter. Over fanciful, doodle-like drawings of an animate insect embarking on various adventures, a narrator describes the way that his childhood fascination with a silverfish morphed into a phobic obsession.


Scenes from The Silverfish King

Based on keywords from that description, “Bug”, “Insect”, “Silverfish”, “King”, “Childhood”, “Obsession”, and “Phobia” are all plausible tags for The Silverfish King. However, if you are searching for films about “Kings” or “Childhood”, this film is unlikely to be at all relevant. (This is one of the problems with keyword indices, which is what most web browsers — and many databases — use.) Even “Bug” and “Insect” are dubious; the film is about a bug (kind of), but it is not really about bugs. A more appropriate subject heading might be something like: “The logic of thought”, or “Irrational fixation”. Unfortunately, neither of these is available in the CFA vocabulary; furthermore, both are so specific that they are unlikely to apply to other films. The closest I could get was: “Imagination”.

This brings us to the matter of a controlled vocabulary. The fields into which subject headings are entered are not free-form text fields; they are “multiple choice” fields that restrict you to a limited set of terms. While the CFA vocabulary is quite specific, the Library of Congress vocabulary is so extensive as to sometimes be unwieldy. (Some issues that came up while I was applying Library of Congress Subject Headings: After tagging several works with “Fairy tale”, I realized that there was a separate heading for “Folk tale”. What was the difference between a fairy tale and a folk tale? (Had to look it up.) (Then, there was: “Fable”.) Should Briar Rose be tagged “Brother’s Grimm”, if it was far from the version that appeared in that original collection?)

This may seem like hair splitting, but tagging films by subject (and genre, decade, form, etc.) is in many cases what allows people to discover them. The difference between tagging a film as “Fairy tale” and “Folk tale” — or not tagging it at all — could be the difference between that film being used in screenings, exhibitions, research papers, and academic texts in the future — or simply being enjoyed by generations to come — and not.

Creating entity records

The database builds on its relational capabilities in other ways. Beyond works, there are entity records that must be created and linked to the collection. Normally, these entities include the filmmakers and production company(ies).

One reason to create entity records in addition to work records is that doing so allows you to build a more robust network. A filmmaker who donates her collection to CFA might also have acted in or produced films in other collections; because of the way that relationships are created in the database, all of these films can be linked to that individual. This allows you to see relationships across films and collections — across Chicago, the Midwest, and the twentieth century — more plainly. (It also allows you to search the database by individual, and ensures that you have the most complete filmography.)

I started by creating entities for Somersaulter-Moats and Somersaulter (Entity>Organization), Lillian, and JP (Entity>Individual). Eventually, I also created ones for Michael and Pajon Arts — a name that appeared mysteriously at the beginning of their more experimental films, and which turned out to be the original corporate name under which JP and Lillian worked.

Writing descriptions

By the time I began describing works and entities, I had already watched all the films (several times); read synopses of selected works provided by the filmmakers; read reviews of works (when I could find them) published in journals and newspapers; studied a list of awards, festivals, etc.; and read several articles about the filmmakers and production company.

The Somersaulter-Moats and Somersaulter collection was unusual, insofar as the filmmakers provided CFA with a great deal of biographical information when they donated the films. (I would not have known, otherwise, that Lillian was born Patricia Hewlitt and JP was born John Sauer; this became useful when filling in their entity records, which includes a field for “Alternative name” — allowing you to locate individuals even if you are searching with a maiden name, alias, etc.)

The more I learned about the filmmakers, the better oriented I became when looking at their works. (For instance: I learned that JP studied creative writing, and Lillian studied painting; after college, she worked as an apprentice to a muralist. Knowing this, I went back and watched the films again, paying attention to the credits. I began to be able to identify when JP had written a film, when they had co-written it, when Lillian had drawn the animations, when they had collaborated, and when the animations had been drawn by JP.)

Once I had read through all of this information, I felt like I could finally begin describing the individuals, organizations, works, and the collection itself. I could link all of the works and entities to one another as appropriate, by creating relationships within the database; and I could do all this only because I had spent a certain amount of time becoming immersed in their world, trying to understand how everything held together.


Work record for Yo-Yo the Clone, Too and various items, people, organization, and collection records as it is linked to through the relational database, seen from backend of Collective Access.

With all of these record elements completed, I clicked “Publish” — making the Somersaulter-Moats and Somersaulter finding aid accessible on CFA’s website. You can see it for yourself (and learn more about JP Somersaulter, Lillian Somersaulter Moats, and Michael Moats) here.

An archive is a place dedicated to storing and preserving historical objects — in the case of CFA, films. At the same time, an archive is equally dedicated to preserving the stories surrounding those objects: who made them, when they were made, where, how, and why. It’s a side of archival work that doesn’t get talked about very often; it’s mostly done on a computer, and involves creating records, writing descriptions, and organizing information. To me, it feels a lot like detective work; you have evidence (films), which you identify, record, and analyze, and from which you begin piecing together a picture — adding new people, seeing new relationships, and sometimes being led in unexpected directions. In the end, you present your findings as an account of what happened: an interconnected story — a finding aid — that holds the pieces together.




June 27, 2016

CFA Media Mixer 2016 (in review)

We had a lot of fun on June 9th at the 5th annual Media Mixer and are extremely thrilled with the videos produced by this year’s line-up! Thanks to all who came and participated, but if you couldn’t make it (or if you just want to watch them again), we now have two of the videos available to stream below.

And if you’re new to the Media Mixer in general, the premise of the annual event is simple: three filmmakers, paired with three audio artists, have the full run of CFA’s vault to create new video art with the archival footage.

2016′s talented lineup included (filmmakers listed first):

Melika Bass AND Coppice
Jon Cates AND Jeff Kolar
Andrew Mausert-Mooney AND Bobby Conn

(more on this year’s artists here)

Turn the Garden
Filmmaker: Melika Bass
Composer: Coppice


The Engine’s Near is Unconstructed
Filmmaker: jonCates
Composer: Jeff Kolar

June 7, 2016

CFA Media Mixer 2015 (in review)

A couple of weeks ago we shared the video collaborations from 2014′s MEDIA MIXER event on the blog, and now we’re excited to bring you some of 2015′s videos, available to stream for the first time! Check ‘em out below and also see 2012, 2013, and 2014 for more MEDIA MIXER greatness. And don’t forget to come to the Hideout on June 9 for this year’s event!

2015′s talented lineup included (filmmakers listed first):

Amir George AND The O’My’s
Jesse Malmed AND ONO 
Fern Silva AND Phil Cohran 

(more on that year’s artists here)


Filmmaker: Jesse Malmed
Composer: ONO

Scales in the Spectrum of Space
Filmmaker: Fern Silva
Composer: Phil Cohran

Thanks to all of the artists who participated in the 2015 Media Mixer! We’re very impressed with the work that was produced with our footage and glad to finally have the space to showcase them all together.

The CFA MEDIA MIXER returns this year on June 9 at the Hideout with a new lineup of incredible filmmakers, musicians, video premieres, raffle prizes, and more. For more information, check out this year’s event page and learn about this year’s artists here.

May 19, 2016

CFA Media Mixer 2014 (in review)

We’re getting so excited about the upcoming CFA MEDIA MIXER that we started looking back at past years’ projects and realized there are TWO years of amazing collaborations that we never assembled in one place to stream. In this post we’re proud to present the videos produced by our 2014 Media Mixer participants (you can view 2012 and 2013 here and here, respectively).

2014′s talented lineup included (filmmakers listed first):

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

(more on that year’s artists here)

Filmmaker: Lori Felker
Composer: Cheer-Accident

Filmmaker: Deborah Stratman
Composer: Olivia Block

Filmmaker: Latham Zearfoss
Composer: Bastardgeist

Thanks to all of the artists who participated in the 2014 Media Mixer! We are very impressed with the work that was produced with our footage and glad to finally have the space to showcase them all together.

The CFA MEDIA MIXER returns this year on June 9 at the Hideout with a new lineup of incredible filmmakers, musicians, video premieres, raffle prizes, and more. For more information, check out this year’s event page and learn about this year’s artists here.

May 3, 2016

CFA Out of the Office at Midwest Archives Conference & Nitrate Picture Show

Amy here. I have recently returned to the CFA office after attending the 2016 Midwest Archives Conference in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Midwest Archives Conference, or MAC, is a regional professional association with over 800 individual and institutional members that represent all types of archives in the 13 heartland states and beyond. The association’s annual conference rotates its location yearly, and as Milwaukee is a quick train ride north, I took the opportunity to attend. I was looking to get an idea of the current state of archives in the region that CFA represents, it would allow CFA to be represented at the conference, and it would also be my first trip to Milwaukee!


CFA’s offical MAC credentials

During the conference I attended panels led by a variety of different archival professionals, all sharing perspectives on both their triumphs and failures in their workplaces. A few themes surfaced for me, the first of which was diversity and inclusion. A panel on promoting women in archival collections, a panel of archiving Midwestern immigration history, and the conference’s plenary session (with keynote speech from current Society of American Archivists President Dennis Meissner!) were amongst the settings where diversity and inclusion were explored. I appreciated the opportunity to hear attendees discuss this theme, as women and social justice are very present subjects in CFA’s collections.

Another theme that came through in the conference’s panels, an extremely relevant theme to all, was access. In listening to archival practitioners from organizations big and small, it was clear that all recognized the need for putting significant effort into making their collections relevant and available to their patrons. Also recognized were the challenges that came along with providing proper access. One panel titled “Playing Outside: Opportunities for Community Engagement Beyond the Archives” discussed the obstacles of rights, institutional permissions, and even rainy weather, in relation to getting patrons interacting with archival collections. A panel on oral history collections discussed making digitized and born-digital interviews searchable and accessible online with the very cool Oral History Metadata Synchronizer tool. As community events and online access are two crucial elements of CFA’s current operations, I was also grateful to get a perspective on access in the context of other workplaces and in the context of non-film collections.

The final theme I saw is a theme that has taken over the archives and film world: digital. A panel titled “I Jumped In, Now What? Keeping your Head about Water with Born-Digital Materials” discussed working through the discomfort of acclimating to a digital workflow for the first time. Another panel broke itself into discussion groups where the discussion leaders encouraged attendees to share their concerns, questions, and personal discoveries regarding digital initiatives and their archival work environment. CFA could definitely relate to this topic, especially in the wake of acclimating to the Kinetta Archival Film Scanner.

Plenty of other topics were covered in panels and happy hours over the course of the few days at the conference. Attendees also took advantage of museum visits, Milwaukee tourist sights, and meeting new friends in the archival community. It was exciting to learn about other collections, and it was invaluable to be able to share professional experiences with other Midwestern archivists.

Taking advantage of Milwaukee’s sights



While Amy was in Milwaukee, I (Brian) traveled to the land of our photographic founding father, Rochester, NY, to attend the George Eastman Museum’s Nitrate Picture Show film festival. The weekend-long event was a celebration of films produced on cellulose nitrate stock (the highly flammable material that was industry standard until about 1951), complete with ten screenings of original nitrate prints culled from archives around the world.

I stayed with former CFA staffer Lauren Alberque, whose cat Callie immediately took a liking to my NPS things.

One thing unique about the Nitrate Picture Show is that they don’t advertise the films they’re going to screen in advance. You don’t know what you’re going to see until you check in the first morning and get handed the program book with the schedule. This means you have to place a lot of trust in the programmers and archivists to pick films and prints that are worth traveling for and committing to. Now, the whole schedule is online, and you can see the impressive array of films, including Laura, Bicycle Thieves, The Tales of Hoffman, Road House, and more. The last screening, known as “Blind Date with Nitrate,” was kept secret until the curtain rose to gasps in response to Ramona, a gorgeous tinted silent film on loan from the Gosfilmofond of Russia.

Of course, the main draw of the festival is just how rare it is to see nitrate prints projected at all. The Dryden Theatre at the Eastman Museum is one of three theaters in the country still licensed to project nitrate, meaning they comply with safety requirements to contain any bursts of flame that might occur. Nitrate prints have to be shipped and stored in very particular ways, and the staff at the Museum spends days working on a single print to make sure it can be projected safely, testing everything from splices to edge damage to shrinkage (since every screening was clearly going to be 35mm, the print information in the program book instead focused on shrinkage percentage). During the screening of Brighton Rock, the projectionists stopped the film mid-reel just because they felt something was wrong and wanted to change the threading, even though everything seemed fine from the audience. When The Verge ran a feature on last year’s Nitrate Picture Show, their headline called it “the world’s most dangerous film festival.”

So why nitrate, if it’s so dangerous? This was the issue facing archives in the switch to “safety” film stocks, and for most, the solution was to copy the nitrate prints onto safety prints and then destroy the nitrate. As a result, most original nitrate films are lost, and many of the screenings this weekend were introduced with stories of how the prints being screened were only saved due to mishandling or flat-out lying about their destruction.

Some say there’s a special quality to watching a nitrate print projected, that the material itself elevates the images beyond other film prints—and certainly beyond digital. Whether this is really true or not was a discussion of some debate over the weekend, but there is no denying that screening nitrate is special in that it’s the way these films were designed to be seen. Filmmakers creating them were shooting on nitrate, processing on nitrate, and then projecting nitrate to audiences whose only experience was nitrate. To see films at the Nitrate Picture Show was to walk back in time and become a filmgoer in 1950, seeing the bright Technicolor of Annie Get Your Gun, or in 1947, entering the tough black-and-white world of Brighton Rock. There’s no other way to get as pure a cinematic experience when it comes to these films.

Myself, I was particularly taken with the swirling cigarette smoke in Laura and Road House, which took on a ghostly quality I hadn’t quite seen before, and immediately understood why the effect became such a staple in the noir genre. Other highlights included Enamorada, a Mexican film with stunning close-ups, and two animated shorts by Oskar Fischinger—An Optical Poem and Allegretto—with beautiful color. And I don’t think I’ll ever forget the theater singing along to the end of The Golden State, an animated short about the glory of California (also my home state).

In a weekend already jammed with screenings, the Eastman Museum also set up a variety of events and workshops designed to inform and spread the word about nitrate film conservation. I signed up for the festival too late for most of the workshops, including tours of the Museum’s nitrate vaults and a demonstration of how to produce nitrate. However, I did still get to look at a few nitrate prints that were on display, including footage of President McKinley’s inauguration, and there were plenty of people from around the country to meet and talk about film with.

Matchbook given to all attendees



March 28, 2016

CFA Media Mixer 2016: Meet this Year’s Artists

Our annual video remix benefit is BACK this year with yet another amazing lineup of artists working together to create new video works out of digitized items in our vault. Right now, three extraordinary filmmakers are loading up with massive amounts of footage culled from the deepest corners of our collections – including some rare, little-seen gems and a few staff favorites – which they’ll edit, re-interpret, transform, and kick over to three of Chicago’s most imaginative musicians to score. Then, come June 9, you’re all invited to the Hideout to celebrate the world premiere of their collaborations, along with raffle prizes, auctions, and more. It’s CFA’s Media Mixer 2016!

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

Melika Bass + Coppice
jonCates + Jeff Kolar
Andrew Mausert-Mooney + Bobby Conn

More on this year’s artists…



Melika Bass is a filmmaker and installation artist currently living in Chicago. Bass is the recipient of an Artadia Award, two Media Arts Fellowships from the Illinois Arts Council, the Kodak/Filmcraft Imaging Award from the Ann Arbor Film Festival, and an Experimental Film Prize from the Athens International Film Festival. In 2013, Bass was appointed the Pick-Laudati Artist in Residence at the Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities, at Northwestern University. Screenings and exhibitions include the Film Society of Lincoln Center, New York; Kino der Kunst, Munich; Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (solo exhibition, February 2011); Torino Film Festival, Italy; Anthology Film Archives, New York; Ann Arbor Film Festival; Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit; BFI London Film Festival; Athens International Film Festival; Segal Center for the Performing Arts, Montreal; Hamburg International Film Festival, Germany; and the Split Festival of New Film, Croatia. Her work has been profiled and reviewed in Filmmaker Magazine, Time Out Chicago, Bad at Sports, Art Daily, Rolling Stone Italy, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Reader, Pitchfork, and the Chicago Sun-Times


jonCates works at the intersections of Noise and New Media. His projects are presented internationally in cities such as Aix-en-Provence, Austin, Berlin, Beijing, Boston, Cairo, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Linz, Los Angeles, Madrid, Mexico City, New York, Singapore, Vienna, Warsaw, Zagreb and widely available online via the Internet. His research and writings appear online in digital forms and physically in print publications from MIT Press, Gestalten, The Penn State University Press, Intellect and Unsorted Books. In 2005 he created the concept of Dirty New Media and is widely recognized as developing concepts, communities and discourses of the unstable arts now known as Glitch Art.

Andrew Mausert-Mooney

Andrew Mausert-Mooney is a Chicago-based artist working with 16mm film, video, performance and television. Andrew’s work has showed in festivals, galleries and exhibition series around the world including the American Film Institute, CineVegas, Chicago Underground, Gallery 400, Pleasure Dome and Other Cinema. He received his MFA from the University of Illinois-Chicago in the Spring of 2012. Currently Andrew is a co-director and station manager of ACRE TV, an artist-run livestream tele-vision network.




Coppice is nexus. Since its foundation in 2009, Coppice has departed from bellows and electronics to create compositions, installations, discography, instruments, arrangements for performance, software, and sculptural objects. Drawing from its expanding glossary of study, they’re currently focused on expansions and emulations of their sonic foundations (in bellows and electronics) using a newly designed musical infrastructure that departs from physical modeled instruments and modular synthesis. Coppice is currently transitioning onto a new world of finer sonic illusions of digitally-seeded air, binary clocks, and impossible musical objects. Recordings of Coppice music have been made available by the following artist-run labels: Agxivatein (GR), caduc. (CA), Category of manifestation: (US), Close/Far (US), Consumer Waste (UK), Hideous Replica (UK), Notice Recordings (US), Pilgrim Talk (US), Quakebasket (US), Rhizome•s (FR), Senufo Editions (IT), and Triple Bath (GR).


Jeff Kolar is a sound artist, radio producer, and curator working in Chicago, USA. His work, described as “speaker-shredding” (Half Letter Press), “wonderfully strange” (John Corbett), and “characteristically curious” (Marc Weidenbaum), includes cross-platform collaboration, low-powered radio, and live performance. His work activates sound in unconventional, temporary, and ephemeral ways using appropriation and remix as a critical practice. His solo and collaborative projects, installations, and public performances often investigate the mundane sonic nuances of everyday electronic devices. Jeff is a free103point9 Transmission Artist and the Founder and Artistic Director of Radius, an experimental radio broadcast platform. His work has been comissioned by the Propeller Fund, a re-granting agency of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and free103point9, a re-granting agency of the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs and the New York State Arts Council. He has given lectures, performed, and exhibited widely across the United States, and at international venues and festivals.


Bobby Conn is an avant-garde, pop-rock musician and longtime staple of the Chicago scene. Since beginning his career in the late 1980s, Bobby has a developed a reputation for outlandish and exciting performances that emphasize the theatricality of musical art. Not content to work alone, he is also known for his extensive collaborations on stage and record that draw in musicians across all genres and stylings. (Another fun fact: Bobby played live at our second Media Mixer event in 2013, though this is the first time he’s created a piece for us!)

More on Bobby Conn via AllMusic:

The once self-proclaimed antichrist Bobby Conn is in a league all his own when it comes to performing live as well as creating his tongue-in-cheek chameleon-like pop that genre-hops with a decadent flair. Conn got his start playing guitar in the Chicago prog rock trio Conducent in 1989; by 1994 the group called it quits and Conn went solo. Conn received attention quickly in the Windy City’s live circuit for his outlandish live shows that verged on performance art and theater. Whether dressed as a priest, wearing mud on his face, or just dishing out hugs and kisses to unsuspecting fans, Conn defiantly didn’t go unnoticed. His first lineup consisted of ex-Conducent member DJ Le Deuce on turntables, as well as Julie Pomerleau (aka Monica BouBou) on electric violin.

In 1995 and 1996 Conn released two EPs, then in 1997 he released his self-titled debut album on the Truck Stop label, but it was 1998′s Rise Up! LP that extended Conn’s musical palette and got music fans outside of Chicago to take notice. Then in 1999, Conn released the Llovessonngs EP (on Chicago independent label Thrill Jockey), which showcased the hilarious French disco tune “Virginia.” Into the millennium, Conn released The Golden Age and toured with the support of the Glass Gypsies, featuring Pomerleau/BouBou on organ as well as guitarist Sledd, keyboardist Pearly Sweets, bassist Nick Macri, and drummer Colby Starck. Released in 2004, Homeland cast a satirical gaze at America and the war in Iraq, while 2007′s King for a Day tackled fantasy, celebrity, and the media. Rise Up! was reissued just in time for Conn’s 2011 tour playing the album in its entirety. For his 2012 full length Macaroni, Conn formed backing band The Burglars from some of Chicago’s leading players. The Burglars included long time drummer Josh Johannpeter (also active in Lazer Crystal and Mahjongg) as well as keyboardist Jon Steinmeier and bassist Jim Cooper of The Detholz. 

Again, we hope to see you on Thursday, June 9 at the Hideout! Head on over to the event page for more information!

March 11, 2016

The arrival of the Kinetta Archival Film Scanner

Amy here. I arrived at CFA two months ago to serve as Digital Collections Manager. One of the cardinal reasons I was brought onto the CFA team was to help guide a refining and expansion of the archive’s digital initiatives, with the Kinetta Archival Film Scanner being a big part of the initiative. As we awaited the arrival of the scanner, I took the time to familiarize myself with the digital collection and how it’s currently organized.

CFA’s current digital collection is largely comprised of standard definition video files that act as surrogates for access to films in the archive. Many of the files have been generated by digitizing our films with our Tobin telecine machines and processed using various video editing softwares; tools which have been integral to our client services and internal operations for years. The few high definition video files that exist in CFA’s digital collection have been acquired from vendors that have processed our preservation works, partly thanks to grants funded by the National Film Preservation Foundation (NFPF). CFA puts a huge emphasis on access, and although providing access to moving image film is the archive’s focus, providing access to films via digital media has been a crucial and realistic action for our operation. As I rifled through the archive’s various digital storage drives and digital metadata in the database, I got a clear impression that CFA was absolutely ready to formalize and intensify their digital collection holdings.

And then the Kinetta film scanner arrived. And we turned it on. And we ran a film through it that showed up so sharp on the monitor that it made us catch our breath. We were definitely not looking at a film anymore, but we were looking at a gorgeous interpretation of a film.

The Kinetta, a creation developed by Jeff Kreines, was made with an archival environment in mind. The scanner can accommodate the handling of a film in healthy condition, and it can handle a film that has been beaten up and shrunken. CFA has films that fall into both of those categories and every category in between. Jeff sat with the staff for a week to help us acclimate to the new equipment, new related softwares, and new file creation capabilities. Jeff knows film, and has made digital technology its true complement with the scanner.


Jeff at the controls

So, now that we have the Kinetta, what does this mean for CFA? This means new things in the face of preservation and access. In terms of preservation, CFA will absolutely continue photochemically preserving films in our collection whenever possible. In the event that we don’t have the financial support to preserve a film photochemically, we now have the capability to create a digital video file that can act as a preservation element. When we come up against a film in our collection that can no longer survive physical handling, we can scan it and preserve its contents via digital video file. In terms of access, we can now create digital elements that comply with a wider range of screening venues, especially venues that don’t support film projection. We also have gained the capability to capture a digital image from a film at a resolution that far surpasses the visual quality of the standard definition files that make up our current digital collection. Therefore, not only can we provide access to our films in more locations, but we can also provide access to details of our films that we could have never seen so clearly as we can now.

What does the Kinetta mean for our stock footage, transfer, and rental clients? More digital output options, crisper images, and the possibility to obtain preservation files of their own work. Essentially, new things in the face of preservation and access for them too.

What doesn’t the Kinetta mean? It does not mean that we will scan everything in our collection – obtaining digital storage to accommodate such a project is not within CFA’s reach, and we consider film a more stable format than digital files. It does not mean that our main focus will shift away from film – we will exhibit film when we can exhibit film, and we will preserve films photochemically when we can. The scanner is meant to support our films, not replace them.

The arrival of the scanner is the sort of the beacon of change for CFA. We are taking our time to learn the equipment and new software to ensure that our operators have a firm grip on it. We are developing a solid new workflow for digitizing our collection items. We are developing a realized set of scanner services for our stock, transfer, and film rental clients. We are taking time to fully understand and implement the expansion and security of our digital initiatives, which encompasses realistic and safe digital storage methods as well as a review of digital file organizational methods and metadata collection. We are brainstorming how the scanner will affect our future screenings and grant proposals. We are getting new furniture. It’s a lot. And it’s awesome.

People and entities who have helped us get to this point are Jeff Kreines and Tom Aschenbach, the DEW Foundation and the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation. Many many thanks. We are so grateful. We would also like to thank the MacArthur Foundation for acknowledging this new milestone as one of the reasons to award CFA sustenance funds.

Because all this awesome stuff comes along with getting the scanner, we are aiming to offer client services for it by summertime. We want to be truly ready for you. So please sit tight for a little longer. We’ll keep you posted. We are excited.

February 18, 2016

The John D. and Catherine C. MacArthur Foundation Honors CFA


Chicago Film Archives is so pleased to announce that we are a recipient of the 2016 MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions.  It came as a surprise.  We are among several other cultural institutions in Chicago who have received this honor, and we are in great company.

These superbly imaginative organizations exemplify Chicagos thriving arts and culture community, which is vibrant and economically vital to the region,said MacArthur President Julia Stasch. Support for these diverse and leading organizations reflects our enduring commitment to Chicago and to its cultural life that enriches us all.

This honor is particularly sweet because of our grass roots beginnings and the huge amount of “back room labor” that is required to make any archive and its holdings accessible.  Since much of the work we do is invisible to the public, we are especially moved that the folks at MacArthur imagined the scope and nature of what we do in our office every day.

Another reason this award is so important lies in the fact that no other film preservation organization (or any media preservation organization for that matter) has ever won this award.  The critical nature of moving image preservation often goes unnoticed, giving way to other cultural pursuits, leaving history behind as something merely made of nostalgia.  The ability to recognize that moving image records offer a glimpse into our future as well as our past is something rare.  Moving images can offer a more visceral, dense and rich reflection of our collective past than either text or photographic images can provide. So we are doubly thankful that the MacArthur Foundation is throwing light on this often over-shadowed cultural endeavor.

Just recently, CFA completed the preservation, digitization and cataloging of the massive Ruth Page dance collection funded by The National Endowment for the Arts and the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation.  The results can be found on CFA’s website where nearly 400 films are described and streaming in full with extensive notes about each of these works.  In addition, CFA has conserved twenty-eight films with support from the National Film Preservation Foundation including the Film Group’s Cicero March which was selected for the National Film Registry in 2013.

Particularly satisfying, though, was Davia Crutchfield’s note to CFA after we shared with her one of our obscure films that featured her great-uncle Doug Crutchfield.

Due to your generosity several generations of the Crutchfield family were able to revisit (or see for the first time) my great-uncle Doug as well as my great grandparents, Howard and Jean Crutchfield. I did not have the opportunity to meet my great-grandfather so to see him and my great-grandmother (who passed away a few years ago) interact was absolutely surreal.

My grandfather (who is nearing his 80s), as well as my great-aunt (who was recovering from bypass surgery) sat on the edge of their seats gleaning as they watched their parents and brother argue once again :)

Please spread the word and join us as we celebrate throughout the year with special programming and events with the goal of expanding our capacity to rescue films, creating new archival presentations and serving our constituents with new digital capabilities.

This award of $200,000 will be placed in reserve to ensure the stability, longevity and integrity of CFA’s operations and mission.

January 18, 2016

Ruth Page Collection Fully Catalogued

Guest poster here—it’s Pamela Krayenbuhl, announcing that I have completed the cataloguing process for the vast Ruth Page Collection of dance film and video. It has been a long journey, but now that I’ve earned the advantage of hindsight, I am pleased to provide a general overview of the collection and highlight a few gems of particular interest (out of hundreds!).

Ruth Page was a trailblazer in the field of American concert dance, and helped to establish Chicago as a center for American ballet even before George Balanchine founded the School of American Ballet in New York City in 1934. The films and videos of the collection here at CFA visually document her long career as a choreographer and company director, from the Page-Stone Ballet of the 1930s to the Chicago Opera Ballet in the 1950s and 60s, and the Chicago Ballet in the 70s—though there were also several interim company titles such as The Ballet Guild of Chicago, The Ruth Page Ballets, and Ruth Page’s International Ballet. Over the years, Page’s choreographic style and subject matter changed a great deal. Below, in a 1957 video from Series II of the collection, Page explains the arc of her early career to Ken Nordine for a Chicago television program.

Many of the works Page describes to Nordine—both the earlier, jazzier Americana ballets and the middle period of opera ballets—are represented in this collection. Series I in particular houses films of the more thoroughly documented older works, often in performance but sometimes in rehearsal as well. Series II shifts toward later works by virtue of its video format, though video conversions of the earlier films are present as well. Series III fills out the narrative with filmed interviews with Page and many of her collaborators over the years.

The archive suggests that, by the 1970s, Page shifted her focus from showcasing her own choreography toward curating works by other artists on the bodies of her company dancers. This decision seems to have been fueled at least in part by funding difficulties and the lack of a consistent ‘home stage’ for the company; Page (along with various co-directors and presidents such as Ben Stevenson and Geraldine Freund) tried to draw in audiences by importing both guest dancers and choreographers from around the world. This resulted in a wide variety of works being funneled through Chicago. One example of the company’s innovative approaches to its problems is the work Scat, which was choreographed for the Chicago Ballet by former New York City Ballet dancer Lois Bewley. Below is a video of a rehearsal of the work, which was choreographed specifically to be performed ‘in-the-round,’ and which the company then premiered in such a space at the Drury Lane Theater in Chicago’s Water Tower Place during early 1977.

Here are some additional examples indicating the fascinating range of Chicago Ballet rehearsals recorded during the 1970s:

  • Caliban (Act I; Acts II & III) – A full-length rock-n-roll ballet (inspired by Shakespeare’s The Tempest), choreographed by James Clouser and set to music by the band St. Elmo’s Fire. It was premiered by the Houston Ballet in May 1976; its Chicago premiere occurred on Thursday, October 13, 1977 at the Medinah Temple.
  • Façade – A ballet choreographed by prominent British choreographer Sir Frederick Ashton, to music composed by William Walton. Its one act of seven to ten divertissements is based on the 1923 avant-garde performance work Façade – An Entertainment by Walton and Edith Sitwell. This Chicago Ballet version was staged in 1975 by Richard Ellis and Christine Du Boulay.
  • Moonscape – A modern dance work choreographed by Jan Stockman Simonds, set to music by Michael Horvit and inspired by her husband’s work with NASA. It was premiered by the Houston Ballet in June 1975; this video represents either a dress rehearsal or performance of the piece on April 15, 1976 by the Chicago Ballet.
  • Rhythms – A modern dance work choreographed by company member Richard Arve for Ruth Page’s Chicago Ballet in the early 1970s.  It uses several tracks of popular music from the era, including “Embryo,” “Children of the Grave,” and “Into the Void” from Black Sabbath’s 1971 album Master of Reality and Morton Subotnick’s 1968 The Wild Bull (Part A).
  • Water Study– A canonical modern dance work choreographed by modern dance luminary Doris Humphrey in 1928, set not to music but natural human breathing and pulse rhythms. This video of a reconstruction of the work was recorded on January 26, 1978—perhaps for a 50th anniversary performance by the Chicago Ballet.

The Ruth Page Collection also includes not only rare performance recordings of such famous dancers as Talley Beatty and Marjorie Tallchief (in 1957 & 1959) in works by Page, but also a number of equally rare tapings from television that were of interest to Page…and any dance enthusiast. Two of my personal favorites are this 1978 copy of Twyla Tharp’s Making Television Dance and this segment of Paul Taylor choreography, beautifully (and hauntingly?) performed by Rudolph Nureyev and Bettie de Jong, from a 1971 CBS special entitled Singer Presents Burt Bacharach.

I will leave you with one final morsel, which most clearly encapsulates (for me) Page’s long-spanning, rich, and varied career. It also speaks to how fortunate we are that so much of it was recorded on film and video. This particular tape is divided into two parts: first, one of CFA’s four episodes of the 1960s television program Repertoire Workshop from Chicago, and second, a compilation of film excerpts in both color and black & white (mostly rehearsals or intimate home-studio performances) from the first half of Page’s career—some of them including Page herself as a dancer! The difference in style between Page’s televised choreography for Carmen and José during the first half, and then the pas de trois and her own outdoors solo from an earlier version of this same ballet during the second half, demonstrates a fascinating stylistic development over the 20+ year interim between the two.

It has been a privilege for me to spend so much time with the Ruth Page Collection. Now that the project is complete, I am rather sad to be leaving Page’s world. The research process of digging through old reviews from the Chicago Tribune, dancers’ bios from around the country, and choreographic records of all kinds really gave me a sense of how influential Page was, not only for Chicago dance audiences, but for artists and audiences all over the world. There is definitely something for everyone—costumers, set designers, choreographers, anthropologists, and beyond—in this collection. Tell your friends!

Pamela Krayenbuhl is a Mellon Interdisciplinary Fellow and PhD candidate in Screen Cultures at Northwestern University. Her dissertation examines the intersection of dance cultures with commercial film & television cultures in midcentury America, with a particular focus on race and masculinity. She also dances with and choreographs for the Chicago-based Modet Dance Collective, which she co-founded in 2013.

November 16, 2015

Collection Spotlight: Robert Stiegler

Capitulation, Robert Stiegler, 1965

We received the film work of Chicago photographer Robert Stiegler earlier this year, and while we already put a few of his major titles streaming online, I wanted to put a brief spotlight on him and his work, which includes some fantastic, experimental depictions of Chicago in the 1960s.

Robert Stiegler was born in Chicago in 1938 and received a bachelor’s degree in 1960 and a master’s in 1970 from the Institute of Design at the Illinois Institute of Technology. He served in the army in Germany, worked for photographer-filmmaker Vince Maselli and the design firm Morton Goldsholl Associates, and in 1966, started teaching at the University of Illinois Chicago, where he would continue to work until he passed away in 1990. Robert was instrumental in the development of the school’s photography department and the New Works gallery, a vital part of the MFA photography program.

From 1967-1969, Robert and his friend Larry Janiak ran a film and photography workshop in a large loft space in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood, which attracted a large variety of local and visiting artists—including Mike Kuchar, David Katzive, Jon Jost, Red Grooms, Ron Nameth, Kurt Heyl, Peter Kuttner, Peter Kubelka, Strom de Hirsch, Jonas Mekas, and the filmmakers of the Chicago Newsreel film group—who participated in numerous informal film screenings and discussions.

Today, Robert’s work resides in a variety of collections, both public and private, including the Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the George Eastman House, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, and the University of Illinois Chicago.

Of the total films donated to CFA by Robert’s wife, Anita David, we have four completed works available for streaming on our Robert Stiegler finding aid, listed below with notes from Robert himself.

Traffic (circa 1960)

“An investigation of what a motion picture camera can do in the hands of a good driver”

Capitulation (1965)

“A guided voyage through a negative world. A subjective view of the world and self”

Licht Spiel Nur I (circa 1967)

“Abstracted footage shot with a camera, each frame time-exposed to create different light qualities. Cutting was based on a musical form much like a Bach fugue. The film contains both real and synthesized color.”

Full Circle (1968)

“A contemporary Koan. A series of highs, encompassing people: waiting for the bus, laying tiles at Swami’s house, celebrating a Spring Be-in and children smiling.”

On display in these films is Robert’s interest in discovering alternate ways of looking at the world in motion through the specific medium of film. At the beginning of Capitulation, he inverts the black and white film into negative, transforming a snowy landscape into a strange and alien planet. Later in the film, Robert heads to downtown Chicago, filming the crowds walking by and editing them into a frenzy of shuffling, slight glances, and the occasional wave. Long exposures, time lapses, and superimpositions abound, as he experiments with disrupting the regular motion of our busy modern society in continually new and fascinating ways.

Chicago is again the subject at the beginning of Full Circle, as Robert films moving through the Loop with John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” on the soundtrack. But Robert is not content to remain there, and as the film progresses, it encompasses a variety of found footage (including cartoons and celebrity photographs) and audio, as well as documentary footage of a lakeside Be-in and housework. It ends with children playing and smiling to the tunes of the Beatles.

A personal favorite is Licht Spiel Nur I (literally “Light Play”), in which Robert combines still images of light in motion in rapid succession, creating an entangled mass of color and line that dances on screen. While it looks especially spectacular in motion, we were also struck by how dazzling the frames looked on the bench.

Licht Spiel Nur I_2Licht Spiel Nur I_1 Licht Spiel Nur I_4

Along with Robert’s films we also acquired his large collection of ¼” audio reels, and with a grant from Bay Area Video Coalition (BAVC), we’ll be processing them in the coming months. Among the tantalizing titles include labels that say “Whitehouse Jazz Concert 1978,” “Studs Terkel,” and a series of readings from a PFC A.J. Osborne. We’re looking forward to seeing what insight they’ll provide to Robert’s art and life.

We still have many more of Robert’s films we’re still processing and working to get online, but their cans are already promising more great work to explore and share.

Can1 Can2

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