The amateur film is another kind of home-made movie that tells a story. Made by devoted hobbyists, scholars and world travelers who honed their cinematography and editing skills, amateur films cover all sorts of topics and genres – from fiction and comedy films to documentary, travelogue and experimental subjects. But what all amateur films share in common is their motive – making films for the love of it. Throughout much of the 20th century amateur cinema clubs flourished in the United States and brought together these movie makers to share their work with each other and to collaborate on group projects. But whether made in groups or singularly, amateur films are fascinating (and often beautiful and entertaining) stories of our time, our society, and our encounter with the new technologies – like movies – that changed the way we see the world. Listed below are the CFA collections that include amateur works:
CHARLES & KATHARINE BOWDEN COLLECTION (2 reels)
During the summers of 1902 and 1903, Katharine and Charles Bowden visited Desbarats, Ontario, Canada, not far from where Charles had grown up amidst the Ojibwe community living in that region. L.O. Armstrong, a local agent for the Canadian Pacific Railway and an ardent admirer of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, was by then presenting dramatizations of Longfellow’s poem, The Song of Hiawatha. Members of the nearby Garden River Ojibwe tribe performed in the play. Katharine and Charles Bowden photographed and filmed the presentations over two summers, and then assembled their lantern slides and films to create A Pictorial Story of Hiawatha.
The two prints held by CFA are the result of a preservation collaboration between Chicago Film Archives, Valparaiso University and Color Lab. The original 35mm nitrate film footage is held in Valparaiso’s Special Collections. Learn more about the restoration project on our Preservation page.
CHICAGO PUBLIC LIBRARY COLLECTION (4,531 titles)
Chicago Film Archives incorporated on December 13, 2003 in order to house and care for its founding acquisition of 16mm films from the Chicago Public Library. This collection contains a broad sweep of genres. A large number of films are educational and travel films, but also there are silent films, foreign and American-made theatrical films, documentaries, industrials, newsreels, sports events and children’s films. Included in this collection are 16mm prints from the Tyler, Texas Black Film Collection, such as Oscar Micheaux’s Murder in Harlem and Spencer Williams’ Juke Joint. Also, within this collection are rare and possibly one-of-a-kind 16mm film prints. Some of these are: Paracelsus by GW Pabst, American Shoeshine by Sparky Greene, The New World of Stainless Steel by Republic Steel and Wilding Studios, Siege by Julian Bryan, and The Santa Claus Suit by Martin Stevens. Additionally, this collection contains amateur student films by Chicago Public School students, the majority of which are from 1971. Because this collection was created over four decades in order to educate Chicago communities, it reflects Chicago’s public sensibilities from the 1950s to 1990 and is an important part of our regional film archive.
MARGARET CONNEELY COLLECTION (417 titles and elements)
Particularly important to CFA’s holdings are collections of Chicago amateur filmmakers, whether they are collections of fiction narrative films or the more traditional domestic or travel “home movies.” Margaret Conneely, an award winning and prolific amateur filmmaker, who began making films when she joined a local amateur film club in 1949, has donated all of her films and those of others that she collected throughout the years. She shot and directed 16mm films at a time when most of the women of these clubs were less technically inclined and often delegated to the role of actress or slides manager. Her work is well crafted, clever and subtly subversive. One of her films, The Fairy Princess, was awarded a National Film Preservation Foundation (NFPF) preservation grant and the resulting elements will reside at CFA. Three others have been restored through a preservation grant from the Women’s Film Preservation Fund and Colorlab film laboratories. Visit our Preservation Page to learn more about these preserved Conneely titles.
RON DOERRING COLLECTION (65 titles and audio reels)
The Ron Doerring collection contains mainly amateur films created by Kenosha, Wisconsin film hobbyists, John & Evelyn Kibar. The Kibars were amateur filmmakers who recorded sound tracks to accompany their 8mm films. While some of their films are finished, edited films, the Kibars also shot raw footage of many events, re-enactments and travel footage across America. Their work includes footage of Midwest motorcycle races, Revolutionary War re-enactments, early 1940s 4th of July parades, Chicago Northwestern and Durango-Silverton railroad footage, Mexico in the 1940s and Disneyland. The collection also includes amateur works by other Society of Amateur Cinematographers (SAC) members from outside of the Midwest and rare amateur anamorphic, or widescreen, 16mm films made by George Rives (Chicago Metro Movie Club) and Ron Doerring (Kenosha Cine Club). The collection was donated to CFA by Ron Doerring, another Kenosha, Wisconsin, filmmaker.
RICHARD J. FINNEGAN COLLECTION (29 reels)
The Richard J. Finnegan collection is a series of home movies, travelogues and amateur shorts shot by Chicago Sun-Times editor Richard J. Finnegan between 1929 and 1953. Many of the films in this collection creatively meld narrative inter-titles with non-fiction footage, and employ cinematic conventions such as slow motion and narrative-style editing. Subject matter spans trips to Yellowstone, Eureka, Bermuda and various parts of Northern and Southern California, personal films of notable events such as the 1929 Olympics in Los Angeles, and “classic” home movie family films of vacations, holidays and events, including birthday parties, a wedding, baptisms, and Christmas and Halloween celebrations.
JULIAN GROMER COLLECTION (32 titles and reels)
Julian Gromer (1907-1986) was a travelogue lecturer who brought 16mm films of his travels around the world to Midwest audiences. Gromer was represented by the Redpath Bureau and co-owned Ralph Windoes Travelogues, Inc. His films connect one of the oldest traditions in cinema, the travelogue film lecturer, to the greater Chicagoland area where the films were screened during the post-World War II era to audiences at churches, civic organizations, school groups, and private parties.
The Julian Gromer Collection includes 15 titles and related papers by Gromer. The films depict his travels to Cuba, Nigeria, around Lake Michigan, Hawaii two months before Pearl Harbor, Canada, up the Amazon and Hudson rivers, and three films of cross-country cycling. Also included in the collection are 2 reels of home movies that Julian shot of his family.
PAUL HOCKINGS COLLECTION (5 titles and elements)
This collection includes ethnographic films produced or shot by the pioneering visual anthropologist, Paul Hockings. It covers films shot by Hockings as part of his research on the Badaga people in the Nilgiri Hills in India; THE VILLAGE shot in western Ireland, on which Hockings was the consulting anthropologist; and work created under his mentorship at the University of Illinois at Chicago including Susan Stechnij’s examination of a Mexican immigrant family, MI RAZA: PORTRAIT OF A FAMILY. Learn more about the preservation MI RAZA on our Preservation page.
MARY HEFTEL HOOTON COLLECTION (16 reels)
Mary Heftel Hooton (1919-1993) and her second husband William Heftel (1918-1988) were both successful in their own profession. Mary was a lawyer specializing in matrimonial law and was an Illinois state judge from 1976 until her death. William worked as a realtor in Chicago’s wealthy near north side neighborhoods and was involved in Chicago Democratic politics as a precinct captain. Though they had no children of their own, they fostered nine children over the course of their marriage. In addition to her commitment to children’s rights, Ms. Hooton strived for women’s equality through her work with the Women’s Bar Association of Illinois.
From 1967 to 1973 they filmed eight of their vacations with a Super 8 camera. During that 6-year span the couple visited Bangkok, Japan, Hawaii, Hong Kong, Antarctica, Norway, the Bahamas, Morocco, and the Netherland Antilles. Little is known of their interest in filmmaking or whether they shot other footage, but the films in their collection are quintessential home movies of exotic vacations. Obviously shot by an amateur, they express the vision of the American tourist as they survey foreign lands and peoples.
KINALLY COLLECTION (16 reels)
PETER KUTTNER COLLECTION (6 titles)
The six films in this collection represent the early work of documentary filmmaker and Hollywood cameraman Peter Kuttner. The films include a student film made at Northwestern University, two films he made with African American college students as part of the War on Poverty in 1965, and three kinesopes of shows he made at Chicago’s public television station WTTW.
THE BOB LINK COLLECTION (200 reels and elements)
Bob Link was the sole owner of the Chicago production company YACHT Films International, which made 16mm color sound films about sailing for showings to professional groups, civic organizations and yacht clubs. Bob was a good friend of Jack Behrend who is the namesake of another CFA collection. Bob taught Jack sailing, while Jack taught Bob filmmaking. Together they made the Michelob sponsored film Sailing: Do It Right – Keep It Safe (1977), an instructional sailing film that currently resides in CFA’s Jack Behrend Collection. The film was made in response to a perception that many boating accidents were alcohol related, and made the point to drink after you are in the harbor or at anchor.
The Bob Link Collection consists primarily of 16mm work prints and camera originals of sailing footage from the 1970s, including sailing scenes near the shores and harbors of downtown Chicago and a sailing race aboard Ted Turner’s American Eagle. The Bob Link Collection also includes 1 file folder titled “1977″ filled with client correspondence, receipts, budget logs, audience testimonials and polaroid photographs.
HARRY MANTEL COLLECTION (5 titles and 135 elements)
The Harry Mantel Collection came to CFA via the University of Chicago and consists primarily of production elements – camera originals, outtakes and numerous magnetic & optical soundtracks. Harry Mantel (1923-2007) was a Chicago cameraman, producer, and journalist. The titles we do have are of Mantel’s Vignettes, which were funded in part by Encyclopedia Britannica for television broadcast. Some of the subjects Mantel explored in his Vignettes include a waitress at a former Marina City Towers restaurant, O’Hare air traffic controllers, the various manifestations of fire, square dancing, circus and zoo animals, trees, Irish horses, and an arts and crafts fair replete with many a macramé booth.
BILL O’FARRELL COLLECTION
THE RHODES PATTERSON COLLECTION (568 reels and elements)
Rhodes Patterson (1914-2003) wore many professional and artistic hats during his life time, that of designer, cinematographer, photographer and writer. His collection consists of commercial films from Chicago’s 1950s design era along side personal home movies & “for-fun” productions, all of which were made from 1937-1978.
Rhodes Patterson was born in rural Arkansas and moved to Chicago in the 1930s to attend the Art Institute of Chicago. A handful of home movies from his early Chicago days include a 1938 Mae West performance at the Palace Theatre and a visit to Brookfield Zoo. At the start of WWII, he enlisted as a reconnaissance photographer with the US Army Air Corps. While stationed on the small island of Tinian, Rhodes shot footage of the B-29 Superfortress and documented life on and off the base. One reel contains footage Rhodes shot while flying over the USS Missouri during the Japanese surrender ceremony. After the war, Rhodes returned to the Midwest and moved his family out to the newly formed suburb of Park Forest, Illinois. Shortly after, he began working for the Chicago design firm Bert Ray Studio. During this time he shot a few personal home movies and some “for-fun” short films including I Love Lucely and The Moulin Chartreuse.
In the mid to late 1950s Rhodes became affiliated with the Container Corporation of America, where he worked under John Massey and Walter Paepcke, a champion and patron of the graphic arts and other cultural mediums of that time. Rhodes wrote much of CCA’s advertising material, put together their internal publications, and documented Paepcke’s early efforts to transform Aspen, Colorado into a modern cultural and intellectual destination spot. Films of the early development of the Aspen Institute reside within this collection. Patterson was an integral part of CCA’s creative team for more than twenty-five years and was instrumental in the production of their “Great Ideas of Western Man” campaign.
In 1960 Rhodes moved to Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood where he and his family lived until 1967. Rhodes shot home movies in and around the park, and even made a short film titled In the Park in which he imagines a conversation between the various historic personalities whose statues grace the park. A year after moving his family to Evanston in 1967, Rhodes made a short film titled The Day After, documenting the scene at Grant Park a day after the 1968 Democratic National Convention. While it doesn’t depict any violence, the film captures the mood and tensions of the time.
Rhodes was good friends with the architects and engineers, Ronald and Suzanne Dirsmith who ran the Dirsmith Group, an architecture, landscaping, and engineering firm headquartered in Highland Park, Illinois. In 1971 they were hired to design and construct the now-world-famous Grotto and swimming pool on the grounds of Playboy West. The Dirsmiths invited Rhodes to go out west with them to document the construction. Apparently Rhodes was allowed to wander around the grounds in addition to documenting the construction, resulting in a few reels of soft-core pornographic material. Ten reels from his time at the Playboy Mansion reside in this collection.
Rhodes stopped making commercial films in 1977, and shifted his focus to photography and writing. His home movies, personal narratives and commercial films grant us the opportunity to explore Chicago, and more broadly, the world from the 1930s to the 70s.
STEVE POSTER COLLECTION (1 title and elements)
The Steven Poster collection includes the 35mm film, Another Saturday Night, a whimsical portrayal of a weekend night in 1970s Chicago. Also included in the collection are the title’s elements.
ROLAND RIVES COLLECTION (4 reels)
The Roland Rives collection documents a European tour conducted for Dartmouth students in the 1920s via Cunard Ocean Line. Also within the collection is a Cunard promotional film featuring dining, entertainments and sports available on the cruise. The SS Berengaria leaves New York Harbor, eventually arriving at either a port in Cherbourg or Southampton. Film was likely sold as a souvenir onboard ship.
JOHN & MARILYN SANNER COLLECTION (7 reels)
The John and Marilyn Sanner collection contains 16mm, 8mm and Super 8mm amateur and home movie films, with two of the Super 8mm films having a magnetic soundtrack. John and Marilyn Sanner were members of the Metro Movie Club, a local amateur filmmaking club (1940s-1980s), during the later years of the organization (1972-1987). Margaret Connelly, an amateur filmmaker and namesake of a CFA collection, was also a member of this club during its formative years.
John Sanner of Deerfield, Illinois shot the majority of the films in this collection. He shot both amateur films and home movies. The home movies include footage of Deerfield High School football games and the Chicago blizzard of 1979, while his amateur films include a behind the scenes look at a Metro Movie Club production and a short documentary about the arrival of a Chinese-Vietnamese family to Deerfield by way of a refuge camp in Hong Kong. The collection also includes an 8mm amateur travelogue film shot in Havana, Cuba by W.R. James in the late 1940s and a Super 8 film of unknown origin that documents a teenage girl’s social club circa 1977.
JAMES C. SOUCIE COLLECTION (88 reels)
The Soucie Collection is comprised of 85 reels of 8mm acetate films, an issue of the Sam Campbell Special newsletter sponsored by the Chicago and North Western Railway, and the original inventories created by the filmmaker. James Charles Soucie (1896-1967), who worked for the Pullman Company out of Indianapolis, Indiana, for forty-one years (1920-1961), shot these amateur travel films of classic American festivals, rituals, amusement parks, parades, Civil War re-enactments, national parks, industrial shows, railroad fairs and Native American tribal ceremonies. Soucie was able to travel across America with a railroad pass issued to Pullman executives. According to his son, his father never felt the need to travel overseas as a tourist, because there was too much to see in America. James Soucie’s goal was to visit historical sites in all 50 states.
BILL STAMETS COLLECTION (9 reels)
The films in this collection were collected by Chicago area film critic and filmmaker Bill Stamets. It includes 3 films made by Chicago filmmaker Tom Palazzolo, often in collaboration, and 6 films by Stan Brakhage. CFA does not hold any films actually made by Mr. Stamets.
WARREN THOMPSON COLLECTION (23 reels)
The initial Warren Thompson collection consisted of 2 reels of 16mm amateur films that document 35 years of citylife in Chicago and trips to Mackinac Island in Michigan shot from 1955 to 1965. As of Febraury 2011, the collection also contains 21 reels of 16mm amateur films that document domestic and international travel from 1939 to 1981.