Film Group Collection, 1966-1969
44 reels of 16mm film totaling 19,083 feet, and 1 folder of paper materials
1966 - 1969
1966 - 1969
The Film Group was a Chicago commercial film production company that made television commericials and political documentaries in the late 1960s/early 1970s. This collection includes original prints and preservation elements of their political documentaries on the 1968 Democratic National Convention including AMERICAN REVOLUTION II and the educational series URBAN CRISIS AND THE NEW MILITANTS. Filmmakers associated with the Film Group include Mike Gray, William Cottle, Howard Alk, Mike Shea, and Chuck Olin.
The films in this collection contain one feature-length documentary, American Revolution 2 and the 7 part series of educational short films called Urban Crisis and the New Militants. American Revolution 2 begins with footage of the political demonstrations at the 1968 Democratic Convention and the forceful reaction of the Chicago Police Department and the National Guard. Investigating the lack of an African American presence at the protests, the filmmakers follow members of the Chicago chapter of the Black Panther Party as they search for common ground with a variety of white activist groups. In one scene, Panther Bobby Lee and members of the Young Patriots, a community of white Appalachian activists living in the Uptown neighborhood of Chicago, organize to protest police brutality. Chicago Film Archives holds two release prints of this film.
Five of the seven films in the Urban Crisis series utilize footage from the 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention. The other two Cicero March and Black Moderates, Black Militants are concerned with similar issues of civil rights and civil disobedience, but were not filmed during the Democratic Convention. The Film Group created the Urban Crisis series as educational films aimed at high school students. The films and accompanying literature used current political events as springboards into discussions on the limits of constitutional freedoms and the proper response of the government. Though made for the educational film market, they are closer in style to cinema verite documentary films. They dispense with the didactic Voice-over narrator and are shot in black and white.
These seven short films in the Urban Crisis series have been preserved through grants from the National Film Preservation Foundation. Chicago Film Archives has original release prints and answer prints as well as new preservation elements including internegatives, sound elements, and access prints for projection.
The seven films in the Urban Crisis series are:
• Black Moderates and Black Militants documents a meeting between Chicago Black Panther members, including future Congressman Bobby Rush, and an African American school principal.
• Cicero March follows a 1966 march in Cicero, IL led by Robert Lucas, Chairman of the Chicago branch of the Congress of Racial Equality, and an associate of Martin Luther King, Jr., demanding the end of discriminatory employment practices engaged in by some of Cicero’s principal employers. White inhabitants of Cicero hurl insults at the African American demonstrators as police officers attempt to tamp down on threats of violence.
• Law and Order vs. Dissent intermixes footage of the police response to the demonstrations at the 1968 Convention with press conferences by Mayor Richard J. Daley and a spokesman for the Chicago Police Department.
• The People’s Right to Know: Police vs. Reporters interviews photojournalist Paul Sequeira on his experience covering the 1968 Democratic Convention and the police attempts to physically restrict reporters’ access.
• Police Power and Freedom of Assembly: The Gregory March depicts a rally led by comedian and political activist Dick Gregory at the 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention. This footage is included in American Revolution II.
• The Right to Dissent: A Press Conference records a pre-convention press conference of the National Committee to End in the War in Vietnam. David Dellinger and Rennie Davis recount their difficulties in dealing with the City of Chicago to plan their protests against the 1968 Democratic Convention.
• Social Confrontation: The Battle of Michigan Ave. shows one day’s events at the 1968 Democratic Convention including National Guardsmen detaining protestors, mass arrests near Grant Park, and Mayor Daley cursing at opponents from the convention floor.
The one folder of paper materials contains copies of pages from a catalog of a film distributor that sold the Urban Crisis series, a one-sheet for Cicero March, and information on the accompanying literature that schools could use when screening Police Power and Freedom of Assembly. The papers have not been processed and as such are not included in the Container List below. However, they are accessible for on-site access.
Over its approximately ten-year existence from 1964-1973 the company went through a variety of name, location, and personnel changes. Mike Gray and Lars Hedman created Hedman Gray Inc. in 1964 and were located at Hedman’s photography studio on 3325 West Huron. In early 1966 they added photographer Mike Shea. They changed the name of the company to Hedman Gray Shea Inc. and opened an 11,000 square foot state of the art production facility at 430 West Grant Place and soon after changed their name to the Film Group. At that point Hedman was the president, Shea was the director of photography, and Gray was the writer/producer. Right after the move to Grant Place they hired James Dennett as a production manager, William Cottle as the business manager and financial backer, and Chuck Olin as salesman. Hedman left the company by the end of 1966 and Shea left in 1967. Gray then took over as cameraman. Cottle left in 1969 and the company changed its name to Mike Gray Associates and moved to 120 West Kinzie. The company was dissolved in 1973 with Gray’s move to California.
From 1965 to 1972 they made TV commercials for national and local clients including Eli Lily, Montclair cigarettes, Hills Bros Coffees, Mogen David, Sara Lee, WBIB TV, Sara Lee, Aunt Jemima, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Illinois Bell, Quaker Oats, Chicago Tribune, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and Sears. They also made longer sponsored films for clients that are closer to their documentary work including A Matter of Opportunity (1970) and Eight Flags for 99 Cents (1970).
Their documentary films include the two features American Revolution II (1969) and 1971’s The Murder of Fred Hampton. The two films are closely related and document the unrest 1968 Convention, follow the Chicago chapter of the Black Panthers, and refute the city of Chicago’s media cover up on Hampton’s death. In 1969 they released a seven part educational film series Urban Crisis and the New Militants in an attempt to update the educational film.
Michael “Mike” Gray was born in 1935 and grew up in Darlington, Indiana. After graduating from Purdue University in 1958 he worked at Aviation Age magazine and advertising agencies in Chicago.
In 1964 he and photographer Lars Hedman created Hedman Gray Inc. as a television commercial production company. Clients at the time included AB Dick Copier, Eli Lilly, and Montclair cigarettes. In 1966 the company added documentary filmmaker Mike Shea and changed its name to Hedman Gray and Shea. The name change corresponded with a move to a larger production facility. Hedman left by the end of 1966 and the company changed its name to the Film Group. Gray worked as the director until Shea’s departure in 1967 at which point Gray took over camera duties. In these capacities Gray worked on commercials until 1972 for clients such as Hills Bros. Coffee, Mogen David, Sara Lee, All State, Aunt Jemima, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Illinois Bell, Quaker Oats, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and Sears.
In September of 1966 Gray and Shea filmed a civil rights march in Cicero, Illinois led by an associate of Dr. King, Robert Lucas. The film was eventually released in 1969 as Cicero March. In August of 1968 Gray and the other members of the Film Group recorded the tumultuous events at the Democratic Convention. They enlist editor Howard Alk to help them whittle down their raw footage of the Convention into a documentary feature. Alk, however, suggested that they build off of their Convention footage and investigate the larger political atmosphere in Chicago. With this in mind, they began filming the activities of the Chicago chapter of the Black Panthers that resulted in two films: American Revolution II (1969) that included their Convention footage and The Murder of Fred Hampton (1971). The latter film was included in the civil rights case against the police officers accused of killing Hampton and fellow Panther Mark Clark. Based on this, along with the provocative title of the film and statements to the press by Gray accusing the Chicago Police and City of a cover-up, Gray and the other members of the Film Group (which since 1969 was called Mike Gray Associates) felt intense pressure by the city government – including attempts to seize the Hampton footage. As a result Gray and his wife Carol moved to California. By 1973 he had essentially shut down Mike Gray Associates. [For more information on the Film Group see the finding aid in the Film Group Collection also at Chicago Film Archives.]
In California Gray began working in feature films and network television. He wrote the original screenplay for The China Syndrome (1979), which was nominated for an Academy Award. He also wrote and directed Wavelength (1983), and worked as a screenwriter on Code of Silence (1985), episodes of the TV series Starman (1986-1987) and Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1994). He also worked as a producer for one year each on the latter two shows. He worked as a second unit director on The Fugitive (1993).
Outside of filmmaking Gray has worked as a journalist and non-fiction author. His books include The Warning: Accident at Three Mile Island (1982) with Ira Rosen, Angle of Attack: Harrison Storms and the Race to the Moon (1992), Drug Crazy: How We Got Into This Mess and How We Can Get Out (1998), Busted: Stone Cowboys, Narco-Lords, and Washington’s War on Drugs (2002), and The Death Game: Capital Punishment and the Luck of the Draw (2003)./
American Revolution II and The Murder of Fred Hampton were both released on DVD in 2007.
Gray and his wife Carol live in Los Angeles.
William Cottle was a member of the Chicago film production company Film Group, Inc. from 1966 to 1969. The Film Group made television commercials (local and national) as well as a select number of political documentaries on the impact of the 1968 Democratic National Convention. While assisting in the filming of the disorders associated with the convention, Cottle was detained by the police – an event that helped cement the Film Group’s transition from ad men to political activists. These films have played an important role in the development of the Chicago-style of documentary filmmaking.
Cottle helped fund the creation of the Film Group as it evolved out of an earlier company - Hedman Gray Shea, Inc. When Cottle left the company in 1969 to start his private practice as a lawyer, the Film Group dissolved and his partner, Mike Gray, continued producing films as Mike Gray Associates, Inc. Cottle kept the Film Group name alive by distributing a series of short educational films called Urban Crisis and the New Militants. These films were created from documentary footage shot by the Film Group between 1966 and 1969.
Cottle received his undergraduate degree from Northwestern University in 1953. Three years later he graduated with a law degree from the Northwestern University School of Law. After completing law school he enlisted in the U.S. Navy, in which he served until October, 1958. He then practiced public accounting until he joined the Film Group in 1966. After the dissolution of the Film Group in 1969, Cottle practiced law until 1977. From 1977 until 1997, he served as the Chairman of the Board of the Bank of Chicago’s group of community banks. Currently retired, he spends much of his time as a saxophone player in a local swing band. He lives with his wife Judith in Winnetka, Illinois.
The films in this collection were created by the Film Group. William Cottle was a producer for the company and he stored the films until his donation of them to Chicago Film Archives in 2005.
This collection is open to on-site access. Appointments must be made with Chicago Film Archives. Due to the fragile nature of the films, only video copies will be provided for on-site viewing.
Use beyond on-site viewing of AMERICAN REVOLUTION II and POLICE POWER AND THE FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY: THE GREGORY MARCH must be cleared with Mike Gray and Bill Cottle. Chicago Film Archives manages the rights of the other titles in this collection.
The Chuck Olin Collection also at Chicago Film Archives contains 60 reels of film created by the Film Group and Mike Gray Associates, Inc. Some duplicate the Urban Crisis films in this collection, but it also includes television commericals and sponsored films made by the Film Group.