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Categorizing JoAnn Elam’s Films

The following is adapted from a short presentation given by Brian Belak, Collections Manager for Chicago Film Archives, at the Association of Moving Image Archivists’ Annual Conference in New Orleans, LA, on December 1, 2017. The panel “Woman Behind the Camera: Uncovering An Overlooked Perspective” also featured archivists from Northeast Historic Film, the Lesbian Home Movie Project, and the Center for Home Movies discussing their work on the project.

The JoAnn Elam Collection came to CFA in 2011 and consists of over 735 total elements, 516 of which are reels of 16mm, 8mm, and Super 8mm film, with the remainder videotapes, audiotapes, and several boxes of papers and fixed ephemera. Elam herself was a central figure in the Chicago experimental film scene of the 1970s and ‘80s. Her work is engaged with issues of feminism, depiction of women and women’s labor in media, and domestic and everyday spaces on film.

JoAnn Elam in "Boyers & Rhinos" (circa 1981)

JoAnn Elam in “Boyers & Rhinos” (circa 1981)

Although Elam made significant work on 16mm, the majority of her films were made and shown on 8mm, which she argued made the filmmaking “immediate and personal.” As she wrote in a manifesto with her friend and collaborator Chuck Kleinhans, “Small gauge film is not larger than life, it’s part of life.”

Before undertaking this project, our work with Elam’s films was mostly through attempts to build a filmography of finished films to put online. Elam passed away in 2009, and the collection was donated through her husband Joe Hendrix, her sister Susan Elam, and Chuck Kleinhans. From the beginning, we lacked access to Elam and were unable to ask her questions directly. This meant we needed to construct a filmography through research and the memories of her family and friends. This filmography included RAPE (1977) and LIE BACK AND ENJOY IT (1982), Elam’s two best-known works due to their ongoing distribution by Canyon Cinema. These two and a small number of other titles could be identified through clearly labeled printing elements, copies, or outtakes that point to finished works. Many films have printed title cards, and we also have copies of catalogs and screening notices that identify some films by title.

This led us to a working filmography of about 35 titles in 2014, the last time significant work was conducted on Elam’s films. Most of these titles were digitized and put online at that time, while the entire collection was also inspected and rehoused.

In 2017, we’ve taken up digitizing and understanding the remainder of Elam’s collection. A large portion of that are the elements for her unfinished film “Everyday People” about letter carriers in the US Postal Service, a role she held herself and through which was actively engaged in union work. But what has proven harder to make sense of is the significant number of reels without clear marking or identification. Some have simple labels, such as a person’s name or a location. Some have no labels at all. Many came to us in cracker boxes with broad labels like “Old Camera Rolls,” “Camera Rolls,” and “8mm Film.” There are spliced reels, uncut originals, printed elements, and loops.

Elam.Crackerbox_web

Humb,” which we believe is short for Humboldt Park in Chicago, is a great example of the sort of newly digitized material we find difficult to classify because in appearance, the film is engaged with the same themes and formal experimentation as the working filmography developed before, in which we saw techniques like double exposure and montage. However, the reel itself has an obscure, likely incomplete title, and there’s no record of her exhibiting the film to others.

“Humb” (date unknown) — click to watch film on CFA website

Currently the catch-all “Finished Films, Home Movies, and Sketches” section of Elam’s finding aid consists of just one list of over 150 titles, combining the previous working filmography with newly digitized and streaming material. This is a daunting list for researchers that risks elevating certain unfinished or unintentional films to the same status as Elam’s finished and exhibited work.

Sorting through this material has caused us to question how best to subdivide and present the list in an understandable way mindful of Elam’s intent. One simple method could be to use their original box groupings, with the idea that those groupings may indicate meaningful relationships. However, this may separate related objects from each other, such as trims and outs for finished pieces, and break apart intellectual understanding of Elam’s recurring interests. Plus, it’s not guaranteed who grouped these films and if the labels came from Elam, her husband, Kleinhans, or someone else.

Another approach could mean grouping films based on their content, as we can see that Elam was interested in filming similar events or activities over time. Multiple reels depict her and others gardening, an annual art fair in her neighborhood, and visits to a farm in Monterey, Massachusetts, owned by her longtime friend Bonner McAllester. But this approach carries its own complications discerning works from related outtakes. Is a reel labeled “Fire” its own work, or outtakes for another film called “Firelight”? Were any of these related reels intended to be edited into larger pieces, and if so, what evidence survives?

“Firelight” (left) and “Fire” (right) – dates unknown. Elements of the same film or different altogether?

This last point brings up the issue of how to categorize Elam’s films more broadly. Since even her exhibited work is so engaged with the personal and everyday around her, and was mostly shot on consumer formats of 8mm and Super 8mm, how do we consider her films in relation to home movies in the collection? In the Small Gauge Manifesto, Elam and Kleinhans wrote that small gauge “invites films made for or with specific audiences. Often the filmmaker and/or people filmed are present at a screening.” This sounds like a traditional definition of home movies, blurring the distinction between Elam’s art practice and the seeming home movies apparent in the collection. It’s not always clear who shot these home movies, as Elam herself often appears in them in a casual setting. For many, it may have been her husband Joe Hendrix, but the authorship remains unclear. Hendrix has passed, and we are unable to ask him, though Elam’s sister Susan has confirmed that there is a series of films in the collection made by her on a trip to Europe.

The Small Gauge Manifesto also asks us to consider the ways in which we put these films online for anyone in the world to access. Although our computer screens are still smaller than a movie screen, keeping in line with that vision of small gauge on a small screen, there is also the change in the environment of presentation. Elam is not with us as we watch her films online. Most of the time we are not intimately familiar with those featured in the work. Since online presentation therefore requires a translation of Elam and Kleinhans’ vision of personal filmmaking, the challenge becomes how best to acknowledge the translation and contextualize their vision for future audiences engaging with the films.

Thursday, November 30, 2017 - Saturday, December 2, 2017

AMIA Conference 2017

   

CFA’s Nancy Watrous and Brian Belak head south to New Orleans, Louisiana for the Association of Moving Image Archivists annual conference. Brian will present on Friday, December 1, on the “Woman Behind the Camera: Uncovering An Overlooked Perspective” panel, alongside archivists from Northeast Historic Film, the Lesbian Home Movie Project, and the Center for Home Movies. The panel will discuss the process and challenges encountered while undertaking our Council on Library and Information Resources grant-funded digitization project, with CFA’s focus on the work of Millie Goldsholl and JoAnn Elam.

CFA is able to attend the conference thanks to a grant from The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation (thank you!!).

Friday, December 1, 2017
9:30 AM

The Woman Behind the Camera: Uncovering an Overlooked Perspective

Come see some women-made films and discuss some of the challenges that arise when digitizing home movies and amateur film in the modern digital age. “The Woman Behind the Camera: Home Movies and Amateur Film by Women,” is a CLIR-funded project which will digitize, catalogue, and make accessible collections of women-made films that highlight the rich and varied experiences of women in the 20th Century. By integrating these collections with the Center for Home Movies “Home Movie Registry,” the project extends its reach without having to create a brand-new platform. Archivists from Northeast Historic Film, Chicago Film Archives, Lesbian Home Movie Project, and the Center for Home Movies will discuss the importance of this project and some of the challenges encountered, including issues of permission and exposure in LGBTQ home movies, navigation of sensitive topics/images in home movie and amateur film, and determining true authorship of home movie collections.

Chair(s) and Speakers

Karin Carlson, Northeast Historic Film
Brian Belak, Chicago Film Archives
Sharon Thompson, Lesbian Home Movie Project
Kate Dollenmayer,The Center for Home Movies

Location:

444 St Charles Ave
New Orleans, LA 70130

JoAnn Elam Collection Update (part 2)

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

JoAnnNotebook

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

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

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

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

Elam_EverydayPeople_Notebookp1

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

Elam_VideoDiagram

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

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

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

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

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

 

Pic of JoAnn

Elam_IllinoisFilmmakersBook_Bio

Elam_IllinoisFilmmakersBook_Statement

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because it’s cheap and you can shoot a lot of film, filming can be flexible and spontaneous. Because the equipment is light and unobtrusive, the filming relationship can be immediate and personal.

The appropriate viewing situation is a small space with a small number of people. Therefore it invites films made for or with specific audiences. Often the filmmaker and/or people filmed are present at a screening. The filming and viewing events can be considered as part of the editing process. Editing decisions can be made before, during, and after filming and can incorporate feedback from an audience. Connections can be made between production and consumption, filmmaker and audience and subject matter.

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

JoAnn Elam
Chuck Kleinhans

“Boyers & Rhinos,” 1981

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

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

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

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

 

JoAnn Elam Collection Update

Still from GRAINS by JoAnn Elam

We’re hard at work digitizing our Ruth Page Collection, but that doesn’t mean we’ve abandoned our other collections! The JoAnn Elam Collection, for instance, is near and dear to our hearts. The collection contains the films and production elements of Chicago experimental filmmaker JoAnn Elam (1949-2009). Since we first acquired the collection back in 2011, we have inventoried the entire collection (shout out to Michele Puetz!) and hand inspected all of the 8mm and Super 8mm films in the collection (shout out to Lauren Alberque!). JoAnn and her films have also been the topic of recent film productions and academic panels. As you might remember, JoAnn delicately organized the majority of her 8mm films in well labeled & colorful cracker boxes. It is a processors dream to have a collection arrive this organized (hint hint current filmmakers). We unfortunately had to remove these 8mm films from their eccentric homes in order to place them in more stable, archival containers….but don’t worry! We kept all the original cracker boxes and currently store them alongside JoAnn’s films and ephemera.

Processed 8mm films  from the JoAnn Elam Collection

The JoAnn Elam collection is complicated (the good, challenging kind of complicated). It is a production-centric collection that consists of a wide array of formats (16mm., 8mm, Super 8mm, VHS, 1/4″ audio, etc), print generations & elements (camera originals, reversal prints, answer prints, outtakes, etc) and affiliated ephemera (cameras, papers, splicing equipment, etc). Did I mention there are also 8mm and 16mm film loops in the collection?! On top of that, we are still finalizing a filmography of JoAnn’s work. Thanks to Michelle Puetz (MCA, CFA Advisory Board) and Chuck Kleinhans (Northwestern University, Jump Cut and close friend of JoAnn Elam), though, we have a great working filmography that will evolve with the collection as it becomes more processed. So what’s new with the collection? We’re now working off of Michelle & Chuck’s filmography to get JoAnn’s finished 8mm films digitized and streaming. So far we have about twelve of Joann’s 8mm productions streaming on our site:

Backyard
Beauty and the Beast
Blizzard of ’79
Chocolate Cake
The Christmas Story
Grains (my new, personal favorite!)
There’s also a handful of JoAnn’s 16mm and mixed media productions now streaming, including her more well-known films Lie Back and Enjoy It and Rape as well as a rough cut of Everyday People (Rough Cut)- JoAnn’s unfinished film based on her experiences as a letter carrier for the US Postal Service in Chicago. Also in the mix is Rescue Breathing, an instructional film that teaches viewers about CPR or mouth to mouth resuscitation and how to perform it. “Huh?!” you might be thinking. Well, JoAnn’s father, James O. Elam, acted as one of three medical advisers on the film, while a young JoAnn acted in a short dramatized scene alongside her siblings.

Unprocessed 16mm prints & elements from the JoAnn Elam Collection

While we work to get more 8mm films digitized and streaming, CFA intern Travis Werlen is also hard at work hand inspecting all of JoAnn’s 16mm prints and elements. Included in this batch are composite prints, camera originals, production elements, film loops, hand painted films as well as a handful of medical films related to Mr. Elam. Stay tuned as we continue to process the collection and make these films accessible online for the first time E-V-E-R. And last but not least, endless thanks to JoAnn’s sister, Susan Elam, who continues to be a generous supporter of the collection. Thank to her and fellow Elam Collection preservation sponsors, Kenneth Belcher and Sandy Ihm, these films will reach audiences more quickly.
and now for some BONUS IMAGES! :

A young JoAnn performing CPR in RESCUE BREATHING

Inspection bench detail of the direct animation film, FILMABUSE, by JoAnn Elam (uncut 8mm film!)

Inspection bench detail of the 8mm film, GRAINS, by JoAnn Elam

Celebrating International Women’s Day (all year round) at CFA

At CFA we celebrate ladies all year long, but days like International Women’s Day give us a great excuse to further celebrate the abundance of inspiring women associated with our collections -  Katharine Bowden (an early graduate of Valporaiso University), Margaret Conneely (amateur movie-maker extraordinaire), Sylvia Davis (producer of an early 1950s Chicago WBKB-TV wrestling show), Terry Davis (international travelogue filmmaker), JoAnn Elam (activist and feminist filmmaker),  Millie Goldsholl (head of the film department at Goldsholl Design and Film Associates), Evelyn Kibar (our favorite amateur film protagonist), Helen Morrison (photographer and filmmaker), Ruth Page (choreographer named by the Dance Heritage Coalition as one of America’s 100 Irreplaceable Dance Treasures), Sybil Shearer (modern dancer and choreographer) and the countless uncredited women affiliated with our collections. Days like IWD also encourage us to celebrate…us – a women run organization (it’s nice to set aside some time to celebrate ourselves, right?!).

We invite you to explore the collections these women were a part of. Follow the bold links to see each collection’s finding aid (some with streaming video!):

Charles and Katharine Bowden Collection

Katharine Ertz-Bowden was an early graduate of Valparaiso University in Indiana. In 1897 she earned a Diploma in Public Speaking with a BA in Science from Valparaiso. A few years later she married fellow graduate Charles L. Bowden who had been an “expert photographer with Eastman Kodak,” and together they organized the two-hour film and lantern slide lecture A Pictorial Story of Hiawatha. The Bowden’s lecture included the screening of a Longfellow inspired pageant performed in Desbarats, Ontario by the Garden River Ojibway community in 1902 – 1903. From the spring of 1904 until 1910, the Bowdens presented the lecture in over twenty states to tens of thousands of spectators at small town opera halls, churches, school auditoriums, and under the expansive tents raised for summer Chautauquas. Our Charles and Katherine Bowden Collection contains the preserved and restored archival materials from 7 original 35mm nitrate reels discovered in the Valparaiso University Special Collections Library by Judith Miller.

Margaret Conneely Collection

Chicago movie-maker Margaret Conneely (1915-2007) was active in amateur filmmaking both locally and internationally for nearly half a century. In the 1950s, Margaret’s films won awards from major amateur contests in both America and Europe, and by the 60s she had become a highly regarded competition judge, attending amateur film festivals around the world. She wrote articles on amateur film that appeared in local club newsletters, the Journal of the Photographic Society of America (PSA) and even the New York Times. Margaret was also the staff cinemetographer at Loyola University Medical School, and assisted on numerous film productions for the school (our favorite being, Student Life at Loyola University Medical School). Margaret’s films are fanciful looks at family life as women’s rights and the first stirrings of the sexual revolution complicated by traditional expectations of wifely duties. Highlights from her collection include The 45, Chicago: The City to See in ’63, The Fairy Princess, and Mister E (all streamable on our site!).

Robert & Theresa Davis Collection

Terry and her husband Robert filmed international and domestic travelogues from the late 1940s until the 1990s. Their films featured distant sites set in Iceland, Thailand, Belgium, Ireland, Tunisia, Australia, New Zealand, Yugoslavia and Sicily. Sadly, Terry passed away in October 2012 before we could conduct an in-depth interview about her life and times as a travelogue filmmaker. In the brief time that we knew Terry, she inspired us with her stories – a notable one being Terry’s solo bike ride (with camera in hand!) across Europe after her WWII tour of duty in the Women’s Army Corps. With the assistance of her nephew, we are gathering more information about Terry, her husband and the films they made.

Russ & Sylvia Davis Collection

“Yulie Brynner vs Rose Roman” from the Russ & Sylvia Davis Collection

Sylvia H. Carlson, was born in Goteberg, Sweden around the mid teens of the Twentieth century. She moved with her family to San Francisco in 1930. By 1937 she was in charge of the beauty shop in the Russ Building. She met her future husband, Russ Davis, there in 1946. They were quickly married and she moved to Chicago where Russ had lived since the late 1930s.

Sylvia began to work behind the scenes on Russ’ television shows. In 1948 she was co-producer of his amateur talent show on WBKB, The Knickerbocker Hour. In 1949 Russ and Sylvia started IWF, Inc, a television film production company, with Sylvia acting as president and producer. The company, called both International Wrestling Films and Imperial World Films, mainly created a syndicated wrestling show, but also made sponsored films and a short run TV series with Raymond Massey. The Davis’ 1950s syndicated wrestling television show featured wrestlers such as Verne Gagne, Gorgeous George, and Lou Thesz.

Ron Doerring Collection (Evelyn Kibar)

Evelyn Kibar in “This Is a Hobby?”

John and Evelyn Kibar were a husband and wife amateur filmmaking team that shot and starred in their own productions (Evelyn’s screen presence as the annoyed wife has delighted us for years now). The Kibars lived in Racine, Wisconsin and were members of amateur cinema groups including the Kenosha Movie Makers (also known as the Kenosha Movie and Slide Club and the Kenosha Camera Club), Society of Amateur Cinematographers, PSA, and Ra-Ciné Movie and Slide Club. They began making films together in the 1930s, and were frequent visitors, presenters, judges and winners in both photographic slide and film competitions in Chicago and Milwaukee. The Kibars’ films were award-winning creative collaborations and often included audio accompaniment on tape. Their 1946 film “Autumn Glory,” won an honorable mention in the Amateur Cinema League’s annual “Ten Best Contest” that year.

JoAnn Elam Collection

Rape, JoAnn Elam, 1975

JoAnn Elam (1949-2009) is a central figure in the in the history of Chicago’s experimental film community and one of the founders of Chicago Filmmakers. Her short experimental and documentary films capture the spirit and ethos of a politically active, feminist, and socially conscious artist.

Elam primarily shot on 8mm film, although she did work extensively with 16mm, Super-8mm film and early video. Elam’s 8mm films often documented aspects of her everyday life and local events ranging from the Palmer Square Art Fair in the 1970s to the Blizzard of ’79. She shot a number of reels of 8mm film while she was living in San Francisco in the summer of 1967, and during her time at Antioch College and in Yellow Springs, Ohio. Elam’s most well known 16mm films, Rape (1975) and Lie Back and Enjoy It (1982) are probing feminist examinations of sexual assault and the representation of women. Both films (streamable on our site!) utilize experimental techniques in order to call into question the way in which women are depicted on screen. These two films are referenced in numerous texts on documentary and feminist cinema, and are fascinating examples of Elam’s interest in merging radical form and technique with radical political content.

Elam’s unfinished project, Everyday People (1979-1990), is based on her experiences as a letter carrier for the US Postal Service in Chicago, the various people she met while on the job, the political struggles they faced with the administration and the union, and larger issues related to the history of labor struggle and activism in the United States. Elam’s notes and journals for the film, as well as the approximately 250 film, video and audio elements associated with it, reside at CFA and provide an unparalleled level of access to her creative process, political and artistic ideas, and the practical, economic, and ethical issues that impacted her work as an independent artist and filmmaker.

Mort & Millie Goldsholl Collection

Millie Goldsholl (1920-2012) was the head of the Film Department at Goldsholl Design and Film Associates (another notable female, Susan Keig, headed the Design Department), one of Chicago’s leading graphic design studios in the 1950s. The studio became recognized for their animations, progressive hiring practices and developing corporate branding packages for various companies. Our Mort & Millie Goldsholl collection contains commercials and industrial films that Goldsholl Design and Film Associates made for their clients, experimental films and animations made by both Morton and Millie, unedited travel films shot by Morton and Millie and films (primarily animated) that the two collected over the years. Millie’s films are among our favorites here at CFA. An early student of the Chicago School of Design (now IIT), Millie created films that are expressions of Maholy Nagy’s vision of industry, art and design. They are playful, human and profound all at once. The same thing, of course, can be said of Millie.

Here is Millie talking about the School of Design (taken from a 2007 interview between Millie and CFA’s Executive Director, Nancy Watrous).

Morrison-Shearer Collection (Helen Morrison & Sybil Shearer)

CFA has been honored to house and mange the Morrison-Shearer Collection for the Morrison-Shearer Foundation since 2008. This extensive collection of dance films, most of which were shot by Helen Balfour Morrison, features solo performances by Sybil Shearer, Shearer with her dance company, interviews with Sybil Shearer and some rehearsal footage.

Helen Balfour Morrison (1901-1984) was born in Evanston, Illinois, the daughter of Fannie Lindley and Alexander Balfour, an engineer and a proud, aristocratic Scotsman. When Helen was 17, her mother died, and Helen took a job in a photography studio to help support the family. At this studio she learned to use the portrait camera and helped expand the studio’s business with creative ideas of her own. In the 1930s, Helen Balfour Morrison embarked upon a personal photography project – the Great Americans series. She photographed some 200 notable personalities including Robert Frost, Helen Hayes, Nelson Algren, Frank Lloyd Wright, Alice B. Toklas and Gertrude Stein, Mies van der Rohe, Amelia Earhart, Jane Addams, and Saul Bellow. Most of these portrait sessions took place in Chicago or in New York and were exhibited widely in museums throughout the country. In 1942, Morrison met Sybil Shearer, and although her portrait work and exhibitions of the Great Americans continued, her attention gradually shifted to Sybil as her primary subject. She finally abandoned the Great Americans series in 1945. Her collaboration with Sybil Shearer produced a large collection of extraordinary dance photographs and films, as well as an intense and sensitive documentation of the life of this artist. Today her extensive portfolio remains largely unpublished and unknown. In a real sense she sacrificed her own career to promote that of Sybil. Besides designing the lighting, Helen took over the complete management of Sybil’s publicity, performances, travel arrangements, and hospitality. She experimented with the role of impresario, presenting dancer Ruth St. Denis in 1946 and both dancer Eleanor King and sculptor Richard Lippold in 1948. In 1949 she conceived a short-lived series of programs which she called “Rondo,” presenting other artists, including Uta Hagan, Merce Cunningham, pianist William Masselos, and Frank Lloyd Wright. In later years she made films to record Sybil’s dances, and made one artistic film of her own.

Sybil Shearer

Sybil Shearer burst upon the modern dance scene in October 1941 in a solo debut at Carnegie Hall that received rave reviews and an award from critic John Martin as the year’s most promising solo choreographer. Already setting a radical new direction in modern dance, she came to believe that New York was no place to develop dance as an art. In 1942 she left for the new Roosevelt College in Chicago, where she was given the freedom to work independently, close to nature, and in her own unorthodox way. Within a month of her arrival, she met Helen Balfour Morrison. Thus began a career of one of the finest dancers of the 20th century, though deemed “elusive,” and “rarely seen.” Shearer formed the Morrison-Shearer Foundation in 1991 to perpetuate their artistic legacy. Under the auspices of the Foundation, she brought Susanne Linke, the German expressionist dancer, to Chicago in 1991 to perform at the Harold Washington Library. In 1993 she arranged a tour to Germany for the 20th anniversary of the Hamburg Ballet, whose director, John Neumeier, had been a member of the Sybil Shearer Company in the 1960s. In February 2005 she danced publicly for the last time at the Art Institute of Chicago, interpreting Matisse in the “Artists and Dance” program, just nine months before her death at the age of 93.

Ruth Page Collection

Ruth Page (photo courtesy of the Dance Heritage Coalition)

Dancer, choreographer, company director, and pioneering Chicago dance figure for over half a century, Ruth Page (1899-1991), was born in Indianapolis. She studied fancy dancing with Anna Stanton and ballet with Elizabetta Menzeli, made her professional debut on Broadway, then toured South America with Anna Pavlova. During the 1920s Page worked closely with Adolph Bolm, starring in his productions for Chicago Allied Arts and choreographing her first successful dances for its repertory.

Settling in Chicago, she became premiere danseuse of the Ravinia Opera. In the 1930s, in partnership with Bentley Stone, she created Frankie and Johnny (1938) and several other Americana ballets, most to commissioned scores by American composers; she also worked with Katherine Dunham and Harald Kreutzberg, exploring a broad range of expression. In the following decades she created a number of works inspired by operas, founded the Chicago Opera Ballet, and formed the Ruth Page Foundation for Dance, a school she co-directed with Larry Long. Sophisticated, open-minded, and energetic, she gave opportunities and exposure to countless American and international dance artists. (From the Dance Heritage Coalition)

 

SCMS comes to Chicago!

stills from Michelle Puetz & Nathan Holmes’ program “City Symphonies”

Each year members of the Society for Cinema & Media Studies (SCMS) meet up for their annual conference in cities throughout the country, and this year (March 6-10)… it just so happens to be in Chicago! The SCMS is the leading scholarly organization in the United States dedicated to promoting a broad understanding of film, television, and related media through research and teaching grounded in the contemporary humanities tradition.

CFA is excited to assist the conference with workshops, panels, screenings, and general party vibes. Here’s a rundown of CFA-affiliated events:

Thursday, March 7th:

  • Past (and forever-affiliated) CFAers Andy Uhrich (Indiana Univeristy), Charles Tepperman (University of Calgary) and Michelle Puetz (SAIC, MCA) present on the panel “Where the Minor was Mainstream: The Sponsored, Amateur, Educational and Experimental Cinemas of Chicago.” Both Charles and Michelle’s presentations feature female figures tightly affiliated with CFA- Margaret Conneely and JoAnn Elam. Charles will present on Central Cinematographers (a local amateur film club that Margaret Conneely was part of), while Michelle’s presentation focuses on feminist filmmaker JoAnn Elam and her collection of experimental films donated to CFA in 2011. (G7, 1-2:24PM)
  • Recent University of Chicago grads Michelle Puetz and Nathan Holmes put together an entire screening of CFA materials for SCMS members! Titled “Chicago Symphonies,” Michelle & Nathan’s delightful program presents four nontheatrical 16mm shorts from our vaults. Included in the batch are CHICAGO BREAKDOWN (Gary Brown, 1976), THE CORNER (Robert Ford, 1962), SUPER UP (Kenji Kanesaka, 1966) and CHICAGO: CITY TO SEE IN ’63 (Margaret Conneely, 1962). (Cinema Borealis, 1550 N. Milwaukee Avenue, 4th Floor, 9PM)
Friday, March 8th:
  • Chuck Kleinhans (Northwestern University, Jump Cut and close friend of JoAnn Elam) will also present on JoAnn Elam at SCMS. His presentation “The Dialectics of Labor Media Activisim: JoAnn Elam’s EVERYDAY PEOPLE and Monopoly Capitalism” is part of the “Media Activism and Social Movements” panel. JoAnn Elam’s unfinished project, EVERYDAY PEOPLE (filmed from 1979 to 1990), is based on her experiences as a letter carrier for the US Postal Service in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood. Papers donated to CFA with her collection of films suggest that Elam intended to expand the story into the political struggles USPS employees faced with the administration and the union, as well as larger issues related to the history of labor struggle and activism in the United States. CFA recently uploaded a rough-cut VHS transfer of the film on Youtube. (K19, 12:15-2PM)

Saturday, March 9th:

  • CFA’s Executive Director, Nancy Watrous, takes part in Jacqueline Stewart’s (Northwestern University) workshop “To Preserve Disorder: Moving Image Archiving and Preservation in Chicago.” Joining Nancy and Jacqueline are Media Burn’s Sara Chapman, Video Data Bank’s Tom Colley and Kartemquin Film’s Carolyn Faber. Nancy plans to explore the many ways to skin a catalog through the contextual preservation of moving images. (N21, 11AM-12:45PM)
  • CFA presents 16mm and digital projections at a special event for SCMS members to blow off some post conference steam. We’ve dug deep into our collection to find a mix of Chicago-themed and abstract footage to help set a fun, Warholian mood.
  • As part of the SCMS Annual Conference, Christy LeMaster & CFA’s Michelle Puetz present WITH A VOICE LIKE THE LAKE: A Snapshot of New Work from Chicago. Featured in this batch of exciting, new works are CFA-commisioned WREST (by Kent Lambert with music by CAVE) and LIE BACK AND ENJOY IT (by Jessica Bardsley with music by Tim Kinsella). Free to the public! (The Nightingale, 1084 N Milwaukee, 8:00PM)

For a full list of SCMS panels and events, click on over to the 2013 conference program.

Generous Donations – thanks!!

We here at CFA are so thankful of our supporters, as donations are hugely important to our work in processing and giving access to our varied and unique collections. Here’s a list of our more recent supporters:

JoAnn Elam Collection:
CFA has begun processing the films of Chicago filmmaker JoAnn Elam (1949-2009), a central figure in the in the history of Chicago’s experimental film community. Due to the superbly generous donation of $5,000 by her sister Susan, we have been able to begin to stabilize this large and complex collection of film materials. Included in this collection are film elements from a work-in-progress (1979-1990) called EVERYDAY PEOPLE, a film that chronicles her experiences as a postal carrier and the people she met along the way. Susan Elam has become a Preservation Patron of the JoAnn Elam Collection.

EVERYDAY PEOPLE (rough cut), JoAnn Elam, 1979-1990

Marquis Ritchey Cring Collection:
And this year, Susan Hayes became a Preservation Sponsor of her father’s home movie collection – The Marquis Ritchey Cring Collection. Marquis Cring (born in Belle Center, Ohio) moved to St. Louis to take a job as head of advertising and public relations at the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad. There he met Irene Ellerbeck, another M-K-T employee, and they married and had there first and only child, Susan. Like many other railroad employees who were amateur filmmakers, he often took his camera (and family) when traveling with the railroad to such places as Mexico, the Ozarks, and Galveston, Tx. These films span the mid 1920s through the mid 1950s. One reel even contains footage of Charles Lindbergh at a 1927 Mexico City bullfight that was held in his honor.

Syliva & Russ Davis Collection:
Also, thanks to Colleen Roberts who is a Preservation Sponsor of the Russ and Sylvia Davis Collection. This might be CFA’s most popular collection consisting of almost 200 pro wrestling matches fought in 1950s Chicago. Each match is announced by radio personality Russ Davis who produced these films for Chicago’s first commercial television station WBKB.

Edouard Carpentier vs Lou Thesz (Jack Dempsey referee), Chicago International Amphitheater, Circa 1957

You, yourself can adopt any CFA collection and be responsible for it’s preservation and archival care. Just go here!

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