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Archival News 59.2 Winter 2020
Edited by Rielle Navitski
Lucas Museum of Narrative Art Acquires Over 37,000 Documents of Black Film History from Separate Cinema Archive
Poster for Oscar Micheaux’s 1937 film Underworld, one of thousands of documents of Black film history that will join the collection of the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art.
Lobby cards and stills from the films of pioneering Black director Oscar Micheaux, original poster art featuring dancer and film star Josephine Baker, and over 2,800 pieces of international publicity materials for African American films are among the thousands of artifacts of Black film history slated to join the collection of the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art. Amassed over nearly five decades by photographer John Duke Kisch and dating between 1904 and the present, the materials will be made available to researchers, according to the museum’s director Sandra Jackson-Dumont. Founded by George Lucas and Mellody Hobson and originally planned for San Francisco and then Chicago, the museum is scheduled to open in Los Angeles’s Exposition Park in late 2021. For more on the acquisition, see here.
British Film Institute Welcomes Hit Web Series by Rapman into its Collection
Opening credits of the web series Shiro’s Story, a recent addition to the BFI’s collections.
Marking a commitment to preserve the often ephemeral works of streaming media, the BFI announced its acquisition of Shiro’s Story, a three-part web series directed and narrated by Rapman (Andrew Onwubolu), in November. Combining elements of narrative filmmaking with the visual album, the series has racked up over 18 million views since its 2018 release. The announcement coincided with the release of Rapman’s feature film debut Blue Story, an adaptation of the series co-produced by BBC Films. Blue Story became the object of controversy after the Vue and Showcase theater chains temporarily pulled it from release following a fight outside a screening in Birmingham, prompting concerns about racist backlash. See here for more on the acquisition.
Somali Film Epic Resurfaces at the National Film Archive of India
Said Salah Ahmed (center), director of The Somali Dervish, poses with National Film Archive of India Director Prakash Magdum (left) and filmmaker Mark Brecke (right), whose inquiry led to the film’s rediscovery. The Hindu.
Believed to have been lost shortly after its 1985 release, the negatives of Said Salah Ahmed’s The Somali Dervish—considered Somali cinema’s sole fiction feature—were recently uncovered at the National Film Archive of India, the organization announced in December. A coproduction between the Somali Film Agency and the Indian studio Nikas India, the film’s postproduction phase took place in Mumbai’s now-shuttered Bombay Lab. Chronicling the revolutionary dervish movement against British colonization led by Mohammed Abdullah Hassan, The Somali Dervish is a film on an epic scale, with a run time of four hours and forty minutes, a budget of $1.8 million, and a massive cast. (One of Hassan’s descendants, Sheik Osmar Osman, appeared in the starring role.) An inquiry from filmmaker Mark Brecke, who was seeking a copy of The Somali Dervish for a documentary on Somali cinema, led to the film’s rediscovery in the NFAI’s vaults. More information about the film’s reappearance is available here and here.
Service that Digitized and Stored Customers’ Music Collections Goes Bust, Leaving the Fate of 750,000 Albums Uncertain
The pre-2016 offices of Murfie, which stored customers’ physical music collections while providing them with streaming versions. Capital Times Archives.
Murfie—a Madison, WI-based company that stored, digitized, and streamed subscribers’ physical musical collections on their behalf—went out of business abruptly in late November, highlighting the precarious nature of the “anytime, anywhere” access that cloud storage appears to offer. Although Murfie’s terms of service guaranteed that it would return the albums in its possession—which totaled three-quarters of a million—in the case of its closure, customers were given mere days to claim their collections and required to pay more than ten times the company’s standard fees for the return of their items. For more information, see here and here.
INSTITUTIONS AND ORGANIZATIONS
Museum of Chinese in America’s Archives—Including One-of-a-Kind Media Materials—Damaged in Blaze
Firefighters battle a blaze at 70 Mulberry Street, which houses the Museum of Chinese in America archives. New York City Fire Department via Twitter.
A January 23 fire in New York’s Chinatown threatened over 85,000 documents of the Chinese and Chinese American experience in the United States, including original film elements from Renee Tajima-Peña’s landmark documentary Who Killed Vincent Chin? and records of the Sun Sing Theatre, a New York venue for Cantonese-language films. The fire destroyed the top floors of the building, which also housed a senior center and other community organizations, rendering it structurally unsound. Safety concerns delayed efforts to save collection items stored on the second floor, which were likely damaged by soot and water during the blaze, for six days. Over 35,000 digitized documents were successfully restored from back-ups, but the collection—which includes letters, photographs, family albums, restaurant menus, and textile pieces—
remains under threat. Read more about the fire’s aftermath here and here.
A Record-Setting Seven Films by Women Enter the National Film Registry
Coretta Scott King delivers a speech to striking workers in Madeline Anderson’s documentary I Am Somebody (1970), a 2019 addition to the National Film Registry.
The 2019 picks for the Library of Congress’s National Film Registry reflected an expanded view of the American film canon evident in recent years’ selections, featuring an unprecedented number of films directed or codirected by women, as well as works by filmmakers of color and LGBTQ directors. Kimberly Peirce’s trans-themed drama Boys Don’t Cry (1999) joined the registry alongside lesser-known works by women, including Gunvor Nelson’s My Name is Oona (1969), Elaine May’s A New Leaf (1971), Claudia Weill’s Girlfriends (1978), and two documentaries on civil rights struggles, Before Stonewall (Greta Schiller and Robert Rosenberg, 1984) and I Am Somebody (Madeline Anderson, 1970), which chronicles Black female hospital workers’ fight to unionize. Other selections include Oscar Micheaux’s Body and Soul (1925) and two celebrated films on the Chicano experience, Luis Valdez’s Brechtian musical Zoot Suit (1981) and Patricia Cardoso’s Real Women Have Curves (2002). Indie favorite Clerks (Kevin Smith, 1994) topped the list of films nominated by the public and was selected for inclusion in the registry. For more details, see here and here.
Nigerian Film Corporation and France’s Centre National du Cinéma to Collaborate on Coproductions, Restoration
Exterior of the Nigerian Film Corporation’s offices from the organization’s Facebook page.
France’s Centre National du Cinéma et l’Image Animée and the Nigerian Film Corporation entered into a bilateral agreement designed to boost coproductions (with France promising subsidies of up to €135,000) and exchanges of films between the two countries in January. In addition, the agreement identified joint film preservation efforts as a top priority alongside efforts to combat piracy, foster the production of children’s programming, and promote media literacy through film clubs. More information on the agreement is available here and here.
EXHIBITIONS AND FESTIVALS
National Museum of African American History and Culture Showcases Poster Art from “Race Films” to “Blaxploitation”
The Now Showing: Posters from African American Movies exhibit highlights independent “race films” produced for Black audiences during the classical Hollywood era alongside mainstream releases with African American themes.
Drawing on its Larry Richards Collection of over seven hundred film posters, Now Showing: Posters from African American Movies launched in November and will remain at the National Museum of African American History and Culture through late 2020. Spanning four decades, the show highlights the parallel industry of Black-cast “race films” marketed to African American audiences, mainstream Hollywood productions on the fraught issue of “passing,” and poster art from the Black Power era. The exhibit is also the museum’s first to feature augmented reality, allowing visitors to delve deeper into the histories of items on display through interactive technology. For more on the exhibit, see here and here.
George Eastman House Highlights its Indian Cinema Holdings with Three-Day Festival
Madhubala in Mughal-E-Azam (K. Asif, 1960), screened in a colorized re-release at the George Eastman House in November.
Held in November, the George Eastman House’s Filmi Worlds festival showcased one of the archive’s most unusual collections. In 2014, the archive acquired the world’s largest collection of contemporary Indian cinema, retrieving nearly 800 film prints dated between 1999 and 2013 and 8,500 film posters from the Naz 8 theater in Lakewood, CA shortly before the structure was demolished. The festival combined panel discussions with screenings of prints from the collection, including three twenty-first century Hindi and Tamil films and the colorized 2004 re-release of box office smash Mughal-E-Azam (K. Asif, 1960). See here for more on the festival.
The New York Museum of Modern Art’s To Save and Project Festival Highlights Horror, Home Movies, New Restorations
Still depicting Sam Yazzie from The Spirit of the Navajo (Mary Jane Tsosie and Maxine Tsosie, 1966), one of the films from the Navajo Film Themselves series screened at NY MoMA’s To Save and Project Festival. From Penn Museum.
Currently in its seventeenth year, New York MoMA’s annual preservation festival offered an eclectic program, ranging from new restorations of Hollywood silents Isn’t Life Wonderful (D.W. Griffith, 1924) and Loves of Carmen (Raoul Walsh, 1927) to a trio of restored horror films that included George A. Romero’s unreleased film The Amusement Park (1973), Roger Corman’s Masque of the Red Death (1964), and Michael Curtiz’s The Wax Museum (1933). Several programs resonated with the museum’s ongoing Private Lives, Public Spaces exhibition, its first large-scale show focused on the amateur and home movies in its collection, including screenings of work by Stan Brakhage and Ken Jacobs that explored these practices’ links with the avant-garde; Jan Oxenberg’s Home Movie (1973), an early lesbian feminist film; and a 1966 series of short films by Diné students, entitled Navajo Film Themselves. More information, including the full festival program, is available here; read an interview with festival curator Dave Kehr here.
GRANTS AND AWARDS
National Endowment for Humanities Grants to Support Training in Audiovisual Preservation, Radio Preservation
The National Endowment for the Humanities committed $2 million to preservation and training efforts in audiovisual archives, the agency announced in January. The Association of Moving Image Archives and the Bay Area Video Coalition each received close to $300,000 in support of education and training for historically underrepresented groups in the field. AMIA’s initiative will offer continuing education programs on audiovisual preservation in tribal archives, libraries, and museums, while BAVC’s program is to focus on community-based preservation training, offering a one-year fellowship designed to increase diversity within the profession. The NEH also awarded $750,000 in matching funds to New York Public Radio, which will develop a digital asset management system and preserve a portion of its holdings. More information about the awards is available here.
CLIR Awards Over $1 Million Towards Digitization Initiatives Led by Public Broadcasters
Through its Digitizing Hidden Special Collections and Archives program sponsored by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Council on Library and Information Resources committed over $1 million in grant funding to the digitization of public media. Two statewide initiatives, the New Mexico Public Media Digitization Project and the Kansas Public Media Preservation Project, received over $890,000 combined for their collaborative push to digitize public radio and television programs—many of them stored on obsolete and deteriorating formats—and make them available through the American Archive of Public Broadcasting. The City University of New York’s television station, which houses the CUNY system’s largest audiovisual archive, received over $115,000 to digitize and make accessible moving-image collections from across the CUNY system, which highlight topics such as urban development, criminal justice, and the Puerto Rican experience in New York. Applications for the 2020 Digitizing Hidden Collections competition close March 31. More information is available here.
Akkash Center for Photography Releases More than Six Hundred Images from Egyptian Film Sets Online
Beshara Wakim (left) and Madiha Yousri (right) in a film still from Dreams of Love (Fouad Al Jazayerli, 1945), part of a new online collection from Akkash Center for Photography at NYU Abu Dhabi.
The Akkash Center for Photography at New York University’s Abu Dhabi campus made hundreds of stills from Egyptian films of the 1940s - 1970s, drawn from its Samir Farid Collection, available online in November. Acquired via purchases from photographers and studios and named for prominent film scholar and critic Samir Farid, the full collection contains more than three thousand images from 265 films shot between 1937 and 1988. The selections now online include stills from classic titles like Dreams of Love (1945), The Woman Who Traps Men (1960), and Wedding Night Widow (1974). Akkash’s collection currently comprises over 33,000 photographs, roughly a third of which are available online. See here and here for more on the Samir Farid collection.
Over Four Hundred Hours of East German Home Movies Now Available from Open Memory Box
A self-reflexive moment in a home movie available on the Open Memory Box site.
Images from more than 2200 rolls of 8mm film shot by nearly 150 East German families between 1947 and 1990 can now be viewed on Open Memory Box. Launched in September, the portal is a project of scholar Laurence McFalls and filmmaker Alberto Herskovits, who solicited donations and created the site over a period of six years to help counter stereotyped perceptions of life in the German Democratic Republic. Users can search Open Memory Box using keywords, browse by decade, or peruse images from a single family or camera roll. The site also features an “anti-archive” mode for interacting with its holdings: users can view snippets of footage drawn from across the collection, either grouped randomly or by themes. For more on the project, see here and here.
American Philosophical Society Launches Digital Exhibit of Lantern Slides Depicting Indigenous Life in North America
Lantern slide depicting Edward Brown of the Catawba Indian Nation. From the Frank G. Speck Papers at the American Philosophical Society.
Over four hundred and fifty glass lantern slides of Native American life from the collection of anthropologist Frank Speck are now available online via the Center from the American Philosophical Society’s Center for Native American and Indigenous Research. Dating between 1904 and the 1940s, the slides document everyday practices of Native Americans—predominantly Haudenosaunee, Cherokee, and several Algonquian-speaking tribes—practices that Speck viewed as “vanishing,” rather than being dynamically refashioned by indigenous peoples as they grappled with settler visions of modernity. Jessica Locklear, the 2019 Martin L. Levitt Fellow and a graduate student at Temple University’s Center for Public History, conducted the digitization of the lantern slides. Locklear brings a critical perspective to bear on Speck’s anthropological images through her research, which grapples with the insufficiencies of settler archives through oral histories with fellow members of the Lumbee tribe living in Philadelphia.
UCLA Film & Television Archive Releases Episodes of Religious Anthology Program Insight Online
Psychedelic images from the opening credits evoke the moral dilemmas explored in religious anthology series Insight, preserved by UCLA Film & Television archive.
Fans of off-beat television can now view a sampling of the UCLA Film & Television Archive’s efforts to preserve Insight, a long-running anthology program with a religious message, an experimental bent, and a cult following. Produced and hosted by Paulist priest Father Ellwood Kieser for Paulist Productions, the program ran in syndication from 1960 and 1983, often tackling topical social issues with a dose of dark humor. In 2003, Paulist Productions transferred the original masters to UCLA for long-term storage and conservation. To date, the archive has completed an inventory and catalog of the program’s full run of episodes and restored twenty shows preserved on 2-inch videotape. Five of these restored episodes, which feature actors such as William Shatner and Juanita Moore, are now freely available online. For more on UCLA’s preservation of Insight, see here and here.
Archival News” reports recent news highlights from the media archive community for the JCMS readership. Some information in this column comes courtesy of the Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA) listserv, along with institutional newsletters, websites, and press releases. This column is updated quarterly. Contributions to this column are welcomed. Information should be sent to Rielle Navitski, Theatre and Film Studies, University of Georgia, Fine Arts Building, Athens, GA, 30602-3154, email: email@example.com. For news and finds from online media archives, follow @archivalnews on Twitter and Instagram.