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Early Bert Williams Film Added to the National Film Registry

19 Dec
Cabinet card image of American minstrel performer Bert Williams (1874-1922). TCS 1.1120, Harvard Theatre Collection, Harvard University

Cabinet card image of American minstrel performer Bert Williams (1874-1922). TCS 1.1120, Harvard Theatre Collection, Harvard University

The 2014 National Film Registry list has been released and among the films to be preserved is an early feature-length unreleased film by Bert Williams, a vaudeville performer, and the first African-American to headline on Broadway. Bert Williams Lime Kiln Club Field Day (1913), is thought to be the earliest surviving film featuring African-Americans and was lost for many years. Williams was featured in the first episode of Blackside’s documentary series on African-Americans in the arts, I’ll Make Me a World. In the episode Lift Every Voice, Henry Hampton explored the careers of Williams and his partner George Walker who were performing within a racist minstrel tradition, whilst still infusing their work with genuine elements of black culture.

A recent article in Sight and Sound told the story of how the seven reels of unidentified footage was discovered at MOMA in New York. The silent footage which contains multiple takes of a film featuring Williams and numerous other African-American performers was apparently never released. Iris Barry, the first film curator of MOMA had obtained the footage in 1939 from the Biograph studio. Williams’ partner George Walker had died by the time the film was being made, and MOMA has done extensive research on the film as part of their exhibit, 100 Years in Post-Production: Resurrecting a Lost Landmark of Black Film History.

The footage is now being preserved and has been edited together and screened as well. The film which was titled Bert Williams Lime Kiln Club Field Day by the curators is a comedy featuring middle-class black characters at social events and fairs, and draws comedy and pathos from Williams’ pursuit of the leading lady, Odessa Warren Grey.

Ron Magliozzi, the curator at MOMA, was able to research the cast and crew of the film, many of whom were part of the Harlem arts community pre-1920.

It eventually transpired that much of the cast had emerged from a little-known group of Harlem artists who, for years, had their events (concerts, carnivals, exhibitions) covered in the Age. The curator finds this particularly exciting, with good reason: “It brings to the world’s attention this… small community that’s pre-Harlem Renaissance, and before the blues and jazz were officially identified as that. We’re talking about the ragtime period.” The process of discovering all the cast members remains ongoing. — Back to Black (Sight and Sound)

This discovery of outtakes and footage is a huge find for film history and helps show the contributions of African-American performers and filmmakers.

 

Screening of “A Regular Bouquet” and Q&A with Actor and Filmmaker Richard Beymer

26 Sep

Washington University Film & Media Archive hosted a screening of A Regular Bouquet, followed by a Q&A with actor and filmmaker, Richard Beymer on September 23. Best known for his roles as “Tony” in the film adaption of West Side Story (1961) and “Ben Horne” in David Lynch’s series Twin Peaks (1990-1991), actor Richard Beymer’s documentary film, A Regular Bouquet: Mississippi Summer (1964) offers a rare portrait of segregated Mississippi during this historically significant time in American History. Beymer was one of the few filmmakers to spend significant time working with Freedom Summer volunteers from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Footage from Beymer’s film was used in filmmaker Stanley Nelson’s Freedom Summer (2014) and in episode five of Henry Hampton’s landmark series Eyes on the Prize, Mississippi: Is This America? (1962-1964). 

A Regular Bouquet is a unique film and primary document of Freedom Summer in Mississippi. Beymer worked alongside Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) activists, organizing and registering people to vote in rural Mississippi. The footage he captured shows the daily life of African-American Mississippians and the extreme poverty and deprivation of their surroundings along with the excitement of the young people attending the Freedom Schools and organizational meetings. Many thanks to Mr. Beymer for sharing his film and memories with the audience.

Washington University Film & Media Archive received a National Film Preservation Foundation Grant (NFPF) to preserve A Regular Bouquet: Mississippi SummerOnce the preservation state is complete, Washington University Film & Media Archive will create a digital copy which will be available to stream online.  A Regular Bouquet: Mississippi Summer is an invaluable film for filmmakers, researchers, teachers, and historians, and we look forward to making it available to the public.

Actor and filmmaker Richard Beymer and audience during the Q&A following the screening of

Actor and filmmaker Richard Beymer and audience during the Q&A following the screening of “A Regular Bouquet.”

September Events at the Film & Media Archive

12 Sep
Portrait of three boys during Freedom Summer, Mississippi, 1964. Photo from the Richard Beymer Collection.

Portrait of three boys during Freedom Summer, Mississippi, 1964. Photo from the Richard Beymer Collection.

Commemorating Mississippi Freedom Summer

Washington University Film & Media Archive invites you to celebrate the 50th anniversary of this pivotal time in American history.

Screening of A Regular Bouquet and Q&A with Actor Richard Beymer, Tuesday, Sept. 23, 7pm, Etta Eiseman Steinberg Auditorium

A free screening of the short documentary film A Regular Bouquet  (1964), recently donated to the Film & Media Archive, and Q&A with filmmaker and actor Richard Beymer. Best known for his roles as Tony in the film adaptation of West Side Story (1961) and in David Lynch’s series Twin Peaks (1990-1991), Beymer’s film, offers a rare portrait of segregated Mississippi during this historically significant time in American History.

 

Remembering Mississippi Freedom Summer Exhibition, Thru Oct. 25, Grand Staircase Lobby & Gingko Room, Olin Library

Commemorating the 50th anniversary of 1964’s Freedom Summer, this exhibit highlights primary source materials from the Washington University Libraries’ newly acquired Richard Beymer Collection and its inaugural Henry Hampton Collection.

Risking Everything Exhibition, Thru Sept. 29, Olin Library

A Freedom Summer traveling exhibit, from the Wisconsin Historical Society, featuring materials selected from over 1,100 boxes of unpublished papers created by individual activists, community groups, and national organizations.

 

Remembering Mississippi Freedom Summer

28 Aug
Group photo of students and volunteers with Richard Beymer at a Freedom School during Freedom Summer, Mississippi, 1964. © The Richard Beymer Collection.

Group photo of students and volunteers with Richard Beymer at a Freedom School during Freedom Summer, Mississippi, 1964. © The Richard Beymer Collection.

Remembering Mississippi Freedom Summer

An exhibit commemorating the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer is now on view in Olin Library, Gingko Room.

Remembering Mississippi Freedom Summer highlights primary source materials from the Washington University Libraries Film & Media Archive’s newly acquired Richard Beymer Collection and inaugural Henry Hampton Collection.The exhibit also celebrates the National Film Preservation Foundation (NFPF) grant awarded to the Film & Media Archive in 2014 to preserve Beymer’s documentary A Regular Bouquet: Mississippi Summer.

Best known for his roles as “Tony” in the film adaption of West Side Story (1961) and “Ben Horne” in David Lynch’s series Twin Peaks (1990-1991), actor Richard Beymer’s documentary film, A Regular Bouquet: Mississippi Summer (1964) offers a rare portrait of segregated Mississippi during this historically significant time in American History. Beymer was one of the few filmmakers to spend significant time working with Freedom Summer volunteers from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). As a result, other documentary filmmakers frequently seek his footage. Most recently, filmmaker Stanley Nelson relied heavily on A Regular Bouquet when completing his film, Freedom Summer, which premiered in June 2014 on PBS. Beymer’s footage was also included in Henry Hampton’s seminal documentary series, Eyes on the Prize (1987). Featured in episode five, Mississippi: Is This America? (1962-1964) Hampton combined stock footage and first-hand accounts to retell the events of Freedom Summer.

Portrait of three boys during Freedom Summer, Mississippi, 1964.  © The Richard Beymer Collection.

Portrait of three boys during Freedom Summer, Mississippi, 1964.  © The Richard Beymer Collection.

 

In 1964, civil rights activists launched Freedom Summer, a project in Mississippi to register black voters, provide educational opportunities, and build the movement for integration. The Council of Federated Organizations (COFO), an umbrella group of civil rights organizations that included SNCC working in Mississippi, issued a call for volunteers, and nearly 1,000 responded. After receiving training, the volunteers, mostly white, northern college students and recent graduates, joined the existing group of predominantly black activists.

Richard Beymer set out to film these activities in order to create a training tool for COFO’s future volunteers.  Comprised of testimonials from volunteers and Black Mississippi residents, A Regular Bouquet: Mississippi Summer consists of rare and historically significant primary source depictions of segregated Mississippi against the backdrop of violent opposition. The film also includes footage of Freedom Schools, which provided instruction to over 3,000 black students. The schools directly challenged Mississippi’s segregated education system by offering instruction on black history and constitutional rights. Portraying the intimate relationship between teacher and student, the film includes interviews, class instruction, sing-alongs, and a discussion of the student-written Pleasant Green Magazine

Students at a Freedom School during Freedom Summer, Mississippi, 1964. © The Richard Beymer Collection.

Students at a Freedom School during Freedom Summer, Mississippi, 1964. © The Richard Beymer Collection.

The threat of racist violence haunted Freedom Summer from the beginning. On June 21, one week after the first volunteers arrived for training, three activists, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner, disappeared. The FBI conducted a massive search and found their corpses on August 4. Despite the threat of violence, Freedom Summer volunteers engaged in door-to-door voter-registration efforts. Beymer filmed the registration drive and interviewed participants. One resident discussed the economic tactics used by segregationists: “When you put ‘By whom are you employed’ [on the application form], you’re fired by the time you get back home.” Mississippi officials rejected the vast majority of voter-registration applications submitted by African-American residents that summer. But the events of Freedom Summer increased public support for new civil rights legislation, leading to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

When Henry Hampton made Eyes on the Prize one of his main goals was to include the voices of people who had not been recorded or widely recognized before. Many local activists in remote areas of Mississippi who had organized early on to gain voting rights, often at great risk, were featured in the episode Mississippi: Is This America? (1962-1964). Hampton interviewed Robert Moses and Amize Moore, two of the main architects and planners of Freedom Summer, Unita Blackwell, local activist who became one of the delegates in the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP), Casey and Tom Hayen, Freedom Summer volunteers, and Myrlie Evers, civil rights activist and widow of slain Mississippi leader Medgar Evers. Hampton also interviewed segregations, including William Simmons, a member of the Citizens’ Council—a pro-segregation organization that operated in Mississippi—to show what the prevailing political climate was like in Mississippi in 1964 and what the Freedom Summer volunteers had to combat. By interviewing people from both sides of the issue, Hampton brought a multifaceted portrait of Mississippi to viewers.

Together A Regular Bouquet: Mississippi Summer and Mississippi: Is This America? (1962-1964) create a complex portrait of life in Mississippi during Freedom Summer and an understanding of the social and political pressures that existed during this volatile period in our nation’s history.

 

 

Educational Films Arrive at the Film Archive

20 Jun

Washington University Film & Media Archive Staff processing films from the Educational Film Collection.

 

In 2003, the Film & Media Archive obtained 200 educational films from the St. Louis Public School’s Film Collection. Another portion of the collection went to the St. Louis branch of the Academic Film Archive of North America, and the rest were stored in various locations in St. Louis and in Columbia, Missouri. After almost nine years, a large portion of the remaining St. Louis Public School films are now part of the Educational Film Collection at the Film & Media Archive. Nadia Ghasedi, Head of the Visual Media Research Lab (VMRL), Irene Taylor, Film & Media Cataloging and Preservation Archivist, and Barry Kelley, Processing Assistant, spent two full days in Columbia, Missouri testing many of the remaining films for vinegar syndrome, a condition which deteriorates film, checking for duplicate titles, and packing up the prints to be shipped back to St. Louis. Now, Irene, Barry, and two student assistants are assessing and cataloging approximately 6,500 films.

Film reels from the Educational Film Collection. Washington University Film & Media Archive.

Federal funding throughout the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s helped make this a thriving genre, but now many of these academic films are in danger of being lost and an effort is underway to preserve these films. Often overlooked and discounted, the films are a rich visual resource and can provide glimpses into the past fashions, social customs and attitudes, as well as provide a snapshot of the culture at a special point in time. Mainly from the 1960’s and 70’s, the collection includes purely education documentaries, dramatizations of literature and history, and “guidance” films which were made to highlight social mores, or focus on safety issues, and the subjects include African-American history, the labor movement, dance and music performances, and advertising.

Sample titles from the collection include, Eli WhitneyHarriet Tubman and the Underground RailroadImmigrant from America;Minorities – Patterns of ChangeTribute to Malcolm XThe Labor Movement: Beginnings and Growth in America, How to Save a Choking Victim, I’m the Only Me, Pioneers of the Plains, and Zero: Something for Nothing.

Photos by Alison Carrick.

Film reels from the Educational Film Collection. Washington University Film & Media Archive.

Film reels from the Educational Film Collection. Washington University Film & Media Archive.

Inside the Film Archive

14 Feb
Film & Media Archive stacks

Washington University Film & Media Archive stacks

The climate controlled vault at the Film & Media Archive was designed to address the challenges of storing film and other media to ensure the material lasts for the maximum amount of time and remains in the best condition.

Film preservation efforts varied over time, but unfortunately 90 percent of all American silent films made before 1929 and 50 percent of American sound films made before 1950 are lost. ( Dave Kehr (14 October 2010). “Film Riches, Cleaned Up for Posterity”New York Times.

To properly store film the temperature and humidity must be controlled and provide a stable environment for the materials. Filmmakers and historians recognized the need for this and the Museum of Modern Art in New York was one of the first institutions to collect and preserve film. Followed by the founding of the  George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film in 1947, the American Film Institute founded in 1967, and The Film Foundation, created by Martin Scorsese in 1990. This is not an exhaustive list by any means, but over the years film preservationists have  continued to make advances in how film is stored and treated.

The Washington University Film & Media Archive currently contains 6,500,000 feet (based on can size),  1,300 linear feet (manuscript boxes), 19,900 video tapes, 10, 150 audio tapes, 4,650 books, 160 CDs, 800 DVDs, and 25,000 photographs.

 Photos by Alison Carrick. 

Film Preservation Techniques

6 Sep
Film reel, Film & Media Archive, Washington University. Photo by Alison Carrick.

Film reel, Film & Media Archive, Washington University. Photo by Alison Carrick.

The British Film Institute National Archive has a series of videos on its website that give a great overview of film preservation and restoration techniques. Take a virtual tour of the BFI’s labs and view the techniques and standard practices used by film archivists in the links below.

BFI National Archive’s Dry Lab

The clip investigates the essential processes that take place in the BFI National Archive’s Dry Lab, in which technical archivists examine, repair, and prepare films for exhibition and storage in the BFI Vaults.

BFI National Archive’s Wet Lab

This clip investigates the essential processes that take place in the BFI National Archive’s Wet Lab, which ensures that films are in an optimal state to be shown and enjoyed, creating crucial new copies of restored or preserved films.

Nitrate Film at the BFI

The BFI holds the largest collection of nitrate film stock in the world, extending the life of this now retired medium. Highly combustible and unstable, the BFI has developed a range of measures to ensure these rare nitrate assets are safe from potential degradation.

Long Live Film: Nitrate Season

 Here Head Curator Robin Baker at BFI discusses one of the pivotal projects associated with the anniversary, the very rare and exclusive projection of nitrate film, and outlines in detail the historical importance of the format and the difficulties involved in its maintenance.