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A Gem of a Conversation: An Interview with Siobhan C. Hagan

By Benjamin Parnin

I recently had the opportunity to interview Siobhan C. Hagan, founder and CEO of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Moving Image Archive (MARMIA) as well as the Project Manager of the Memory Lab Network at the Washington DC Public Library. MARMIA provides preservation, digitization, and access services to the Mid-Atlantic area as a nonprofit organization. The Memory Lab Network is a project at the Washington DC Public Library (DCPL) funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) through a National Leadership Grant to build Memory Lab digital preservation programs in public libraries across the U.S. based on the DCPL Memory Lab model. During my interview with her I learned about her goals and accomplishments during her 12 years working in audiovisual preservation.

Siobhan always had an interest in film and home movies growing up, from watching classic movies on AMC and Turner Classic, to even basing one of her high school AP chemistry projects on the degradation of film. Deciding that she wanted to pursue a career in film, Siobhan attended Loyola Marymount University and graduated with a degree in film production and a minor in history. After graduating she worked at a small company in Burbank, California, doing product placement on TV shows. Wanting to explore a different career path and facing the reality of the Great Recession, Siobhan enrolled in New York University to complete the Tisch Moving Image Archiving and Preservation MA program. Here, learning about audio visual preservation, her interest in home movies and regional moving image materials deepened as she connected school studies with her own family’s home movie collection. She further developed a curiosity for her own regional audiovisual heritage through completing an internship at the University of Baltimore.

After graduating, Siobhan accepted audiovisual archivist positions near and far. Her first position was with the UCLA Library back in 2011. Here, she worked to create an audiovisual preservation program for the UCLA Library, which at the time, had its own collection separate from the UCLA Film and Television Archive. After a couple of years working at UCLA Siobhan’s concern and interests for her own regional audiovisual heritage brought her back to the east coast, “UCLA had [a] regional collection that was great, but I wasn’t scratching that itch of my region and where I’m from. I would return home to visit family and I was always looking around and asking around about the audiovisual [preservation situation] in Maryland and kept asking why no one is doing anything.”

In response to this feeling, Siobhan accepted a new position as the University of Baltimore’s first audiovisual archivist.  At the University of Baltimore, she curated and preserved two news collections, WJZ and WMAR, which she previously handled during her internship. Afterwards, Siobhan worked with the National Aquarium audiovisual collection before being hired as a manager of the 1930s Old Greenbelt Theater. Siobhan was tasked with gaining intellectual control over a collection of 16mm films from the local library which the theater wished to regularly screen to the public. Her many job responsibilities at the theater included being the house manager, grant writer, staff manager, and collection manager/preservationist. She then worked at the Archive of American Art at the Smithsonian doing film inspection and description before starting her current job at the Washington DC Public Library, where she provides audiovisual and digital preservation training for the public and other librarians.

During 2016 Siobhan started MARMIA to address the lack of attention towards the preservation of Mid-Atlantic audiovisual heritage. Through her career, Siobhan would receive emails and calls from schools, institutions, and historical societies asking for help with their audiovisual collections. Concerned parties lacked the expertise and funding for proper audiovisual preservation, and did not know what to do with the materials on hand. After the third similar request, she realized the need for a regional audiovisual archive. The lack of an existing organization to do this work, combined with her interests in regional audiovisual materials, were the two driving factors behind the creation of MARMIA. 

At first MARMIA consisted of completing digitization contract work for institutions in the area, but Siobhan envisioned a different path. She didn’t want MARMIA to become just another vendor or consultant. Siobhan secured a nonprofit status for MARMIA and looked for guidance from other regional audiovisual archives, including California Revealed, the Texas Archive of the Moving Image, Northeast Historic Film, the Chicago Film Archives, and the Tennessee Archive of Moving Image and Sound. Transitioning MARMIA to a physical archive became tangible in 2017 when the archive received the WJZ collection from the University of Baltimore. Siobhan recalled that it was a stressful period for MARIMA, as she had to find a place to store the massive collection in addition to fundraising and providing access. In 2021, MARMIA achieved the milestone of hiring its first part-time employee, Joana Stillwell. Siobhan’s future goal for MARMIA is to have multiple full-time staff that are well-paid and professionally fulfilled.

To better understand her passion for encouraging the archiving of the Mid-Atlantic region’s audiovisual materials, I asked Siobhan why she thought these materials were receiving lukewarm treatment. Siobhan stated that the cost, storage concerns, and expertise associated with digitizing audiovisual materials could be intimidating. This is especially true for small organizations which may lack the stated resources and thus not embark on digitization and preservation projects. Moreover, the payoff of finding a gem of an item can be arduous and thus discouraging, “It is amazing stuff, and every once in a while I would find a gem to show them [an organization], but the time involved in finding that gem that might bring the money in or get attention would take a lot of time because we have to digitize it and then you have to search it.” Even with digitization, content (and that possible gem) remains hidden without intensive time devoted to the work, says Siobhan, “To describe it takes time. The content is still mostly hidden unless you have a human watch it”.

Leveraging Siobhan’s experience in several moving image archiving positions throughout her accomplished career, I asked what she thought is one of the greatest challenges facing the audiovisual professional. Siobhan responded with a warning to aspiring professionals that institutions hire moving image archivists with big financial and professional expectations, “I feel I should warn new people in the field. Sometimes we [audiovisual archivists] are expected to have a magic wand and institutions will think that hiring an AV archivist will earn them all this money through licensing of footage or writing grants.” Another challenge she sees is the lack of adequate pay for positions and finds it out of alignment with the valuable skill set audiovisual archivists bring. Siobhan sees potential in new conversations about the value and pay of audiovisual archivists, particularly within the Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA), “I’m excited about people in AMIA talking about how we can’t be paying people so little.”

My final question for Siobhan was what she wants to accomplish in the next few years. Siobhan is looking forward to continuing her role at professional conferences and other spaces to increase outreach for moving image preservation and the value of audiovisual archivists. Siobhan envisions that her efforts will culminate in new interest in preservation work and our profession, hoping, “To get people to know that, first, this work needs to be done, and that it’s pretty time sensitive. I want to keep bugging people that AV preservation needs to happen.” 

The Blind Leading the Blind: One Man’s Journey in Film Preservation

By Mary Kate McConahay

I had the opportunity to speak with David Walsh recently about his thoughts on film preservation. This was a wonderful chat. David has had a 40 plus year career working in film preservation. He started his career at the Imperial War Museum, a British institution dedicated to preserving the experiences of nations and people in conflicts. The large mission of the archive is matched by its collections, which consist of over 25,000 hours of moving image material. Progressing through the ranks, David became the Head of Preservation in the 1990s and then transitioned to the Head of Digital Collections in 2012. Additionally, David was asked to become a member of the International Federation of Film Archives (FIAF) Technical Commission in 2006. Excelling in the organization, David has since become their Training and Outreach Coordinator. He is truly a star.  

Here is a bit of background about David. He started working for the Imperial War Museum (IWM) in 1975, putting his master’s degree in chemistry to work as he joined a project to study the decomposition of cellulose nitrate film. He stayed on at the IWM, gaining greater experience in film preservation. At the time, film preservation was still relatively new, and many best practices had not been established yet. According to David, “I had to be self-taught. I did courses with Kodak and individuals, although I didn’t have any formal training. I had to do it all myself.” With that came a lot of learning from past mistakes. The process involved trial and error, often reversing what was considered best practices due to later-realized problems. He shared a story about his early years working at the IWM as he and his boss came across a film that was coming up for its turn in their preservation program:

It was a training film made for the Royal Air Force RAF in the late 1930s, before the war started. We had the original negatives and the original soundtracks of three or four reels. But the soundtrack of one of the reels had started to decompose at the front. I remember the fun of my boss, who had absolutely no clue, trying to work out what to do about this. Although the film had gone sticky, the soundtrack along the edge was perfectly readable. It’s just the rest of the area of the film had gone all tacky and had yellow sticky blocks so it wouldn’t run through the printer very well. He had managed to get it on the film projector and make a copy of the sound. Which we then used to make a new optical negative; which we then used to splice on the original after the damage had gone past. It was a fascinating process, but the results were terrible. In later years, I realized what a daft exercise that was! It was the blind leading the blind, but with the right intentions. From that point on, I began to understand how to do these things properly.

As he continued his work in the film and video archives of the IWM, David encountered interesting challenges concerning the technology for film and digitization:

First of all, the film technology itself, and it turned out to be a huge subject. And I’m always surprised by the number of things we discovered in the vaults. We didn’t know quite what it was or how it worked. It was very often the case ‘ooh I’ve never seen that before,’ and [that] this had been something that [had] been used at some point in film production- at some point that enjoyed a little bit of success and had gone out of favor. There are always surprises in film stores. That remains a big issue. Particularly people who think they can digitize their entire collection. You think, ‘We’ve got a big collection and it’s quite well documented, let’s digitize it.’ Within a moment of starting, you run into the first can, and [when] you open [it] you think: ‘whoa, what is that,’ ‘how does that work,’ ‘I don’t understand how this fit in the production chain,’ ‘do we need to digitize it.’

Meeting all of these challenges and gaining greater expertise, David was promoted to Head of Preservation for film at the IWM. However, it all started to become a little too routine for his tastes. I asked about his interest and later transition to Head of Digital Preservation, and this is what he had to say:

Digital came along at the right time. I was actually getting quite bored with film preservation. I was beginning to think I had learnt it all or most of it. Then digital started. We had no ability to store digital data, and there were no formats apart from highly proprietary ones that were attached to particular bits of equipment. It was all about sending the film off to the digital lab. They would scan it; they would do any of the restoration work that we agreed and then write it back on to our film negative. At the end of the day, you got a new negative and a new print. And the new digital data was offered, and we said, ‘sorry, what are we going to do with it?’ The amount of data was so vast [in] those days. A terabyte of data in the year 2000 was an unmanageable amount of stuff. But I found myself in the position where I was increasingly working in both camps [film and digital]. I kind of became the guy who understood digital in the museum and having been the guy who understood film technology. I found it interesting because it keeps the brain functioning to learn new stuff. And it was very much new stuff. The technology was developing as fast as we could keep up with it. It was only 5 or 6 years after our first foray into digital that we found ourselves taking in digital tapes with digital stuff on it. That sat in my office for another 6 years. It wasn’t until that point where the museum progressed to the point where they had a digital mass storage system capable of taking all of this data. And then we had to pay someone to read the tape backs. There were no standards. The tape format was standardized but the file format wasn’t. So we had to have someone who remembered how it was done. 

In addition to the IWM, David has been involved with FIAF for many decades. The mission of FIAF is to connect non-profit moving image archives throughout the world, and provide expertise, resources, and awareness of its members. FIAF achieves this by highlighting or hosting conferences, symposiums, screenings, and training events all over the globe. Currently, FIAF consists of over 170 member institutions representing 79 countries. When asked about his initial involvement with FIAF, David remarked on the importance of professional organizations to moving image archivists:

I first found myself invited into the FIAF Technical Commission which was fun. And that was really good. You couldn’t learn digital stuff by sitting in your office on your own. In a museum where no one else had any clue about this new stuff. You really needed to get out and talk to other people and find out what others were doing. Learn from the professionals and amateurs and the like. 

Involvement in FIAF for David, much like the organization itself, soon expanded across the globe. He advanced from a member of the Technical Commission to the head of the commission. Wanting to improve the commission, he started asking people what they would like the commission to do. What should and could it do? The major feedback he received was the need for assistance with training staff. FIAF and David realized the value in training and education for archives, culminating in FIAF creating a formal post for training and outreach. David became the Training and Outreach Coordinator in 2016. He has since traveled all over the world to visit various archives in need of assistance with training and resources. Through this experience, David recognizes the importance of advocating for greater investment in moving image archives, especially in the developing world. He ended our conversation with these final thoughts: 

My main preoccupation at the moment is how do we stop the rest of film heritage around the world from disappearing, the stuff that hasn’t gone. Particularly in lower income countries in the global south or in the tropics. The thing is, I don’t have a solution. It looks like looking after old film is an insurmountable problem that you are never going to solve unless you are in a temperate climate, and you have lots of money. I don’t have an answer for this and I’m still looking for one. My worry is that we are going to lose a huge amount of footage in the next 10 years because it’s all reaching the end of its life. We are going to lose a huge amount of video material as well because time is already running out, and in some cases, already run out to copy this stuff. There aren’t enough machines with head life left to copy even a small part of video tapes that are sitting in vaults around the world. Everyone thinks digital is the answer and then we are going to have some digital disasters too because people don’t understand how difficult it is to preserve digital stuff.

Those last thoughts were very poignant and something I hadn’t truly considered in their entirety, especially about storing digital information.

Before we signed out of Zoom, I asked David to rate our conversation on a scale from 10 to 10. He ranked it an 11. David is full of wit and humor, and it was an absolute joy to speak with him. It is not every day that you get a chance to speak with an expert in their field, so when you do, it’s hard to contain the excitement.

If you are interested in learning more about his current work, please visit FIAF.

Interview an Archivist: A Conversation with Anne Gant

By Alison Summer-Ramirez

On February 21st, at about three A.M. Eastern Standard Time, I was fueled by an almost unhealthy amount of caffeine and anxiety. While this may seem like a strange time to be awake, I was on a mission. On the other side of the globe, six hours ahead in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, it was nine A.M. and the start of the workday for Archivist Anne Gant. Thankfully, she set aside time for an interview with me.

Anne Gant

Anne Gant is the Head of Film Conservation and Digital Access at the Eye Film Museum in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Before that, Anne earned her Master’s in Preservation and Presentation of the Moving Image from the Universiteit van Amsterdam, and worked at commercial and GLAM (gallery, library, archives, and museum) positions back in the United States. Anne is active in several professional film preservation organizations, including being the Head of the Technical Commission at the International Federation of Film Archives (FIAF), which supplies technical guidance and standards in the restoration and preservation of physical and digital moving image materials to archives around the world. Other memberships include the Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA), the International Council of Museums, and the International Council of Archives. Anne’s work and research focuses on improving methods of film digitization, conservation, and access in the digital environment.

Admittedly, I attempted to look up Anne before this interview, but had some difficulty, as I could only find results for an Anne Gant who was a glass artist. When I brought this up, Anne revealed that she was the same Anne Gant. Her first career was centered around art and art conservation. While back in the United States, Anne pursued her artistic side, earning a BFA in sculpture from the Parsons School of Design and a MFA in Glass from Temple University. I was thrilled at this because I have a fascination with glassblowing and glass art as a whole. I shared this with Anne, and we discussed the beauty and the pain that comes with working with glass.

She still creates glass art but at this time she has decided to take a break to reposition herself relative to climate change. This shifted our discussion to the potential environmental impact of archives especially in relation to the energy demands of digital preservation and cold storage for film preservation. Anne expressed hope that continued scientific study of cold storage film preservation practices will yield lower energy options, “I hope the community can do some studies in the next couple of years and maybe agree that we can turn down the energy a tiny bit and not keep everything so cold.” Continued discussion involved how archiving and preserving objects is, in a way, “going against nature” by delaying decomposition. That archivists are busy trying to “cheat the death’ of an object; in this case a film.

For Anne, archives and film conservation is her second, or third, career. While pursuing preservation and conservation work previously in America, the move to Europe sparked an urge for further education to adjust to living in another country, “… I’d already been working with museums, and I’d already been working in digital and commercial businesses. And I thought, ‘Oh, if I’m going to come to Europe … one of the best ways to connect with a society or figure out what’s going on [is to] go to school.” We discussed how these two careers, art and film preservation, connect and conflict with each other, “… I found it very amazing when I first encountered film that you’re always working on duplication of the material. And that was just mind-blowing to me because I come from an object conservation world.” I have encountered a similar narrative that I have run into with other professionals in the field of archives and preservation, especially if they have chosen this path as their second career. By having a diverse background, the archivist or librarian is able to apply their previous experience in an unexpected way to their current work. In Anne’s case this meant taking her knowledge of art, conservation and preservation, and the digital world and using them to digitize films and the cultural heritage of the Netherlands.

The Eye team celebrating an ingest milestone.
It takes a whole team to care for digital heritage! Some of the Eye archivists, registrars, restorers and information specialists celebrate an ingest milestone. From left to right: Andréa Seligmann Silva, Jim Wraith, Kirsten de Hoog, Martine Bouw, Annike Kross, Anne Gant.

To wrap up our interview, I asked two questions. The first of these consisted of what aspect of her work she enjoys the most. To this, she replied “One of the things I really, really enjoy is this sense of international collaboration. I really love that there is a network of archives all over the world helping to care for each other’s films. And I like being able to see that there is this world community.” This answer speaks to her many memberships in film preservation organizations. The sense of community and camaraderie also strongly attracted me to this field.

Lastly, I wondered what Anne’s least favorite part of her work was. She answered with the lack of recognition for the critical importance of collection processing and cataloguers, “I very much dislike trying to convince people that registration is essential and that cataloguers are essential. I can’t believe it’s not something that people understand from their core.” This has been a recurring theme in my own studies. Anne explained the necessity of being able to find an object once it is processed and placed into a collection. The lack of appropriate procedures for cataloging can lead to issues with accessibility and can be costly in time and resources needed to resolve the resulting issue.

It was an incredible experience to be able to talk with Anne Gant. I am grateful for the opportunity to gain an insight into the field of film archives, especially outside of the United States. Issues confronting Anne, namely concerns about environment sustainability, digital preservation, and robust cataloging, are ongoing concerns I, and likely much of the film archives world, encounter regularly. For further information about the Eye Film Museum and to keep up with Anne’s latest work, visit the Eye Film Museum website.

Home Movie Preservation: A Conversation with CK Ming

By Heidi Yarger

First, a brief biography: CK Ming received their undergraduate degree in film production at American University, where they were exposed to film preservation and the works of Oscar Micheaux through a silent film course they took in their last semester. They went on to pursue a Moving Image Archiving and Preservation degree at New York University. After their time at NYU, CK worked in the film department at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). They went on to work on the South Side Home Movie Project in Chicago, where they stayed until moving onto their current position at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. They are also on the National Film Preservation Board, serve as the chair for the Pathways Fellowship program through the Association of Moving Images (AMIA) and serve as a Director of the Board, and are on the Board of Directors at the Center for Home Movies.

In April, I had the great pleasure of talking with CK Ming, Media Conservation and Digitization Specialist at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC). A large portion of their work is focused on the Robert F. Smith Center for the Digitization and Curation of African American History at the Smithsonian. The Robert F. Smith Center aids institutions and individuals around the country in preserving their heritage. They have a mobile digitization truck equipped with a film scanner, video racks, a DAT tape player, and basic audio recording equipment. Along with the truck, the Smith Center travels with a professional still image photography set-up, which people can use to get yearbooks, recipes, and other precious ephemera professionally photographed for digital storage. CK gave me an idea about the other kinds of work the Smith Center facilitates by describing a project they worked on recently with a museum in Lawrenceville, Virginia. The museum got in touch after saving documents and records from a now defunct HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) called Saint Paul’s College. Archivists from the Smith Center traveled to Lawrenceville and held a community archiving workshop where they taught volunteers how to identify media, create image descriptions, and construct inventories with the items that were saved, all in the span of a one-day workshop. “So that’s a big thing that the Smith Center does,” CK told me, “Working with communities and trying to meet their needs.” 

Along those lines, one of the major themes in our conversation was the realm of community curation and the role archivists play in public preservation and digitization projects. In addition to working with the Smith Center, CK works on the Great Migration Home Movie Project through NMAAHC. This project began in 2017 and focuses on collecting and digitizing home movies from African American communities. Home movie preservation is not new for CK, who played a major role in the South Side Home Movie Project in Chicago before moving on to NMAAHC. Connecting film archive professionals with locals in south Chicago neighborhoods, the South Side Home Movie Project aims to preserve, digitize, and screen amateur moving image material. Much of our discussion revolved around the differences in media storage, cataloging, web access, and donor relationships between the two projects. The South Side Home Movie Project is a much smaller, more localized operation than the Great Migration Project. This has both advantages and disadvantages. Unlike the Great Migration Project, South Side keeps the original movies from their donors. So when starting, one of the first things CK did was find physical storage for the collection. They also worked on creating a digital storage space, web portal, and catalog so that the collection could be accessible to the public. Building from the ground up, they implemented CollectiveAccess, an online system for the digital archive. On the other hand, the Smithsonian uses The Museum System (TMS), which, CK told me is, “not so great for describing film and video and media.” However, because the system is already in place, there isn’t much flexibility to implement a new one. 

Differences between the two projects continued with metadata collection. In terms of creating metadata for home movies, at South Side, the team spends a considerable amount of time with donors, often recording oral interviews and maintaining those relationships over time, which is a huge benefit of being a locally focused collection. CK has also imported taxonomic terms from the Texas Archive of the Moving Image and the Chicago Film Archive, which will be used in a large-scale project to add metadata to the items. In contrast, with the Great Migration Project people often come in to have one or two tapes digitized and might not be seen again. In that short time frame, the team isn’t always able to collect the information they need to contextualize the movies, which makes it difficult when they are creating metadata online. However, because the Great Migration Project is a study collection, often when scholars come to look at movies, they can contribute tags and keywords to add while researching. The collection spans from the 1930s all the way to 2008, and the team has a goal to add as many tags and item-level descriptions as possible. Both projects aim to have the greatest accessibility for the students, families, and communities using the materials.

Discussions of home movie collection access and use in the Great Migration Project provided insight into the nature of home movies and potential limitations on use. Occasionally, filmmakers ask for permission to use footage from the home movies, but CK told me that isn’t really what the collection is meant for, and that most requests are turned down. We talked about the relationship home movies hold as media originally made for private use and how that shifts when they enter a public archive. It can be challenging to respect the intimate nature of home movie recordings, while still supplying valuable materials for researchers and others in an archives’ designated community. Establishing the use limits for home movie collections is critical to respecting the originators of content.

I asked CK if they saw home movies gaining more archival and institutional recognition in the future. They felt home movie preservation was not seen as something large archives do unless the movies are connected to someone famous, and that it becomes difficult to decide what to save when you are considering how much space you have, “if all the movies are important, then you have to accept all home movies with limited resources.” In the future, CK hopes that advances in storage technology will change this reality. However, they also expressed their happiness that people who are entering the field seem to have a greater interest in home movie preservation, “I do think more scholarly work needs to be done…to advance home movie preservation. And it is exciting.” 

Looking Back with a Master of Disaster

By Jaycee Chapman, Graduate Student, African Studies Program & Library Science

Eight young, mostly Black school children from Indianapolis were once so bad at chess, they called themselves ‘The Masters of Disaster’ in the 1980’s. While their game play improved, the name stuck.

Nearly forty years later, the producer of the film and a former-Masters of Disaster teammate reflects on their involvement in the 32-minute documentary that became a gem of Indianapolis history and went on to receive praise from international audiences and be nominated for an Academy Award in 1987.

The Masters of Disaster (1985) is a short documentary film produced by Sonya Friedman and Pat Wetmore Kellar and was part of the IU Audio-Visual Center’s (AVC) film distribution service. The AVC’s holdings came to IU Libraries in 2008 and made up the original core collection that became the Moving Image Archive in 2010. The Moving Image Archive received a National Film Preservation Foundation grant in 2013 to preserve the film by making new film prints of the documentary and provided a copy of the film to the Academy Film Archive, which did not previously have the Award-nominated documentary in its historical holdings. More recently in 2019, the Archive created a 4K scan of the film and digitally restored it, creating a DCP that has provided the newly restored print to international screening venues.

The film features the ‘Masters of Disaster’ and their rise to success in the elementary school chess scene. Elementary school teacher Bob Cotter, the chess coach at Indianapolis Public School 27, bands the kids together and teaches them how to play. By 1983, the team had played chess against the then-Indianapolis mayor William Herbert Hudnut III, met President Ronald Reagan at the White House, and competed in various chess tournaments nationally and abroad in Tokyo, Japan.

The Masters of Disaster at practice with Coach Bob Cotter.

The documentary opens after a successful national championship in which the Masters of Disaster placed second in the National Elementary School Chess Tournament of 1983. The team begins practicing for another shot at the national tournament in 1984, under a combination of pressure to succeed after rising to local fame and an overconfidence that inhibited the team’s discipline to practice.

The AVC produced hundreds of educational films during the twentieth century, including films produced from the 1950’s through the 1970’s about inner city life in Indianapolis that dramatized issues of poverty, racism, and ghettoization. Though The Masters of Disaster addresses the realities of attending an under-funded public school, Friedman and Wetmore Kellar share a different narrative in The Masters of Disaster. The producers allow the team to tell their own story and let their unique personalities shine through their love of chess, resulting in a pinnacle of sorts to the decades-long series of films produced by the AVC.

Friedman explained to me that the team had endured “several disheartening experiences” with film producers who lost interest in the team and dropped projects in the works whenever they lost a match.

“Win or lose, the film would be made, and finished,” Friedman said. She and Wetmore Keller both believed that the documentary would be of interest regardless of the team’s success because of the boys’ enthusiasm and charisma.

Bob Cotter’s role as a coach and motivator to the young chess players is also celebrated. He is portrayed first and foremost as a teacher who genuinely cares for his students and believes in their ability to succeed, as long as they put forth a genuine effort.

“One of the reasons I went to the Indianapolis public schools was to seek out these kinds of kids, and to try to do something constructive and meaningful in their lives – something that would have an impact on them forever,” he says in The Masters of Disaster.

Coach Cotter and the team.

It seems that Coach Cotter succeeded at his goal.

When Derrick Brownie, former-Masters of Disaster team member, picked up the phone, I was immediately greeted by his open and friendly demeanor. After filming the documentary, Brownie went on to graduate high school and join the military. Upon retiring from the military, he became an ROTC instructor and taught students how to play a game that he says made him who he is today: chess.

“I’ll never stop playing chess,” he explained to me. When looking back on his time as a local superstar and at the peak of the team’s success, he said: “We were like the Bad News Bears of the chess world – put all of our crazy personalities together, people couldn’t wait to be around us. We had fun together.”

Teammate Derrick Brownie in the final match featured in Masters of Disaster.

The team disbanded once the members entered high school, where many went to different schools and found new interests. Some managed to keep in touch and maintained close friendships. The team moved on to pursue differing paths but still heard from each other from time to time, Brownie said. He still occasionally hears from former teammates Steve Garrett, Anthony Allen, Dale Foster, and Curtis Carson. The team’s strongest player, Derek Thomas, known as Rabbit at the time for his quick chess moves, was recently released from prison. Thomas checkmated former Indianapolis mayor, William H. Hudnut III, in a match featured in the documentary. Teammate Corey Scruggs died of lifetime diabetes while Brownie was deployed in Germany. “Me and him were best friends,” he told me. “Beautiful, peaceful Thomas Petty,” Friedman remarked, was shot and murdered during the team’s high school years. 

Derek (Rabbit) Thomas just before he checkmates Indianapolis mayor William H. Hudnut III.

Unfortunately, the opportunity never arose for me to speak directly with Anthony Allen, former-Masters of Disaster teammate and current close friend of Derrick Brownie, but Brownie called him on a separate line while I spoke with him. 

“Hey, Crumb!” Brownie exclaims once Allen answers the phone. ‘Crumb’ was Allen’s nickname during the team’s prime “because he was always hungry”, Brownie explained. Brownie told Allen that I was also on the line and inquiring about The Masters of Disaster. “I was just telling this young lady what a bad friend you are for never checking up on me,” he joked, and Allen’s muffled retort was received on the other end. The two spoke for a few minutes and promised to make plans soon. 

The Masters of Disaster concludes with Brownie losing the match that would place the team in the national tournament. Defeat is palpable in Brownie’s eyes as he realizes his defeat, and he is filmed walking out of the gymnasium the match was held in. He told me about his reaction to this devastating loss and its being featured in The Masters of Disaster:

“Mr. Cotter taught us how to be good sportsmen. Even in the face of defeat, I didn’t give up, didn’t resign… You shake her hand, say good game, and move on. If you go back and look at that same scene,” he says, referring to when the camera follows him after his defeat and he is approached by a white chess student just before the scene switches, “his name is Andy Silverman. I beat Andy Silverman the year prior and he started crying so bad… I came second in the nation individually that year. That goes to show the chess world, how small the world was. He came up and still showed me love.”

Brownie being approached by Coach Cotter and Andy Silverman (left), team accepting award for 2nd in national championship (right)

Nearly forty years after the film’s release, both Brownie and Friedman look back on the filming of the documentary as an especially exciting time in the team’s history and a wonderful experience together. The film’s executive producer, Pat Wetmore Kellar, has since passed away.

“I wouldn’t be where I am today without Pat,” Brownie told me. 

Now retired and currently in the process of writing an autobiography about the impact chess has had on his life, Brownie divulged, “I’ve passed over from a ‘Master of Disaster’ to a ‘Beautiful Disaster.’”

The Masters of Disaster celebrates this unlikely Indianapolis team and documents their rise to relative fame as well as both the highs and lows they faced in its short 32 minutes. It won several awards in 1986, including a Blue Ribbon at the American Film & Video Festival, Best of Category in the Birmingham International Film Festival, and a CINE Golden Eagle. It was also nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary in 1987. In 2018, the IU Libraries Moving Image Archive scanned the original negatives and A/B rolls of Masters of Disaster and digitally restored the film.

As Friedman reflected, “The documentary showed [The Masters of Disaster], truly, as great achievers and champions”.

You can watch the restored version of  Masters of Disaster through the IU Libraries streaming server  HERE

Experimenting with Babies: The Myrtle McGraw Collection

By Ben Parnin, Archivist Assistant

When you think of scientists conducting experiments you might visualize them running around in lab coats with beakers and test tubes. Babies are probably the last thing you associate with science experiments. I had not considered the possibility of babies being test subjects until I was introduced to the Myrtle McGraw collection at Indiana University Moving Image Archive. Before you imagine some cruel mad scientist’s, experiment let me give you some background to this collection and explain the person responsible for the creations of these films.

Dr. Myrtle Byram McGraw (1899-1988) was a prominent scholar and researcher of early child development. Born in Birmingham Alabama, McGraw attended Ohio Wesleyan University before obtaining her doctorate from Columbia University. After completing her Ph.D. in 1930, McGraw was offered a job as the associate director of the Normal Child Development Study and would continue in that role for the next 12 years. The study was a joint venture between Babies Hospital in New York City and Columbia University which secured long term funding from the Rockefeller foundation’s General Education Board. The study took place during what is known as the “era of the child,” a period when children studies surged across academic disciplines. Some of the major figures in the field at this time were John Dewey, John B. Watson, Arnold Gesell, and Lois Barclay Murphy to name a few.

Largely left to her own devices by her superiors, Mcgraw led several of her own research studies on child development. As McGraw began her research she decided to investigate a current debate amongst child development academics about whether children develop through learning or natural maturation. The debate was about whether a child learns skills or if they are born with skills that are naturally developed as they grow. This debate led her to one of her most prominent research experiments.

In order to test the debate McGraw subjected infant twin Johnny and Jimmy Woods to intense training to see if learning took place during infancy and at what age. As the control, Jimmy received normal infant care from research staff. Johnny on the other hand was subjected to intense training to see if he could develop particular skills. These tests included swimming, climbing, and roller skating. The result of the experiment was that babies can learn and develop skills at an early age because Johnny acquired these skills through instruction while his brother who did not receive training did not. McGraw’s research had an impact on the scientific community as it confronted the theories of prominent child development researcher, Dr. Arnold Gessell, who favored maturation over learning. Her research also altered academics’ perceptions of infants’ capabilities, as many child development experts had previously deemed tasks such as swimming and roller skating impossible for babies to perform.

During the course of her research McGraw filmed many of her experiments. These films were used to document her research and were later shared with other academic institutions. The films were also shown during her presentation at the 1958 International Jubilee Congress of Sports Medicine in Moscow.

The McGraw Collection contains around 100 film reels and a significant portion of these includes her filmed experiments. Her tests were designed to examine different locomotion skills in infants. One of her films even shows scientists studying babies’ memory by testing if babies could remember to come to an adult when given a sign. In addition, they also administer memory tests to see if a baby could locate certain objects.

When viewing these films, it may be shocking to observe the ethically questionable treatment of infants and children in her experiments. In several of the films you can see the babies’ distress as they hang from pull up bars or are struggling to swim. In addition to such ethically suspect testing procedures most of the babies were filmed nude during the McGraw’s experiment. These details have to be taken into consideration when we are assessing access restrictions and performing ethical archival practices. While writing this post I found that some of McGraw’s experiments footage had been uploaded to YouTube and the Internet Archive. Comments on these videos range from amazement of what infants are capable of to shock or disgust at the experiments taking place. One comment from the Internet Archive website calls the footage “creepy” and a “lawsuit waiting to happen”. While these comments convey valid concerns, they do not represent the fullest picture of McGraw’s research and her relationship to the children in her study.

Those with the most valid reason to be upset at the experiment were of course Johnny and Jimmy Woods and their family. Johnny and Jimmy were constantly subjected to McGraw’s experiments during their infancy and became the famous key test subjects in her most notable research. Her book, Growth, a study of Johnny and Jimmy and the film of the same title gained wide recognition from the scientific community as well as popular media in part due to the success of her training a baby to swim and roller skate. In particular the media focused on the differences between Johnny and Jimmy. The media misinterpreted and exaggerated McGraw’s research. It also represented Johnny as the superior athletic brother since he received most of the specialized training during the experiment while his brother Jimmy was portrayed as lethargic and temper tantrum prone due to the fact that he was the control. Each year news reporters would visit the Woods family to report on the twins’ growth and development. In a 1956 news article the twins were asked their thoughts on the experiment. Their main complaint was the media sensationalism of the experiment and how people continued to associate the experiment with their personalities and abilities growing up and as adults. Instances of this news sensationalism included a portrayal of adult Jimmy Woods as an “idiot” at his ice cream factory job. It is clear from reading these news articles and interviews that the experiment continued to follow them throughout their lives.

Despite the adverse effects of the experiment the Woods family maintained a mostly positive relationship with McGraw. A reoccurring question I thought about while watching these films was why parents would have allowed their children to be put through such rigorous testing. In the case of Johnny and Jimmy’s mother it was partially due to the conditions of the Great Depression. When asked in an interview about the experiments, Jimmy states that McGraw’s experiment offered their mother who was then a mother of eight free child care for them during the Depression. In other interviews, Ms. Florence Woods explains how she appreciated McGraw’s instruction on the child development process as it helped her realize how to take better care of her children. Reflecting on the experiments 20 years later, Jimmy insists that he still had nothing but respect for McGraw. The twins’ lasting relationship with McGraw can be observed when years later as adults they revisit the experiment and recreate some of the tests they completed as babies for McGraw’s film, Growth-A Study of Johnny & Jimmy.

While certainly not meeting the ethical standards of today’s Institutional Review Board, McGraw’s research and experiments were instrumental in the field of child development and enhanced the debate within the scientific community about child development through learning or natural maturation. As a woman researcher during the 1930s, McGraw was often confronted with doubts about the validity of her scientific work. Despite these doubts, McGraw successfully made an important contribution to our understanding of child development through her research and through her subsequent years of teaching at Briarcliff College. These films offer a glimpse into McGraw’s life as well as the nature of her work. While shocking in some aspects and amusing in others these films display their value as a key component of child development research.


“‘Conditioned’ Child Proves Superiority: Relation of Muscular Growth to Brain Development Shown at Clinic Here.” New York Times, Jan 16, 1935.

“Clinic Twins, 3 Thursday, Hope to Cut 2 Cakes: Johnny, Trained, shows it, but Jimmie Out- Sings and Out-Talks Brother.” New York Herald Tribune, Apr 15, 1935.

Dobrish, Cecelia M. “Babies Make the Best Teachers.” Parents’ Magazine & Better Family Living, Sept, 1972.

Dalton, Thomas Carlyle., and Victor W Bergenn. Beyond Heredity and Environment: Myrtle Mcgraw and the Maturation Controversy. Boulder: Westview Press, 1995.

“Ex-Clinical Twins Try Skating; They Fall, and so does a Theory” New York Herald Tribune, Oct 19, 1935.

O’Connell, Agnes N., and Nancy Felipe Russo. Models of Achievement: Reflections of Eminent Women In Psychology. New York: Columbia University Press, 1983.

“Scientific Twins Blase at Circus as they Celebrate 3d Birthday” New York Times, Apr 19, 1935. Senn, Milton J. E. “Insights on the Child Development Movement in the United States.” Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development 40, no. 3/4 (1975): 1–107.

Ubell, Earl. “Twins in 1932 Test ‘just Ordinary’.” New York Herald Tribune, Sep 13, 1956.

Finding Shakespeare

Tim Wagner, Assistant Film Archivist at Indiana University Libraries Moving Image Archive (IULMIA)

“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players:

They have their exits and their entrances;

And one man in his time plays many parts”

As You Like It.  Act 2, Scene 7

…and sometimes, the entrances are quite the surprise.  As a film archivist at Indiana University Libraries Moving Image Archive (IULMIA), my recent encounter with William Shakespeare and his Globe Theatre was just that, a surprise!

Working on Indiana University’s Media Digitization & Preservation Initiative (MDPI) phase 2, film digitization, I’m currently evaluating motion picture film prints and pre-print film elements of Teaching Film Custodians films for possible digitization.  Teaching Film Custodians (TFC) became a membership corporation of the State University of New York in 1938.  According to its original by-laws, the purpose of the company was to “advance and promote the scientific use of motion picture films for educational purposes…by cooperating with producers of motion pictures to further the educational value of motion picture films.”  The corporation provided abridged classroom versions of hundreds of feature films and television programs, and short educational films, for use within schools and universities; mostly adaptations of novels and historical features.  In the 1960’s TFC added resources for foreign language education.  TFC merged with Indiana University in 1973.  Today, several of the TFC films can be found in Indiana University Libraries Moving Image Archive.

Many of the TFC films I’m inspecting these days are abridged classroom versions of a 1950’s television series, Cavalcade of America, re-named Du Pont Cavalcade Theater in later seasons.  Sponsored by the DuPont Company, “Maker of better things for better living, through chemistry”, this 30-minute anthology drama television series documented historical events using stories of individual courage, initiative and achievement, emphasizing humanitarian progress, particularly improvements in the lives of women, often through technological innovation.  Airing on network television for five seasons (1952 – 1957), this series originated as a radio broadcast in 1935, intended to improve DuPont’s public image after World War I.  A post-war investigation concluded that DuPont had made a fortune profiteering in the war.

While inspecting 17 reels of 16mm projection prints and 16mm & 35mm pre-print film elements for “Decision for Justice: John Marshall and the Supreme Court”, a TFC abridged classroom version of the Cavalcade of America television series episode, “Decision for Justice”, I encountered several reels of 35mm negative picture and sound elements for the television series episode itself. 

While most every reel of film which I inspected matched the information written on the film can, I did have one surprise in store for me.  Within the film can labelled “Decision for Justice – Mixed Master”, I was expecting to encounter yet another black and white negative or interpositive film.  As I unspooled the end of the 35mm film reel on my inspection bench, a color composite (sound and image) positive film revealed itself.  Surprise! 

I soon realized too, that this was no ordinary (chromogenic) color film print, but a Technicolor dye transfer print.  Cool!  What makes Technicolor film prints different than standard motion picture color film, is that the color is not embedded within the film emulsion via dye couplers, which fade over time, but rather, a series of permanent color dyes which are “stamped” directly onto each film print through the imbibition process, using individual matrices for each color (cyan, magenta, and yellow).  The result is a color film print which doesn’t fade. After documenting the physical attributes of this misidentified film, I had to figure out what it was, since there were no titles at the head.  Sandwiched between an aerial view of centuries-old London (image above), and scenes of people in centuries-old clothing styles milling about the innards of a theater, a vital clue appeared; a banner hoisted above the rooftop, sporting the phrase, “The Globe Playhouse”.  Aha! 

Turning to that ever-resourceful internet search, a combination of “The Globe Playhouse” + Technicolor film yielded the answer: the 1944 British Technicolor feature film “Henry V”.  A plot description in the Wikipedia entry confirmed the images present at the beginning of the reel, which proved to be the prologue of the film.  Marking the directorial debut of Sir Laurence Olivier, who also co-produced and starred in the film, “Henry V” was the first Technicolor film adaptation ever made of a Shakespearean play, shot with the only 3-strip Technicolor camera in the UK at the time.  Made near the end of World War II, and intended as a morale booster for Britain, the film was partly funded by the British government.  Widely considered among the best film adaptations of Shakespeare’s work, “Henry V” earned Olivier an honorary Academy Award for “outstanding achievement as actor, producer, and director.”

A Title Search within our custom film database, filmdb, revealed 16 reels of 16mm film of “Henry V” within our holdings; likely all projection prints.  Were this but the end of the story…

As I continued inspecting the reel, another surprise awaited me; a metal clip designed to fasten two pieces of 35mm film together.  Very interesting.  I had not encountered such a device before.  Stamped into the surface of the clip was the following information, “R.C. MERCER FILM PATCH”, with a third line of text partially cut off, “LOS ANGELES”. 

Another internet search led to the June 1, 1920 patent application for the Film Patch by Raymond C. Mercer of Los Angeles, CA.  The illustrations on the patent application, which was approved on August 30th, 1921, clearly show a clip designed to engage four perforations of the film.  The clip I had encountered was obviously cut in half, engaging only two of the perforations, and thereby cutting off part of the “LOS ANGELES” text.  Fortunately for me, I was encountering the top half of the clip, carrying the text information which allowed me to identify it.  Another mystery solved.

But wait, there’s more!

Further inspection of the 35mm Technicolor composite footage revealed a mid-reel segment of silent, color-faded film featuring graphics of William Shakespeare, a circa 1600 map of London, and line drawings of the Globe Theater.  What is this doing here?  Following this segment, the film appeared to repeat some of the footage from the head of the reel, along with some additional footage.  The film ended with another segment of silent, color-faded film featuring graphics, and an end title, “Additional commentary by the Committee of the National Council of Teachers of English to cooperate with Teaching Film Custodians. Narrator, Rod Colbin.”  Hmmm.  The plot thickens.

A search within the Teaching Film Custodians’ February, 1954 “Films For Classroom Use” catalog did reveal a TFC release of a Shakespeare film adaptation, but that was “Romeo and Juliet”.  Dead end (as it were).  Fortunately, I did spy one further clue in the film print, which was key to identifying this film.  The black lab leader at the tail of the reel had the words, “Shakespeare’s Theater” etched into it.  Time for another trusty internet search.  Searching on “Shakespeare’s Theater” revealed countless entries regarding the Globe Theater in London.  Adding “Teaching Film Custodians” to the search yielded one profitable result: a page on the Internet Archive for the Teaching Film Custodians’ 1960 production of “Shakespeare’s Theater”.  Hurrah!  This web source, which also includes a viewable file of a heavily scratched print of the film, allowed me to positively identify the 35mm element I was inspecting and see the titles which are missing.  Score!

A Title Search on “Shakespeare’s Theater” in filmdb revealed seven Title Records, encompassing 25 reels of film.  Consisting primarily of 16mm material, these reels have now been requested and added to my work que, proving that I don’t have to go looking for trouble, it finds me!  The revelation of seven Title Records for the same film provided the opportunity to merge them, thereby cleaning up our database a tad more; one of the many benefits of the MDPI phase 2 project work.

Based on the information I gathered about this film, the Summary in our filmdb Title Record now reads, “A Teaching Film Custodians film about the presentation and conventions of live theatre at Shakespeare’s Globe Theater, circa 1600. Incorporating footage from the prologue of the 1944 British Technicolor feature film, “Henry V”, directed by and starring Sir Laurence Olivier, and graphics, this film illustrates the location and appearance of the Globe and Rose theaters, the activity before a typical presentation, where the audience was seated, and the manner in which the Globe Theater was used. We see the audience entering the theater, gallants taking their places on stage, the orange girl and cider man hawking their wares, and the actors preparing for their entrance. Concludes with the curtain parting and the chorus reciting the prologue.”

This adventure represents one of the many discoveries encountered while working on the MDPI phase 2 project.  One more puzzle pieced together, a very satisfying aspect of my work on Indiana University’s Media Digitization & Preservation Initiative.

Filming the World We Want (Part 2)

Please enjoy part one of a two-part guest blog from Dr. Catherine Bishop, who has been researching IULMIA’s collections remotely, by accessing digitized films from the New York Herald Tribune World Youth Forum, which aired on public television in the 1950s. The IU Libraries Moving Image Archive is thrilled to be able to provide these materials (over 56 titles!) at a time when access to archives is severely limited by the COVID-19 pandemic. There are currently efforts underway to digitize remaining items from this series, so that Dr. Bishop and future researchers may continue their work.

You can watch full episodes of The World We Want and other National Educational Television (NET) programs featuring The New York Herald Tribune Youth Forum HERE

Helen Hiett Waller

I had heard a lot about Helen Waller from delegates in interviews and in archives. An award-winning wartime correspondent, she was the face of the Forum until her tragic death in a climbing accident in 1961. She polarized people. Some delegates remembered her as kind and encouraging, others as a strong and forceful character, with a journalistic eye for a controversial story. Many said she was a good moderator of the debates, drawing out some people, always with an eye for where she wanted to take the discussion. Others thought she had favorites – she liked the articulate, smart, argumentative delegates, able to hold their own with interesting ideas in English. She could be condescending and dismissive. At the same time, some of the quieter delegates, whose English was not so proficient, also remembered her as motherly and undemanding, suggesting that she certainly regarded all of the delegates as distinct individuals. Whether she accurately discerned who could withstand her more aggressive style was less clear.

Even having heard all of this about Helen Waller, it was not until I saw her in action on film that I really understood what people had been telling me. I could see why some delegates from countries in which women had less of a public role might have been astounded by her outspokenness. She epitomized the modern American career woman.

Watching a film from February 1954 I had to remind myself that she had given birth to her third child barely a month earlier at the age of 40. She looks a little tired but otherwise cheerful and professional. She is not glamorous but smart. Her dark hair is neatly coiffed and under control. Five years later in 1959 she suddenly looks much more than five years older. She is almost frumpy, her hair not as dark, the lines on her forehead more pronounced. But she is still in charge, and her comments are as sharp and penetrating as ever.

The 1959 program featuring one girl from Japan and three boys from Iceland, Denmark and the UK revealed Helen Waller in full interrogative mode. She did not allow any of the delegates to get away with bland generalizations or lazy answers. They were invited to support their arguments with evidence. ‘Why do you say that?’, she would ask… Do you really mean that’… ‘But doesn’t that contradict what you just said?’. She was not unfriendly, all was accompanied with smiles and much laughter, but she was persistent. I wondered, as I watched, how easy I would have found this as a 16-18 year old, even as a native English speaker. For she gave no quarter, even to those delegates whose first language was not English. So the UK delegate had no problems (he would later become a diplomat and was clearly honing his skills here); neither did the Danish delegate, who admitted to speaking several languages. The Icelandic delegate was relatively quiet, but it was the Japanese girl who was seriously impressive. Her English was good, but not as good as the others. She defended her position (supporting arranged marriages!) against articulate and forceful critiques from the boys and probing questions from Helen Waller. The best moment, however, was when Helen asked what Americans had wanted to know from the Japanese delegate. They asked me ‘How do you like America’, she said, and, although she thought that was ‘not an easy question to answer in a few minutes’, she told them ‘I love it’. ‘But’, she added, ‘I think that Americans are too easily satisfied with my answer’. In Japan, she added, people would not be satisfied with such a ‘simple’ answer, neatly encapsulating the comparative sophistication of the US and Japan (and in a suitably subtle and sophisticated way!).

The Thrill of Recognition

The digitized films were particularly useful for my research in revealing Helen Waller in action, and for the serious business of analyzing teenagers’ opinions at the time and assessing how they were co-opted into the business of American soft-power.

The utter charm of these films, however, lies in the fact that I now know many of these delegates. Not only does this mean I have had the opportunity to send them copies of the films, and they have been delighted to revisit their earlier selves, but there is the thrill of recognition when I see the younger versions of the fully formed and very impressive adults I have met.

The teenager perfecting the art of persuasive argument which will prove useful in his career as a diplomat is instantly recognizable, as is the ebullient Dane. When an Afrikaans girl exclaims over her struggles with English her voice is exactly the same as I hear, 65 years on, brimming with vitality and fun.

The films can also be a useful corrective to the oral history interviews I have conducted. I interviewed an Australian who remembered the social time he had at the forum – he wasn’t especially politically aware, he said. The films tell a different story – of an articulate boy with strong opinions, with hints of the lawyer he would become. Oral histories rely on memory and on reflection, they are told with a self-consciousness of being recorded, and with the benefit of hindsight. The films are also performance, as constructed as the interviews, but in a different way. The delegates and the topics have been chosen to be provocative, Yugoslavian advocate of communism set against South Korean capitalist, Israeli and Arab delegates sat on the same panel. These young people are full of confidence and hope. They were the chosen ones, showing what they hope is the best of themselves, not yet fully fledged, just learning to spread their wings.

These films are a window into 1950s youth culture and international politics. They illustrate how much the world has changed as well as how much it has remained, at times depressingly, the same. Perhaps the world could do with more of that hope, vitality and enthusiasm today.

Dr Catherine Bishop is a historian and postdoctoral fellow in the Centre for Workforce Futures at Macquarie University in Australia, writing a history of twentieth-century Australian businesswomen. She is the author of the award-winning Minding Her Own Business: Colonial Businesswomen in Sydney (NewSouth 2015) and of Women Mean Business: Colonial businesswomen in New Zealand (Otago University Press 2019). With Jennifer Aston she has co-edited Female Entrepreneurs in the Long Nineteenth Century: A Global Perspective (Palgrave 2020). She is working on a biography of Australian missionary Annie Lock and researching the history of the New York Herald Tribune World Youth Forum.

FB: @catherinebishophistorian

In case you missed it, make sure to read Part 1 of Dr. Catherine Bishop’s research on the Herald Tribune Youth Forum films in the Indiana University Libraries Moving Image Archive.

Filming the World We Want (Part 1)

Please enjoy part one of a two-part guest blog from Dr. Catherine Bishop, who has been researching IULMIA’s collections remotely, by accessing digitized films from the New York Herald Tribune World Youth Forum, which aired on public television in the 1950s. The IU Libraries Moving Image Archive is thrilled to be able to provide these materials (over 56 titles!) at a time when access to archives is severely limited by the COVID-19 pandemic. There are currently efforts underway to digitize remaining items from this series, so that Dr. Bishop and future researchers may continue their work.

You can watch full episodes of The World We Want and other National Educational Television (NET) programs featuring the Herald Tribune Youth Forum HERE

The Forum

What happens when you gather together 30 bright teenagers from across the world and ask them to discuss the education, women’s rights, and world peace? What happens when a 16-year-old Afrikaans girl discusses apartheid with a black African boy from Ghana? Or when an Israeli girl talks to boys from Syria and Jordan?

These conversations and more were the experiment of the Herald Tribune World Youth Forum that existed from 1947 until 1972 and even outlived the newspaper’s expiration in 1965. The Forum was the brainchild of Helen Rogers Reid, the New York Herald Tribune’s owner and editor. It was loosely based on the ‘adult’ Herald Tribune Forum, which originated in the 1930s, bringing together world business and political figures to discuss relevant issues in front of a general audience in New York. But the post-WWII era saw a new emphasis on youth as the means to securing world peace, with the New York Daily Mirror and the New York Times Youth Forum programming similar events. The Herald Tribune Forum also sparked a copycat program run by the Daily Mail in Britain from 1949 to 1951. Concurrently, this was also the era of mass gatherings of socialist youth organized by the USSR.

I have been researching the Forum for eight years, after discovering the youthful diary of my aunt who had just died. I knew she had won a trip to England as teenager; I had no idea that she had been a delegate to the Daily Mail World Youth Forum in London. What began as a small personal project expanded dramatically when I realized that there was an American version lasting 25 years. I have been tracking down documents and photographs in archives across the U.S, and of course enjoying the Herald Tribune newspaper articles. Even more rewarding, I have interviewed over 100 of the 800 people who attended the forum – now 65-90 year-olds, they reminisced about their experiences 50-70 years ago. I have also been privileged to connect with the Herald Tribune World Youth Forum Alumni Association for delegates, have contributed to their newsletter and attended some of their reunions in Sorrento and Singapore.

The Herald Tribune World Youth Forum was the most ambitious and longest lasting of all of these initiatives. However, little known about such programs in the U.S.. National committees around the globe selected (usually) one 16-18-year-old representative, who flew to the U.S. for 3 months. Based in the New York area, representatives stayed with 3 or 4 different American families, attended a variety of high schools, and travelled to Washington, meeting significant political figures, often including the incumbent American President. The culmination of their visit was a huge ‘high school forum’ held at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in March, where the delegates all performed and discussed a variety of topics in front of an audience of high school students. The Herald Tribune featured delegates’ activities in its pages for the three months and had a special 5-10 page feature for the Waldorf Astoria event. From the early 1950s the delegates also met in smaller panels for a series of discussions on topical issues. Initially these were broadcast on radio and later, beginning in 1953, on television.

The idea behind the forum was to encourage international understanding and co-operation by showing a handpicked group of young people from around the world that they were not so different after all. The organizers banked on these teenagers being their nation’s best and brightest (or in some cases, the most well-connected). They were expected to be potential future leaders and many would become influential in politics, business, education and religion. In addition to encouraging international understanding there was another motive. The newspaper organized the forum and provided a small amount of money for the program—mostly for the salary of the organizing staff. It relied on schools and families to host the students. It also cleverly obtained sponsorship from Pan Am and TWA airlines, which flew the delegates from all around the world for free. Scholastic Magazine was also a sponsor. But most important was the support of the U.S. government. Although respective national ministries of education selected delegates, the cultural attaches of American embassies and the United States Information Service assisted student representatives during their tours.

This was a ‘hearts and minds’ initiative, one of the many ‘soft power’ weapons in the Cold War, designed to showcase the U.S. to foreign representatives. It was, however, slightly more sophisticated than the mass Communist rallies, in that the flaws of American society, such as segregation, were not withheld. This was also an exercise in world citizenship. The students were to be ‘walking textbooks,’ youthful ambassadors, educating American high school students about the world.

The countries invited to send delegates were friends and allies of the US (the UK, continental Europe, Canada) but also countries in which the US hoped to maintain its influence (e.g. Korea, Japan, Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, Israel, Egypt, Brazil, Argentina). There were notable absentees. The only Communist country was Yugoslavia. Others do not seem to have been invited. The lack of Communist bloc countries provoked little comment; publicity around the forum made much of the fact that delegates came from ‘all over the world’.

The Films

One of the greatest thrills has been my access to the films in the Indiana University Libraries Moving Image Archive (IULMIA). A serendipitous Google search during the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown uncovered this gold mine of content related to the Forum. IULMIA holds a number of the televised programs broadcast in the 1950s.

The extensive IULMIA holdings include examples from each year between 1954 to 1959 and provide an historical snapshot of the Youth Forum. The films are indeed worth their weight in (research) gold.

Previously, I had seen photographs of the delegates and their activities, as well as a couple of stills from programs. I had seen lists of the program topics and the participants. I had even found a few scripts of what the delegates said. I had met some delegates who could remember what they discussed (and others who could remember the fabulous social time they had but who could not recall the issues discussed at the Forum—they were only teenagers after all!) But nothing prepared me for the delight of hearing their voices and seeing them in action. If a picture is worth 1000 words, then moving images are worth a million. The program depicts a staged setting with delegates performing their ambassadorial roles to the best of their ability and viewers get a sense of the participants’ personalities as they interact with each other and with Helen Hiett Waller, the formidable moderator and administrator of the Forum.

Panel participants were selected based on the topic being discussed as well as their ability to articulate ideas in English. Some delegates participated more often than others, but all appeared at least once. It was educational television that aimed to be entertaining and provocative. The programs were geared toward high school students. Popular topics for this age group included comparing the American education system with foreign schools, discussing if American teenagers had too much freedom or if parents the world over were out of touch, and giving their impressions of the U.S. and the benefits of student exchange. The delegates also discussed less immediately ‘youth-focused’ issues: ‘Does the Key to peace in this century rest with non-white peoples?’, Communism, American’s global influence, Africa’s future, the status of women, religion, and the role of the United Nations.

The Yugoslav delegate was ensured a place in the annual program discussing Communism. Finnish delegates were questioned about their country’s relationship with the Soviet Union, and Scandinavian delegates often found themselves defending ‘socialist’ policies in their countries, much to their bemusement. The South African delegate invariably came under pressure over the apartheid system, while the British delegate was in the spotlight in discussions of decolonization. When interviewed many years later, most delegates recalled their surprise at being taken seriously. Their opinions were sought and respected. Some remembered feeling very unqualified to discuss issues of politics and international affairs, while others were in their element.

By 1959, the Forum had hit its stride. It was a well-oiled machine, both on and off screen. The programs’ format and production had been fine-tuned, changing over time. One year students are all sitting on the floor; in another, they are grouped around an armchair, but by 1959 they are behind a table in a boardroom-like setting, in front of place cards identifying their respective countries like a model U.N.. In 1954 the strains of a jaunty orchestral version of ‘Getting to Know You’ accompany images of a rotating globe before moderator Helen Waller introduces the Forum. In 1957 an opening salvo, in which each delegate gives a very scripted response to a set question, is followed by the theme again against a stylized group portrait of good-looking youngsters idealistically gazing upwards towards a globe.

In earlier programs discussions take more time to warm up. The 1954 program on ‘Education,’ for instance, is very stilted as the Australian delegate pronounces his critique, with carefully prepared and stage-managed props. (He had brought along examples of exam papers from both countries).

The discussion begins to intensify during an exchange about freedom of speech in the classroom. The Australian delegate has been making pronouncements on the superiority of his country’s education system and then Helen Waller pulls the rug out from under him in what is clearly a surprising retort, by reading out a starkly loaded question from one of his Australian exam papers.

But the program becomes truly interesting during the conclusion of the program when the subject shifts. The white South African delegate explains apartheid, defending the policy vigorously against the two boys from Australia and the Gold Coast (Ghana).

Dr Catherine Bishop is a historian and postdoctoral fellow in the Centre for Workforce Futures at Macquarie University in Australia, writing a history of twentieth-century Australian businesswomen. She is the author of the award-winning Minding Her Own Business: Colonial Businesswomen in Sydney (NewSouth 2015) and of Women Mean Business: Colonial businesswomen in New Zealand (Otago University Press 2019). With Jennifer Aston she has co-edited Female Entrepreneurs in the Long Nineteenth Century: A Global Perspective (Palgrave 2020). She is working on a biography of Australian missionary Annie Lock and researching the history of the New York Herald Tribune World Youth Forum.

FB: @catherinebishophistorian

Make sure to read Part 2 of Dr. Catherine Bishop’s research on the Herald Tribune Youth Forum films from the Indiana University Libraries Moving Image Archive.

Go Behind the Iron Curtain with the Bernadine Bailey Collection

By Jesse Balzer

Bernadine Bailey (1901-1995) was an American travel writer from Mattoon, Illinois. Her travelogues – and other writings on health, medicine, and politics – were syndicated in widely-read publications such as Reader’s DigestToday’s HealthTravel, as well as newspapers such as the Chicago Tribune and The New York Times, among others. She is also the author of over 100 books on a variety of subjects, most centered on travel and tourism around the world.

Film was an integral part of Bailey’s work. In addition to various home movies of daily life, our collection includes Bernadine Bailey’s travel films, photographs, and slides from her journeys around the world. These films reveal the extent to which Bailey utilized the moving image in order to document her travels and supplement her travel writing, as well as for exhibitions and presentations of her travels. In these films, Bailey’s camera often focuses on the people of each place, documenting their cultural practices and customs, their daily lives, fashions, and hobbies. While certainly Eurocentric and ethnographic in their orientation, Bailey’s films nonetheless offer a comparatively rare glimpse into the work of a travel writer, and an attempt to understand people and nations which may have been largely unfamiliar, at least at the time, to her American readers.

In addition to many shorter reels of Bernadine Bailey’s travels to Hong Kong, Malaysia, England, Scotland, Switzerland, Turkey, and elsewhere, our collection also includes several, approximately hour-long reels with their own titles and descriptive intertitles, most likely composed for some form of public exhibition or screening. In “Behind the Iron Curtain”, a reel from 1957, Bailey documents city and rural life in Leningrad, Stalingrad and several other places in the then Soviet Union.


In this first clip, citizens of Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) visit the Russian Museum, standing in the park nearby. This includes the statue of Russian author Alexander Pushkin, erected in this same year for the 250th anniversary celebration of Leningrad. Unlike existing footage of the celebration, such as this newsreel, Bailey’s film focuses on the people relaxing in the park, not on officials, bureaucrats, and public-facing events.

Bailey’s approach to filming and humanizing the people of the places she visited was carried forward into her writing, her filmmaking practice aiding and informing her vocation as a writer. Her later book on the Soviet Union, The Captive Nations: Our First Line of Defense (1969), detailed a strategy which saw the people, those she filmed “behind the iron curtain,” as the key to anti-communist agitation and the promotion of democracy. This was further explained in an interview for the Chicago Tribune in August, 1969, which discussed Bailey’s book:

“Altho the subject is a dark and bloody one, Mrs. Bailey is not gloomy about the future. She sees the captive nations, because of their languages and histories and spirit of nationalism, as dividing the house of communism so that it will not stand in history… Mrs. Bailey contends that these people are a great asset to the non-communist world and the best alternative to nuclear war. She holds that they should prove to be our staunchest allies and our first line of defense in a war.”

In the October 27, 1957 edition of the Chicago Daily Tribune, Bailey wrote about this month-long visit to Moscow, Leningrad, Stalingrad, Kharkov, Kiev, and Rostov, as well as outlaying farms and small towns. Bailey’s report in the Tribune, much like her films, focuses on the people, and in particular women, who make up what she described in The Captive Nations as our best hope against escalation in the Cold War. Her filmmaking, then, shows a fascination with the unfamiliar domestic lifestyles of foreign nations. In this way, her writing, much like her camera, is hardly neutral. As Bailey wrote in the Tribune after returning home from her trip: “Altho I had read that Russian women work like men, it nevertheless was a jolt to see them uncoupling coaches of railway trains, running street cars and buses, acting as flagmen at railway crossings, working on the right-of-way laying tracks, and digging ditches.” And take, for example, the clip below, in which Bailey observes several Russian women working on a farm.

Here is a comparative description in the Chicago Daily Tribune article:

“What with hard work and a diet made up largely of bread, potatoes, tough meat, and borscht, it’s small wonder that the Russian women are no glamor girls. Mostly of peasant origin, they are short, stocky, and overweight. Their role is not to make life gayer or more attractive but to help to achieve the stated communist goals. So why bother with girdles and lipstick, fancy hair-dos, and nail polish? They don’t. The occasional home permanent merely points up the effect of shabbiness and dowdiness. Their drab gray or black suits and their shapeless print cotton or rayon dresses are completely lacking in style.”

While certainly indicative of the anti-communist and patriarchal biases of the time, Bernadine Bailey’s work, both in print and in film, ultimately helped to humanize the people of often-oppositional nations and ideologies. Bailey’s films also reveal an interesting interplay between the written word and film, particularly in the travel genre. Finally, our collection of Bailey’s films brings additional awareness to non-theatrical women filmmakers and the ways in which they used the medium for their personal and professional lives.

See more of our Bernadine Bailey Collection, including travel films from New Zealand, Germany, Cambodia, Hong Kong, and more on IU’s Media Collections Online.