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.

Biennial Audio Visual Archival Summer School (BAVASS), A FIAF and IULMIA Initiative

By Rachael Stoeltje, BAVASS Director and Director of the Indiana University Libraries Moving Image Archive

This past May, for two weeks, Indiana University, Bloomington was visited by 50 professional archivists, filmmakers, scholars and film projectionists from 12 countries to participate in the International Federation of Film Archives (FIAF)‘s new training program–the first Biennial Audio Visual Archival Summer School (BAVASS)— a new multi-week FIAF training model built with a comprehensive curriculum of the existing issues in the field of audiovisual archiving and preservation today.

This new training model was developed as part of the FIAF Training and Outreach Program by Indiana University Moving Image Archive’s Rachael Stoeltje and FIAF’s Training and Outreach Coordinator David Walsh, with the support of FIAF’s Administrator Christophe Dupin. BAVASS has been built on earlier FIAF models and the advice of our FIAF predecessors. It has been made possible in large part due to workshops held around the world developed by FIAF’s David Walsh, and like those created in partnership with our colleague Shivendra Singh Dungarpur through his Film Preservation and Restoration Workshops in India.

The schedule for our program allowed for lectures, hands-on workshops, screenings, opportunities to meet with the school’s faculty and time to build networks among the students themselves. This year’s event started each morning with lectures on core issues. The lectures covered everything from Film Preservation and Digitization, the Technology and History of Motion Picture Film, Film Restoration, Video History and Digitization, Cataloging, Copyright, Photo Preservation, Audio History and Preservation, Digital Preservation, Open Source Tools, Film Programming, Managing Digitization Projects and the History of Film Archives with an overview of the early years of the field, to better understand who we are today as archivists.

In the afternoons, we offered small group, hands-on workshops, which students pre-selected prior to arrival. The very practical opportunities that were presented by the Film Handling and Identification workshops, the Film Projection workshops and the Small Scale, DIY Video Digitization workshops were praised by participants, as were the hands on digitization workshops for video, film and audio formats. Kara Van Malssen’s Simulated Disaster Response and Recovery, with a real life scenario and a great deal of salt water soaked media, proved instructive, challenging, and remarkably engaging. The experience utilized simulated narratives and scenarios encountered in the midst of an archival disaster, including the “theft” of a valuable item, as well as an “upset” filmmaker, whose collection the disaster impacted. The  situations were designed to simulate for participants the kind of chaos that can accompany these types of scenarios.

Susanne Schwibs’ Filmmaking workshop, in which students shot film on 16mm cameras and processed the film the same day using alternative processes, also received positive feedback–though, as with many of the workshops, the primary criticism was that the workshop should have lasted the entire day!

Rob Byrne’s Film Restoration workshop was eye-opening for some in that it offered new knowledge about the amount of time, (sometimes years), that is required to properly restore one motion picture film title.


One of the other workshop highlights was Storage and Environments for Preservation. This one included tours of the Ruth Lilly Auxiliary Library Facility (ALF) — the off-site cold storage vaults at Indiana University. The participants visited the core vaults with temperature and relative humidities measuring 50 degrees (Fahrenheit) and 30%RH–ideal environments for magnetic media, books and paper. The new ALF 3 was also part of the tour, with an entire floor devoted to motion picture film, an interior freezer for deteriorated acetate film, and a steady temperature measuring 38 degrees Fahrenheit. The vault tours and accompanying workshop on storage and preservation exemplified the core actions in which one can take part to preserve original material for the longest and most important part of archival care-taking. A bonus to this tour were the rides up to the 40 foot ceilings of the storage facility in which students could view the vastness of the collections from up high.

We were remarkably fortunate to have exceptional faculty who were committed to teaching at the summer school. This 38 person line-up included recognized experts in film, video, and other media archiving and preservation, copyright, cataloging, photo preservation, storage and more. We were grateful to have experienced trainers affiliated with IU who committed to share their expertise as faculty in the school. In addition to the IU faculty, the external trainers, who came specifically for our summer school included FIAF’s Training and Outreach Coordinator, David Walsh; AVP’s Digital Preservation, Disaster Response and Metadata Specialist, Kara Van Malssen; Yale University’s Photo Conservator, Paul Messier; CUNY’s AudioVisual Archivist and Open Source Specialist, Dave Rice; Independent Film Restoration Specialist, Rob Byrne; NYU’s Video Preservationist, Michael Grant, Independent Film Preservationist Ken Weissman, Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision’s Digital Media Research and Access Specialist, Johan Oomen, and FIAF Historian and Senior Administrator Christophe Dupin. These trainers lent a wide array of talents, experience, and specializations to BAVASS, and we are most indebted that this rich body of experienced and qualified individuals in the field traveled to Bloomington and gave so generously of their time and expertise.

Evenings were filled with film screenings that specifically addressed many of the core topics being taught. We screened film restorations, which were introduced by the FIAF colleagues who restored them, such as Behind the Door (1919), introduced by Rob Byrne, and Tomka and His Friends (1977), introduced by Ken Weissman, who restored the film while working at the Library of Congress. Iris Elezi, Director of the Albanian Film Archive, which holds Tomka, was also a participant of the summer school. Other nights included screenings of films which told stories of saving our cultural heritage around the world in India with Shivendra Singh Dungarpur’s Celluloid Man (2012) and in the Congo with La Belle at the Movies (2016), introduced by the Director Cecilia Zoppelletto, who also participated in the summer school. The final category of films screened were films which use archival film to make new works. These films were FIAF colleague Julien Faraut’s John McEnroe: In the Realm of Perfection (2018) and Peter Jackson’s film They Shall Not Grow Old (2018), which has received a great deal of media attention for its alterations of film with color and sound additions, and its transformation of World War I footage from the Imperial War Museum into a 3D motion picture. The Jackson film was followed by a lively panel discussion about the meaning of “restoration,” issues related to altering archival footage, and strategies for finding new audiences using historic moving image material. Panelists included FIAF/ Imperial War Museum’s David Walsh, IU President Michael McRobbie, and IU Libraries Moving Image Archive’s Rachael Stoeltje. The panel was moderated by Jon Vickers, Director of the IU Cinema. All films were screened at either IULMIA’s Screening Room or at the IU Cinema, and all screenings were well attended by the summer school, as well as members of the general public.

The school included tours to many of the special collections and libraries on the IU Campus, including the University Archives, the Archives of Traditional Music, the Black Film Center Archive, the Indiana University Libraries Moving Image Archive and the Lilly Library, where Director Joel Silver and Head of Public Services Rebecca Baumann pulled remarkable treasures from the John Ford, Peter Bogdanovich, John Boorman, Pauline Kael, Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth collections. The students got to hold an Oscar and peruse Welles’ illustrated love letters to Rita Hayworth and were offered a rare glimpse at some of the Lilly Library’s rare books and manuscripts, in addition to all of the film gems.

To continue improving the program for future schools and to perpetuate the learning experiences it offers, we are working with a faculty member in IU’s School of Education to oversee and lead the evaluation process of this event and to create a collaborative learning module for BAVASS. The evaluation began during the summer school and will continue throughout the one-year follow up period. As part of this learning collaborative, students will followup the two-week school with online meetings to discuss their successes and brainstorm solutions to challenging problems they are experiencing. IU staff and expert trainers will also participate in these meetings to learn of the problems this network of participants are experiencing and to offer their advice. These collaborative meetings will occur monthly and will be supported through Zoom. This collaborative learning model allows participants to discuss emerging and timely issues and their solutions in collaboration with their BAVASS cohorts or with assistance from our expert trainers. This collaborative process will continue for 12 months to ensure that the benefits of the training endure and are disseminated more widely.

The primary goal of the 2019 summer school was to educate a new team of archivists whether they were in mid-career, at the beginning, or simply wishing to advance their knowledge. Around the world, in small archives and large, in national institutions, cinemas, academic institutions, or private collections, the goal is the same. We hope that upon completion of our summer school that the participants returned home well grounded in archival principles and practice, having gained the knowledge and skills to preserve and care for collections around the globe, now knowing the necessary steps to provide access to these collections–whether in a cinema, through programming and projection, for individual viewing of original analog material, or online, after learning best practices for digitization, (when legally able to do so consistent with rights issues). At the end of the program, we believe we returned well-trained archivists to their home archives–or set them on a path to start work at a new archive–to preserve, make accessible, and save our world’s cultural heritage on film, video, audio, and digital formats.

We intend for the Biennial Audio-Visual Archival Summer School to continue in the future and we plan to offer this program every other year, possibly in locations around the world, in order that it may have the largest impact possible. The evaluations and ongoing training will allow us to customize the program and we will develop a packaged and detailed program which can serve as a model for future schools.

FIAF and the the FIAF Training and Outreach Program, along with tremendous support from IU and the IU Libraries made this event possible. Thanks to both for their financial support, which allowed us to bring all of the talented faculty to Bloomington to participate and to offer this program at an affordable rate for participants. In addition, FIAF also most graciously offered three scholarships that allowed individuals to come to the program who might not have been able to participate otherwise. Enormous thanks to FIAF and to David Walsh and Christophe Dupin in particular for this support and partnership to have made this BAVASS so successful.



Processing Update on the Alan Lewis Collection

By Caleb Allison, Associate Instructor, PhD Student, The Media School 

As the Alan Lewis Collection continues to be processed new and exciting discoveries continue to be made about the diverse collection of motion picture technologies ranging from the 1920s up to the 1980s. For one, we’ve learned that early in his career Alan Lewis worked right here in Bloomington, IN! Lewis worked for the Public Television Library (PTL) of PBS between 1973-74. PTL worked closely with the Indiana University Audio-Visual Center (IUAVC), a precursor to the IU Libraries Moving Image Archive, and WTIU Public Television to acquire nonlocal TV programs for national distribution. Throughout his long career with motion pictures Lewis also worked as a TV producer and director, and eventually Director of Programming, for WEDU-TV out of Tampa, Florida, and as the Director of the CBS News Film and Videotape Archives.

Most recently Lewis worked for the Motion Picture, Sound and Video Branch of the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in Washington, D.C. Eventually, Lewis started collecting the very technologies making the images he oversaw during his career. Amassing a collection of over 200 cameras, projectors, viewers, and editors, along with many of their original cases, sales boxes, instruction manuals, and accessories, the diversity and breadth of his collection offers an important and unique snapshot of motion picture history.

One of the true gems of the collection is a 16mm Ciné-Kodak Model B in ostrich leather with matching case. In production from 1927-1931 the Model B was the Cadillac of amateur cameras. The 1928 edition of Amateur Movie Making lists the price of the ostrich leather option at an additional $75. The standard Model B retailed for about $225, bringing the total price of the ostrich edition to a cool $300. Inflated for today $300 becomes $4,300!

The cleaning and testing of these cameras has been supplemented with motor recordings when possible. Amazingly, this Ciné-Kodak still runs after 90 years and has a beautiful purr you can listen to here:

Here’s a small sample of some other sweet motor sounds from the collection:

A selection of moving image technologies from the collection are part of two new exhibits located in the lobby of the IU Libraries Moving Image Archive (IULMIA) and the ground floor lobby of the IU Cinema. The Ciné-Kodak in ostrich leather can be viewed at the Archive. These exhibits seek to reveal the incremental evolution and vast diversity of amateur and home moviemaking equipment, as well as its beauty. From the extravagant ostrich leather casings of the 16mm Ciné-Kodak to the industrial portability of the 8mm Revere series exists the aesthetic blending of art and utility. The collection not only hosts a diversity of motion picture cameras, but a selection of their original cases and even sales boxes, as well as projectors and viewer/editors. The collection represents an important form of moving image history and technology outside of commercial Hollywood production. These are the objects that captured and shared the everyday, the familial, the nontheatrical, and so much more.

Come visit the display case in the Moving Image Archive space on the ground floor of Wells Library!

One of my personal favorites is the Super 8mm Yashica Super-800 Electro camera. Produced between 1970 and 1974, it has an atomic-age look reminiscent more of the 1950s than the 1970s. Sporting a sleek, all-black camera body, retro graphics, and colorful dials, including a seemingly arbitrary but super-cool 1950s atom graphic on its speed dial, bright green battery check light, and baby blue footage counter, it stands uniquely apart from its collection counterparts. The Yashica Super-800 is also part of the IULMIA exhibit, and its progenitor, the Yashica Super-60 Electronic, can be found in the IU Cinema’s exhibit.

Moving forward with the collection the Moving Image Archive plans to preserve and maintain the working order of the projectors and cameras while restoring those that can be fixed. They are undoubtedly beautiful machines but many of them are also functional, and their exhibition as well as their utility will be used to offer experience and education to students and film lovers alike.