Irving Jacoby’s High Over the Borders

IULMIA has chosen to showcase Irving Jacoby’s 1942 High Over the Borders as another of the outstanding films recently digitized for our soon-to-be expanded online exhibit WWII Propaganda Films and IU. Over 80 new titles from IULMIA’s collections will be available for viewing as part of this curated project that explores the distribution and exhibition of propaganda, educational, and training films on 16mm by the I.U. Extension Division throughout World War II.

An area of special focus in the exhibit is the WWII-era film productions of the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs (OCIAA). High Over the Borders is one of seventeen OCIAA productions viewable in the expanded exhibit, drawing attention to a body of remarkable films reporting on the nations of the Americas, many of which have not been widely available for viewing and study outside of archival collections.

Irving Jacoby was a member of an influential early generation of documentary filmmakers who went to work for governments of the Allied nations as war broke out, making a contribution to the war effort, developing their craft as filmmakers, and producing films of lasting value in the process. In the U.S. the OCIAA employed a remarkable roster of civilian filmmakers to create films showing life in the U.S. to the southern nations of the hemisphere, and educating U.S. audiences on the culture and geography of the Latin American countries.

The Pan-Americanism of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Good Neighbor policy, and the Office of the Coordinator of Inter American Affairs, under the direction of Nelson Rockefeller, sought to boost political and economic relations between the U.S. and Latin American nations. Before war broke out this U.S. public relations campaign worked to improve relations and counteract an imperialist image prevailing the south. Soon after the war began the OCIAA hastily shifted its priorities toward working to assure hemispheric solidarity, and preventing South American nations from any undue alliances with the Axis. In late 1941 a program of motion picture production and distribution by the OCIAA commenced, intending to use films to “show the truth about the American Way” to southern nations. A report on the new OCIAA film program in a December, 1941 issue of Motion Picture Herald makes mention of Irving Jacoby’s work-in-progress, referring to the film by the working title As Birds Link the Americas.

Completed early the following year, an announcement appearing under the heading “Good Neighbor Film” appearing in the April, 1942 Movie Makers (via Media History Digital Library) provides the basic details of the production:

The seasonal flights of birds all over the American Continents, irrespective of boundaries and man made laws, constitute the theme of High Over the Borders, a two reel movie prepared jointly for the Office of Inter American Affairs, the National Film Board of Canada, and the New York Zoological Society. Most of the footage came from the newsreel and nature footage libraries of the National Film Board, while John Ferno did the camera work and the editing. Irving Jacoby was the writer and director, Phil Brown was the narrator and Vittorio Giannini composed the musical score. The National Film Board is handling theatrical distribution in both Americas, while the Office of Inter-American Affairs takes care of the non theatrical circulation in South America.

Richie_Ricardo
Richie in the north, and Ricardo in the south: united by a love for barn swallows (stills from High Over the Borders)

Having worked in London under John Grierson’s General Post Office (GPO) film unit (occupying W.H. Auden’s recently vacated writing position) from 1938-39, Jacoby was among the first filmmakers to join Grierson in Ottawa, Ontario as the newly forming National Film Board of Canada was taking shape. In the logistics of its production, as well as in its thematic content, High Over the Borders embodied the internationalist message intended by Jacoby and the OCIAA.  The migratory journey of barn swallows from the Ontario farm of young Richie, to their wintering grounds over 7000 miles south to coastal Peru, near the village home of Richie’s counterpart Ricardo, serves as a narrative thread through the film. With Grierson the Scot as producer, Jacoby the New Yorker writing and directing, and the Dutch John Ferno (given name Johannes Fernhout) shooting and editing, this U.S.-Canadian co-production was to be exhibited in all corners of the hemisphere, with 16mm prints following the north-south routes of the birds themselves.

An excellent entry on Irving Jacoby by Cecile Starr (herself a fascinating  filmmaker and author) in the Encylopedia of the Documentary Film makes brief mention of this early production in Jacoby’s career:

For the NFB, in association with the New York Zoological Society and the [OCIAA], Irving Jacoby produced, directed and wrote High Over the Borders, an appealing, straightforward film about bird migration between North and South America.  Tinged with the spirit of internationalism, Dutch filmmaker John Ferno gave Jacoby first-hand experience in balancing the exigencies of organizations and government agencies with his own artistic and social concerns. High Over the Borders was a major success in every way.

Duck
Still from High Over the Borders, duck being banded by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The text of Jacoby’s narration drives home the metaphoric significance of migratory bird routes for the message of internationalism. After their southward migration, Canada geese are “full fledged residents of a new country, by virtue of the laws of nature and their power of flight. A thousand miles are nothing, borders do not exist, for the birds have in their wings a passport to the world.” Later we hear the narrator proclaim that migratory birds “mock the man-made lines by which nations separate themselves. For the birds are free, they are at home in the hemisphere, to them belongs all the land over which their wings carry them, and they belong to all the peoples who live in those lands.”

Turning away from propaganda toward a tone of more conventional nature education, the film shows the motion picture camera as an instrument of scientific study. In what was apparently a contribution of the New York Zoological Society’s participation in the production, footage using “super-speed photography” reveals that the ruby-throated hummingbird makes 75 wing strokes every second. According to this essay on nature film by scholar Helen Sommer, the hummingbird footage appearing in Jacoby’s film originated from Nazi government research in high frame-rate photography:

Friday, February 2, 1940: During a meeting at the Institute for Women’s Professional Relations, Mr. Osborn, from the New York Zoological Society, gave a speech on the topic of photography; both as a tool in scientific research and as a form of record for science. He recalled an incident when the society borrowed from Germany a truly remarkable slow-motion-film; 1,200 exposures a second showing the flight of a hummingbird. He reveals apologetically that it was later discovered that the origin of the film was the German Government, more specifically, the Nazi division of Ballistics and Aeronautics. Consequently in 1942, Osborn appropriated the Nazi hummingbird footage in a Canadian/American production: a documentary called High over the Borders, about bird migration in the western hemisphere. The thought of the hummingbird being turned against democracy frightened Osborn to such an extent that he appropriated it into another context in an attempt to rescue it.

The film then turns to the patient and less glamorous work of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, protecting migratory birds by providing sanctuary and regulating sport hunting. The use of banding in scientific study of migration is explained and a vast card file of data gathered by fieldworkers around North America is shown housed in Washington D.C.. Species maps charting migration data – and the 30,000 letters reporting banded bird sightings around the hemisphere received every year – are maintained by the Fish and Wildlife Service. Maps of the Atlantic, Mississippi, Central, and Pacific flyways across the hemisphere are animated.

Returning home to New York City after his Canadian stint, Jacoby, along with documentarian Joris Ivens, persuaded the City College of New York to create an Institute of Film Technique, instructing students in production of non-fiction films during the wartime boom years of training and instructional film production. The institute would go on to greater fame under the leadership of the German expatriate abstract filmmaker Hans Richter, from 1943 to 1946.

From The Educational Screen, February, 1942 [http://archive.org/stream/educationalscree21chicrich#page/78/mode/2up]
From Educational Screen, February, 1942
After leaving the Institute of Film Technique in 1943, Jacoby went on to become chief of the Non-Theatrical Section of the Office of War Information (OWI) Overseas Branch. During his tenure at OWI Jacoby wrote and produced Henwar Rodakiewicz’s short film Capital Story, IULMIA’s catalog record gives this brief summary:

Tells the story of the part played by the U.S. Public Health Service in tracing the cause of a lung infection contracted by a shipyard worker. Details of the tracing of the poison cadmium to a small order of flanges are pictured.

Jacoby concluded his tenure in governmental film production in 1946 with The Pale Horseman, a documentary on the postwar problem of epidemic disease, and the work of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) in aiding European and Asian nations devastated by the war.

Founding Affiliated Film Producers in 1946 with Henwar Rodakiewicz,  John Ferno, and Willard Van Dyke (distinguished filmmaker, educator, and later director of MOMA’s Department of Film), marked Jacoby’s turn to private production for the post-war educational film and television market. Jacoby served as writer and producer on a series of short films in the social guidance vein, produced to accompany the Mcgraw Hill textbook Marriage For Moderns. Offering “guidance for young people in the preparation for successful marriage,” the films are perennially popular viewing at Prelinger archives.

A 1947 documentary on Edward Weston, The Photographer, a series of well-regarded films on mental health produced with his wife Alberta Altman, and a 1960 Academy Award nomination shared with Shirley Clarke and Willard Van Dyke for their 1959 short documentary Skyscraper, are among the highlights of Jacoby’s later career.

from Business Screen No. 8 Vol. 20 1959 [http://www.archive.org/stream/1959businesss1960creenmav20v21rich#page/n637/mode/2up]
Irving Jacoby, photo from Business Screen No. 8 Vol. 20 1959
Too little seems to have been written about Jacoby, despite the fact that the many films written, produced, and directed by him have been shown around the world for the past 70-some years. In every period of his career Jacoby was closely involved with the influential figures and major developments in the evolution of documentary and educational filmmaking.  A search of IULMIA’s catalog returns at least 18 titles that Jacoby played some part in.

In addition to the many Affiliated Film Producers titles available at archive.org, an early National Film Board production Hot Ice (1940) can be viewed online. Also, James Beveridge’s 1978 book John Grierson: Film Master includes a transcript of an interview with Jacoby conducted for the 1973 documentary film Grierson.

Before the expanded WWII Propaganda Films and IU online exhibit is released on June 6, we’ll have one more post here featuring another exemplary war era film recently digitized by IULMIA, the 1943 short Farmer At War. This co-production of the Office of War Information and the War Activities Committee of the Motion Picture Industry profiles the stoic Pennsylvania Dutch farming communities of Lancaster County, a film intended to inspire citizens to greater thrift and cooperation in their contributions to the war effort.

~ Seth Mitter

Irving Jacoby 16mm prints held at IULMIA

1942 High Over the Borders
1945 Capital Story
1946 The Pale Horseman
1947 The Photographer
1950 “Marriage for Moderns” Series (Affiliated Film Producers, with Willard Van Dyke – many in this series also can be found at archive.org)

Choosing For Happiness
In Time of Trouble
This Charming Couple
Jealousy
Who’s Boss
Who’s Right?
It Takes All Kinds

1951 Angry Boy (with Alexander Hammid)
1951 Secure the Blessings
1954 The Lonely Night
1955 Broken Appointment
1961 The Hickory Stick
1962 The Dropout
1966 Community Mental Health

 

 

 

Coming soon at IULMIA: Expanding the WWII Propaganda Films and IU exhibit

IU War Films_1943 1

As IULMIA’s WWII Films and IU: Audiovisual Production, Circulation, and Education exhibit approaches it’s one year anniversary, we are excited to announce the upcoming expansion of the exhibit to include 84 newly digitized World War II era films. Beginning June 6, 2015 the exhibit will grow to include access to over 200 titles, many never before available online or on video.

The Second World War era films in IULMIA’s collections represent a founding part of the film collections at IU, as widespread use of motion pictures in training and education took hold during the war years and immediately after. Looking back on his years with the Army Pictorial Service of the Signal Corps, applying the lessons of wartime film use to postwar education, Charles Hoban wrote in his book Movies That Teach:

In the face of unprecedented demands for training millions of men and women to win a war in the most effective way in the shortest possible time, the armed forces and other war-training and morale-building agencies turned to motion pictures with unquestioning faith in their teaching values. During the years immediately preceding and throughout World War II, thousands of motion pictures were made and used on a scale which, in comparison to total possible audiences, exceeded the pre-war use of films both in entertainment and education.

LearnMore_RetainFacts
Advantages to teaching with audio-visual aids. From: The Audio-Visual Projectionist’s Handbook (1948)

Indiana University prided itself on being at the forefront of innovation in audiovisual instruction, adopting military uses of moving pictures to civilian training and pedagogy. I.U.’s Bureau of Audio-Visual Aids (BAVA) ascended to prominence over the course of the war years as it lobbied for a greater role for educational film libraries in the distribution of government films¹. Under the leadership of L.C. Larson, the Bureau became a major depository of government produced wartime information, propaganda, and training films, serving as a distributor to audiences in Indiana and the surrounding region.

Hundreds of films acquired or deposited at I.U. during the years of the second World War substantially increased the size of the BAVA film collection, the core of a film distribution library that would grow to tens of thousands of film prints under the custody of the renamed I.U. Audio-Visual Center (IUAVC) by the 1970s. These 16mm prints dating from the war era now constitute some of the oldest materials among the roughly 48,000 LCLarsonprints in the I.U. Libraries Moving Image Archive’s educational film collection.

In June 2014 the I.U. Libraries Moving Image Archive unveiled WWII Propaganda Films and IU, an online exhibit, created using the Omeka platform, providing access to 117 films digitized from original 16mm film prints distributed by the Bureau of Audio-Visual Aids during the war years. Curated from the 1943 War Films catalog issued by the I.U. Extension Division, the exhibit highlights the role of I.U.’s BAVA and educational film libraries in distributing these War-era films to domestic audiences of school and community groups. Increased availability of 16mm sound film projectors, necessary for the government’s dissemination of War Information to citizens, made possible the non-theatrical circulation of films found in the exhibit. Portable exhibition of the smaller 16mm format turned the classroom, 4H meeting, fraternal order, church, or factory floor into the setting in which these film prints from I.U. were screened.

Now, nearly a year later, IULMIA is finishing preparations for the substantial expansion of the WWII Propaganda Films and IU exhibit—set to officially launch June 6, 2015— to include 84 additional digitized films from its collections, representing an even broader sampling of government film production during the WWII era.

Virtually all of the films to be added to site have never before been available online in any form, and most have never seen video release of any kind. All additions to the exhibit, amounting to more than 20 hours of film, are high definition digital transfers of original 16mm prints in circulation during the War era. When the expanded exhibit opens June 6, 2015, a total of 201 WWII era films from IULMIA’s collections will be available for streaming access.

Curation of these additions to the WWII exhibit has emphasized the scope of wartime filmmaking beyond the battlefield and military films that brought news of the war home. Because civilians were the primary audience for films distributed by I.U., subjects concerning domestic life and economy, agriculture and natural resource management, workplace training, and the cultures of the allied nations are especially prevalent in IULMIA’s war era film collections. Additionally, selection for the expanded exhibit has focussed on providing streaming access to historically notable war era films not available through other major online archival collections (U.S. National ArchivesNational Film Board of Canada, Prelinger Archives, and FedFlix all provide access to major collections of WWII related films).

Among the highlights of the expanded exhibit will be many lesser known productions of the U.S. Department of Agriculture that were released and widely exhibit during the war years. While many titles such as Farmer’s Wife and Harvest For Victory carry explicit messages of wartime conservation and thrift, an equal number of the USDA’s films from the era articulate less war-specific messages about improved farming practices, conservation of natural resources, land, and water management.

MaintainingWorkersInterest
From: Business Screen No. 2 Vol. 6, 1945, pp 16-17 (via Media History Digital Library)

The addition of 10 titles in the U.S. Office of Education’s wartime “Problems in Supervision” series to the exhibit provide a fascinating look at the wartime factory shop floor and assembly line in their mini-dramatizations of workplace conflict. Fans of Supervising Women Workers will be sure to enjoy such titles as Maintaining Workers’ Interest and Placing the Right Man on the Job.

 The productions of the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs represent another facet of government sponsored filmmaking in the war years. Dozens of documentary shorts profiling the culture and geography of Central and South America attempted carry out the aims of FDR’s “Good Neighbor Policy” by fostering a sense of solidarity between the nations of the Americas. Many great OCIAA films have been viewable via Prelinger Archives, such as Willard Van Dyke and Ben Maddow’s The Bridge, or the numerous OCIAA films of Julien Bryan. Seventeen wartime OCIAA titles not previously available are among the newly digitized IULMIA films, including lovely Kodachrome prints of travelogues such as The Hill Towns of Guatemala and Sundays In The Valley of Mexico, and the cautionary animated short Water: Friend Or Enemy.

 Before we officially launch the expanded exhibit June 6, we’ll be featuring a few of the outstanding examples among the newly digitized films with posts here. Stay tuned in the coming weeks for a closer look at some great examples of these government-produced films, never before available online, intended to inform, train, persuade and inspire domestic audiences during wartime.

Check back soon for these coming attractions for your viewing pleasure here at the IULMIA blog:

  • The singular You Can’t Eat Tobacco (1943), a public health film reporting on impoverished tenant farming communities in coastal North Carolina. Written by Margaret Cussler and photographed on unfailingly beautiful Kodachrome by Mary DeGive,  the film marked the debut of this two woman filmmaking team.
  • High Over The Borders (1942), a U.S.-Canadian co-production whose credits include documentary makers John Ferno and Irving Jacoby, featuring sophisticated high-speed photography, and studying the migratory routes of birds as a symbol of the unity of the nations of the Americas.
  • Farmer At War (1943) a neglected masterpiece credited to The War Activities Committee of the Motion Picture Industry, using stark landscape photography and a social documentarian style to profile the heroic efforts of elderly farmers in Lancaster county, Pennsylvania, increasing wartime food production even as farms were vacated by young men.

~Seth Mitter

1. Cook, A.W. (1980). A History of the Indiana University Audio-Visual Center: 1913 to 1975 (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana.

 

 

New Sounds In Music: Continuing Conversations With Filmmaker Pieter Van Deusen

In the course of working with one of the world’s largest educational film and video collections, archives staff at IULMIA inevitably come across some extraordinary works that transcend the genre boundaries typical of classroom and educational films. Just a few recent examples turned up by  programmers combing through the collection for this semester’s Social Guidance Sundays screening series include the unforgettable 1962 scare film H-Bomb Over U.S., with its felt cutouts and burning doll’s heads, and two early 1970s 16mm prints of Lillian Schwartz’s films UFOs and Pixillation,

While we do love the reliable formulas of narration, diagrams, and demonstrations found in classics from Coronet and Encyclopaedia Brittanica, the cinephile within us is drawn to those classroom films where the creative, individual touch of the filmmaker manages to shine through.  There may be no place and time better than California in the late 60s where the spirit of creative personal filmmaking crossed over into educational productions, and the output of Churchill Films is exemplary is this respect.

Pieter Van Deusen working on String Sounds
Pieter Van Deusen at work on String Sounds

IULMIA’s previous blog post discussed the series of music films that Les Blank worked on for director Pieter Van Deusen and Churchill Films – a series that exemplifies the surprisingly adventurous and original filmmaking sometimes found in 16mm cans with seemingly undistinguished titles like String Sounds. These music films were a series created for the primary school classroom by a gifted group of filmmakers loosely connected through the USC School of Cinematic Arts, all working at in the overlapping worlds of industrial and independent filmmaking in southern California. Since our last post we’ve continued corresponding with filmmaker Pieter Van Deusen, who has generously shared his memories and photographs from his work on the music series. As promised, we’re featuring excerpts from another outstanding title in the series – New Sounds In Music – with some rare performances from the West Coast experimental music scene circa 1968.

New Sounds In Music, along with the other 4 titles in the Music series, were written, directed, and produced by Pieter Van Deusen for Churchill Films, the educational film company founded by Robert Churchill in Los Angeles.

Churchill Films Music Series promotion courtesy Pieter Van Deusen
Churchill Films Music Series promotion courtesy Pieter Van Deusen

Each of the films in the series takes an expanded view of “sound,” musical and non-musical, with special emphasis on children producing sounds with commonplace objects and homemade instruments (Percussion Sounds even features a performance by a Santa Monica children’s gamelan ensemble!). However New Sounds departs from the others in the series as it introduces young audiences to then-current varieties of “serious” avant-garde music, including chance composition, prepared piano, electronic synthesizers, tape music, and the invented instruments of composer Harry Partch.

The opening sequence of the film (shown in the clip above) features musician Christoper Tree, known for a few sought-after records and the subject of a 1967 short film by Les Blank and Van Deusen, in footage shot by Blank (whether it same performance and footage appearing in both films is still unknown). Pieter Van Deusen writes:

I’m not sure who knew knew about Chris Tree, but he was a natural for the series. And Les Blank was a natural to capture his performance on film. We chose to shoot it outdoors where Chris looked and acted as natural as a musician was allowed to look and act in those days…

At the time the music series was produced, Van Deusen had only been working for Churchill Films briefly, since writing and directing In A Medical Laboratory in 1966, a sponsored film “designed to get college students interested in that particular work environment,” according to Pieter. Shortly after this, Churchill produced three films on the Bill of Rights, Speech and Protest, Interrogation and Council, Search and Privacy, all written and directed by Van Deusen in 1967.

Pieter’s own varied background and accomplishments in music performance and composition likely contributed to Robert Churchill’s confidence in giving the young filmmaker nearly complete control over the production of the series of five music films that commenced in 1968. Pieter writes of the moderate success of his own early tape and musique concrete compositions, written after a mid-50s army stint and before entering USC film school:

I had also experimented with “electronic music” (more exactly–“musique concrete”) of my own in 1958, when I composed two pieces of tape music for Anna Halperin’s modern dance group in Marin County, CA.

The works were performed at venues around San Francisco, and eventually the Experimental Music Pavilion at the Brussels World’s Fair. During this time Pieter also describes visiting Harry Partch’s Sausalito studio to study his invented instruments. Pieter goes on to mention his role in no less a project than the Cinerama film To The Moon and Beyond alongside visual effects specialists John Whitney Sr. and Douglas Trumbull:

Then, in 1963, I wound up composing a sequence of music concrete for an amazing double sized (square) 70mm film projected on a giant dome (like at a planetarium) at the [1964-65] World’s Fair in New York…

His own tape compositions make appearances in two of his films for Churchill: Drugs and the Nervous System, and in the concluding sequence of New Sounds In Music. A portion of a performance event with musicians and students involved in the Mills Tape Music Center at Mills College in Oakland, CA, engaged in a spontaneous and participatory composition using gigantic analog synthesizers, begins this final section of New Sounds In Music:

New Sounds In Music,  lp issued by Churchill Films
New Sounds In Music, lp issued by Churchill Films

As noted in Churchill’s promotional flyer, above, several of the films in the series were released with an accompanying long playing record. While IULMIA isn’t fortunate enough to have a copy of any these records, evidence exists that copies of a New Sounds In Music record can be found. Among the tracks listed on the New Sounds record is a composition by Michael Tilson Thomas, which is conducted by the then-24-year-old composer in the film as well. Pieter writes:

At the time [Michael Tilson Thomas] was already conducting the Los Angeles Youth Orchestra (…) He also took [assistant director] Kent and I to his converted garage in Studio City, where he kept his piano. There, he performed some Liszt for us as well as some ‘prepared piano’ improvisations. We decided that the best thing Michael could do for us was to get hold of a percussionist friend of his with whom he could improvise an original piano/percussion duet for New Sounds In Music

Along with this original work, New Sounds shows Tilson Thomas executing a performance of the chance composition, “The Knight’s Tour” by Fredrick Lesemann, requiring a chessboard and an invented form of abstract-geometric musical notation. Rounding out this 23-minute survey of the late 60s Californian avant-garde are a number of performances using invented instruments, such as Harry Partch’s Chromelodeon and Diamond Marimba.

The number of memorable and historically significant performances included in the 5 titles of the music series are enough to merit broader appreciation for these nearly 50-year-old films. Through Pieter Van Deusen’s graciousness and generosity in telling the stories of their making and adding to our understanding of these films, it’s our hope here at IULMIA that greater awareness and interest in these films will soon follow.

The body of work that Pieter Van Deusen went on to produce with Churchill over the next 20 years is no less remarkable than the films of the music series. Some highlights include A Kite Story, made with Roberto Chavez (whose animation in What Is Music? was featured in our earlier post), and The Voyage of Odysseus, a 1980 adaptation of Homer narrated by actress Julie Harris, and laboriously animated in three dimensions on the sides of vases, in the style of ancient Athenian vase painting.

Pieter and his partner Leah Miller continue to work on films, recently completing a long awaited independent project Netherby Naps, written by Pieter and shot entirely with a handheld 35mm Bell & Howell eyemo camera.

Pieter Van Deusen and Leah Miller at work on Netherby Naps
Pieter Van Deusen and Leah Miller at work on Netherby Naps

~Seth Mitter

The IU Libraries Moving Image Archive Acquires the Hal and Kathryn Stewart Collection

The Indiana University Libraries Moving Image Archive (IULMIA) is happy to announce its recent acquisition of the film collection of Hal (1899-1991) and Kathryn (1908-1981) Stewart. The married couple owned and operated the Denver branch of the Ideal Pictures Corporation, one of the major distributors of nontheatrical film in the middle half of the last century. The Stewart Collection’s 662 film reels and Ideal catalogs are the artifactual remains from the couple’s four decades of working in the nontheatrical film field from 1941 to 1980.

Stewarts_Ideal
Kathryn and Hal Stewart

The Stewarts’ work in the film business started much earlier than their time with Ideal. According to their daughter Susan Stewart Moss and son-in-law Robert Moss, the generous donors of this collection, the Stewarts met in 1925. Kathryn was employed as a silent film accompanist at the Star Theater in Fort Lupton, Colorado. The Star was one of a small chain of theaters owned by Hal and his brother in Colorado and New Mexico. After they married, the couple traveled around the eastern United States showing films such as De Mille’s King of Kings (1927) and The Silent Enemy (1930) in small towns without movie theaters. At some point in the mid-30s, after returning to the Rocky Mountains, the couple entered the distribution business founding Barnes-Stewart Films. How the Stewarts became involved with Ideal is still being researched. Their experience as itinerant exhibitors is one possible connection as Ideal specifically marketed its rental service to what were called at the time roadshow men.

Ideal_Denver-Office
The Denver office of the Ideal Pictures Corporation.

The Stewart collection represents only a tiny percentage of the thousands of films distributed by Ideal. In fact, the ever-expanding size of its rental library was one way Ideal  promoted its service above other nontheatrical film distributors of the time such as Films Incorporated and Bell & Howell. However, the films in the Stewart Collection offer a representative sample of the large number of film genres Ideal rented under the umbrella term nontheatrical film. This collection shows how nontheatrical film was more of a business model incorporating any type of movie that could be used outside of an initial theatrical run than a genre or formal set of filmmaking techniques. For example, the Stewart Collection includes educational films, travelogs, sponsored films promoting Pan Am airlines and Standard Oil,  B-Westerns, serials, musical shorts, and US government produced propaganda films from World War II.

Ideal_Juveniles-a-problem

IULMIA’s staff is still inventorying and inspecting the films in the Hal and Kathryn Stewart collection. Future blog posts will use this collection to examine what nontheatrical film was and who would have seen these films. Upcoming installments in this series will explore nontheatrical film circulation through a close look at the business practices of Ideal Pictures and its founder Bertram Willoughby, and highlight individual films in new digital transfers to look at the specific genres of nontheatrical film including travelogs, religious films, and promotional films.

IU Libraries Moving Image Archive Launches Exhibit of WWII Propaganda Film

In honor of the 70th anniversary of D-Day and the Battle of Normandy, the Indiana University Libraries Moving Image Archive has digitized 116 World War II propaganda films now available as part of archive’s “WWII Propaganda Films and IU: Audiovisual Production, Circulation, and Education” permanent online exhibition. The exhibition focuses on IU’s use of mass media to educate and inform American audiences during WWII.

The United States Coast Guard Song: Semper Paratus ; The Army Air Corps Song
The United States Coast Guard Song: Semper Paratus ; The Army Air Corps Song

This online exhibition is available for free to the general public and may be browsed by film title and subject. The original movies were distributed by Indiana University during and after the war years as part of the IU Bureau of Audio-Visual Aids and are now part of IU Libraries Moving Image Archive’s core collection of educational films, which is one of the largest such collections in the world.

Many titles in the exhibition are available online for the first time, such as “The Children See It Through,” a 1941 film produced by lauded wartime documentarian Paul Rotha that focuses on the life of British children during the war. The exhibition also features a wide selection of government-sponsored films and newsreels from the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada, with content including the purchase of war bonds, the growing of victory gardens, and the war efforts made by students of historically African American colleges.

Additionally, the exhibition includes instructional films intended for limited audiences, such as a film instructing engineering students on how to build a B-26 medium bomber. Clark Gable, Jimmy Stewart, Orson Welles, Bing Crosby and Dylan Thomas are among the many credited performers and creators of the films.

A selection of films from the exhibit
A selection of films from the exhibit

“These films offer a unique window into American history and demonstrate the important role that film archives play in preserving and providing access to our shared cultural heritage,” said Rachael Stoeltje, head of the archive. “Without the Moving Image Archive and the IU Libraries’ commitment to preservation and access, this digitization project and the exhibition likely would not have been possible.”

This digital collection and exhibition are part of the IU Libraries Moving Image Archive’s continued commitment to digitizing and providing online streaming access to archival motion picture film collections and to raising awareness among the general public of the wide variety of films available at IU. By providing free online access to these films, IU Libraries Moving Image Archive also hopes to promote a deeper understanding of the ways in which governments and filmmakers presented the many aspects of wartime life through the use of moving image recordings.  See more information here.

Preservation Update

The 10 month effort to move Indiana University’s 70,000+ film holdings to the climate-controlled Auxiliary Library Facility has been completed. The constant temperature and humidity of 50 degrees and 30% RH will extend the life of the films an additional 283 years. All of the films were tested for vinegar syndrome, inventoried and rehoused prior to the move.

ALF
Vaults of ALF II

All of the Indiana University Libraries’ Film Archive Collections were moved to the ALF.  These collections include the 48,000 items in the Libraries’ Educational collection, all of the Lilly Libraries’ film collections and the University Archives’ film collections. In addition, the Black Film Center Archive’s collections and the Kinsey Institute’s film collections were also moved to the climate-controlled, cold storage ALF environment.

Films
Archivists prepare films for ALF

Film Preservation Grant Awarded

Steenbeck
Archivist Rieta Drinkwine uses the Steenbeck

The Indiana University Libraries Film Archive has been awarded a National Film Preservation Foundation grant to save three of director John Ford’s home movies.  The films to be preserved include Mexico with John Wayne and Henry Fonda; 1948 Car Trip From Monterey Mexico to Durango with Ford, Wayne, and Ward Bond; and 1941 Mazatlan, Mexico Trip.

The NFPF preservation grants target newsreels, silent-era films, documentaries, culturally important home movies, avant-garde films, and endangered independent productions that fall under the radar of commercial preservation programs. The awards provide support to create a film preservation master and two access copies of each work.

IU Libraries Film Archive Acquires Lane Education Service District Collection

Twelve-thousand educational 16mm films were recently donated to the Indiana University Libraries Film Archive from Lane Education Service District. The films consist of a collection of films that were acquired from a disbanded Oregon University consortium and consists of theatrical releases including some silent films and titles from the 50s and early 60s and a collection of educational films that range in date from the 1920s through the 1980s and were rented to grade schools and high schools for instructional viewings.