National Educational Television and the IU Libraries Film Archive

The Indiana University Libraries Film Archive (IULFA) contains more than 46,000 historic educational films, making it one of the most extensive collection of such items in existence. IU was one of the major university-based distributors of educational films from the 1930s to the 1990s, but unlike many of its contemporaries it maintained the majority of its collection, now preserved in the Ruth Lilly Auxiliary Library Facility (ALF).

The collection spans much of the Twentieth Century, including a large of number of pre-World War II, career training, and U.S. Department of War films. A large chunk of the collection — more than 5,600 films — were produced by the National Educational Television (NET) network, the precursor to the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS).

The National Educational Television logo from 1969-1970.

NET got its start in 1952 and functioned as an “exchange center” that collected the grassroots productions of local TV stations from across the country as sort of an aggregator for public programming. The programs were educational in nature, featuring children’s shows (Fignewton’s Newspaper and Sing Hi – Sing Lo) parenting advice (Children Growing), and artist spotlights (the Creative Person series) to name just a few.

 

 

Below are two episodes from the Creative Person series — one about animator Richard Williams and the other about Fred Rogers. Both of these titles are held in the IULFA collection.

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=4521253840921599093

Production values, intended audience, and popularity varied greatly from program to program, which led the Ford Foundation, who had invested over $130 million between 1952 and 1966, to begin to withdraw funding, sending NET looking for funding from the federal government. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) was created in 1967, which served to manage the content created by stations and, eventually, the creation of PBS.

NET was the original home of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and Sesame Street, which became staples for PBS. Stations like KQED in San Francisco and, WQED in Pittsburgh, and KETC in St. Louis were among the stations which provided the content for NET between 1952 and the early 1970s, when the NET distinction gave way to PBS.

The IU Libraries Film Archive not only holds prints of the completed programs but also a number of film elements that went into the production of them. By preserving the fully edited productions as well as the components which became the final product, these historic films — the ancestors of today’s public broadcasting system — stand a much better chance at surviving for several generations of researchers and the public interested in a glimpse at the roots of America’s television programming system.

~Jason Evans Groth

Educational Films and Film Societies

When we speak of educational films, what exactly do we mean? For many people, memories of high school science classes come to mind. Or people recall the amusingly awkward acting, dated music and fashion, and cheap production value of instructional films.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fssAHO0_mvE

Above: BBC parody on science films called “Look Around You” tackles sulphur.

However, the recently acquired Oregon Collection challenges and broadens our understanding of what constitutes an educational film and how their meanings change when placed in various contexts and settings.

Most people today tend to separate educational films from other kinds of film production, notably fiction features and documentaries. Yet, there is a semi-hidden history of film societies placing educational films as a major part of their programming. The most famous example was the New York-based film society, Cinema 16 (which operated from 1947-1963). Amos and Marcia Vogel founded Cinema 16 with the hopes of exploring and screening alternative types of cinema, ranging from documentaries to educational films to experimental films. Amos Vogel’s programming sensibility, by juxtaposing many different types of films, showed how thin the line was between documentary and educational films (ethnographic films) or the avant-garde and educational films (the work of Jean Painleve comes to mind). Also, the Vogels hoped that bringing these seemingly disparate groups of films into a single program would transform the way their audience saw the art of cinema. One could, they believed, approach educational films from an aesthetic perspective, as well as approach narrative fiction cinema from an educational perspective.

Original program guide for a Cinema 16 screening (click picture for a short essay on non-fiction film by Vogel)

Many of the films in the Oregon collection would have been perfect for a program at Cinema 16. A majority of the films in the Oregon collection were produced after Cinema 16’s demise, but the collection as a whole suggests a rich hidden history of the life of educational films outside of the traditional classroom setting.

A documentary on Amos Vogel’s life and work:

Film as a Subversive Art from Paul Cronin on Vimeo.

~Sean Smalley

Oregon Collection Update

 In October of 2011, the IU Libraries Film Archive acquired 12,000 educational films from the Lane Education Service District in Eugene, Oregon. The collection consists primarily of educational films made for elementary through university level students that were produced between the 1920s and 1980s. Genres of the films include science, the arts, physical education, biographies, world history, and instructional films along with some feature films including, The Red Balloon (video below), City Lights, and Paper Moon. Some of the educational films include Guernica (video below), Food Chains in the Ocean, Rise of English Socialism and Bicycle Safety. There are multiple copies of many titles and some that have upwards of ten copies.

 In April the process of adding these films to the collection at the Auxiliary Library Facility (ALF) began.  The process involves bar-coding each title, testing the films for vinegar syndrome with A-D strips, and then sending them to their final destination in the ALF vault where they are kept at a steady temperature of 50 degrees Fahrenheit and a humidity level of 30%. Over 95% of the films that have been tested are in great condition and with the climate controlled storage facilities their conditions will be stabilized for decades. The few films which have tested poorly are bagged in plastic and kept in a film freezer which maintains a constant temperature of -2 degrees Fahrenheit.  Presently over a third of the new collection has been tested and cataloged and will available through IUCAT after processing has been completed. IU Libraries Film Archive already houses a large variety of educational films and the new films will only add to the diversity of this immense collection.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oQhvgo62l74&t=15s

The Red Balloon joins the Indiana University Libraries Film Archive

Guernica is now part of the Indiana University Libraries Film Archive collection

~Asia Harman

The “Mother Church of Media”: The IU Audio-Visual Center and Martha Harsanyi

The author and interviewer for this post is Natasha Ritsma. Natasha is a Ph.D candidate in the Department of Communication and Culture at Indiana University. She is working on her dissertation on the art of educational films which includes research in the history of the Audio-Visual Center at IU.

After 42 years of working for Indiana University, Martha Harsanyi, the Media Collections Manager for Media and Reserve Services at the Wells library retired in May, 2012.  My discussions with Martha have not only been vital for my academic research but have also inspired a series of future blog entries that will include topics such as: the most frequently censored educational film ever produced, a look into the history of Teaching Film Custodians, and Indiana University’s unique 16mm film productions. Martha began her career at IU working at the Kinsey Institute in 1970.  In 1975 she transferred to the IU Audio-Visual Center (one of the first and largest university run film/video rental centers) which eventually became Instructional Support Services.  Throughout the span of her career, she witnessed dramatic shifts in audio-visual technology beginning with 16mm films in the 1970s, to video in the 1980s, and digital media starting in the 1990s. Martha’s wealth of experience and knowledge about the IU media collections is astounding and has served as an invaluable resource for students, instructors and researchers for decades.

NR: What would you say is the most significant contribution the IU audio-visual center made to the American media landscape in the 50s, 60s, 70s?

MH: The IU Audio-Visual was a leader in the field of 16mm production and distribution.  IU faculty member Nona Hengen called the Audio-Visual center the “Mother Church of Media.”  The IU Audio-Visual center functioned as a model that was to become a national standard.  IU developed an excellent structure for how to set up an audio-visual center.  I think every other university audio-visual center modeled itself more or less after our audio-visual center, from building the storage racks (so they could store the film canisters on edge) to their catalogs.  IU was a leader in the production, distribution, cataloguing, selection, and promotion of 16 mm films.

NR: What were the cultural values and ideologies that influenced the mission of the IU Audio-Visual Center?

MH: There was a strong desire to use new technology to enhance public school education.  The Audio-Visual center started in tandem with the baby boom and there was a real need to educate a growing population.  Classrooms were stuffed to their gills with little kids.  16mm films were first used for training purposes during WWII and they saw that they really worked.  It was an easy transition to go from military training to teaching the public in general.  There was a desire to bring the world to the hinterlands and provide educational opportunities to kids in little rural schools that they would never otherwise get.

NR: Who rented films from the IU Audio-Visual Center?

MH: Schools, museums, clubs, community centers, and churches.  The school systems wanted to use the latest technology and film was the latest technology.  The whole idea of a rental library based at a university was to remedy the fact that 16 mm films were very expensive and there was no way smaller schools could afford them.  The university rental collection functioned as a pooled resource.    It was a service of the university to the state of Indiana. It was intentionally not a money making operation, and indeed they did not make money.  What money the Audio-Visual Center made was plowed back into buying more films.

NR: What is your favorite 16mm film?

MH: Powers of Ten by Ray and Charles Eames.  It is my favorite film because it used the visual medium to demonstrate something you couldn’t demonstrate in any other way.  I’ve watched it many times.

The 1977 short film, Powers of Ten explores the relative size of things from the microscopic to the cosmic. The aerial view of a man enjoying a picnic in a Chicago park pans away to the outer limits of the universe.

~Natasha Ritsma

 

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.