Highlights On Amateur Filmmaking Heritage

“Amateur cinema: Amateur filmmaking and the alternative film culture that emerged around it. Amateur films were polished short works aimed at an audience of fellow amateurs and members of the public. Distinct from rough home movies, but produced outside the commercial system, they include dramas, portrayals of everyday life, travel and nature films, comedies, and many other subjects and genres. Amateur films often experiment with film form.” –Amateurcinema.org

It might be hard to imagine a time when amateur filmmaking was considered a subculture, what with the abundance of accessible filmmaking today through digital platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube. However, when the Amateur Cinema League was founded in 1926, that’s exactly what it was: subculture. Because of this, amateur films from this era are a unique and rare find with limited visibility online. The University of Calgary and the Amateur Movie Database are making great efforts to expose amateur filmmaking, but large gaps still remain. O’ Canada, made by amateur filmmaker Markley L. Pepper, is one such rarity.

The provenance of this film is unknown and it might have gone unnoticed had it not been scanned as part of the IU Media Digitization and Preservation Initiative project, greatly enhancing discoverability and access. As part of phase two of MDPI, the Moving Image Archive selected significant collections of film to be digitized, cataloged, hosted, and shared through the Avalon Media System for IU. O’ Canada is a part of the Hal & Kathryn Stewart Collection. The Stewarts owned and operated the Denver branch of Ideal Pictures Corporation, a distributor of non-theatrical films, operating until 1980. My work in the Moving Image Archive involves cataloging films that have gone through the digitization process and are in need of descriptive metadata in order to facilitate access. The vast majority of films I had cataloged from the Stewart collection had been either Castle or Official films; i.e., large home movie producers and distributors with licensing rights for commercial theatrical films, in addition to sports reels, cartoons, and newsreels. Therefore, when I came across the bright red Amateur Cinema League banner set against a backdrop of a spinning globe my interests were peaked by sheer variation. The film itself has very limited information, apart from the title, creator, and locations. My preliminary research on ACL clued me in on the significance of the print; but upon deeper research, scouring issues of Movie Makers for any mention of the film, I started to recognize the potential for highlighting this seemingly forgotten film. A travelogue of various tourist destinations in Canada, Pepper has attractively captured scenic vistas, everyday tourist activities, and friendly wildlife in this vivid time capsule. However, more than being a beautiful travelogue, O’ Canada is a modern artifact of amateur filmmaking heritage. It represents an era of filmmaking before filmmaking became widely accessible. It is important not only to preserve, but to share and promote, what could have been, a lost artifact.

Pepper’s special attention to detail and style, exhibited through his title card artistry, frame set-up, and editing style, elevate the film beyond the typical home movie. My personal favorite scenes being the candid shots of the family of bears casually meandering through the forest. O’ Canada has no date; however, the color ACL leader used on the film came out in 1949 and the edge codes on the film indicate 1951 and 1952. Evidence of the time period is on fine display throughout the film. Pepper blends grand landscapes with personal moments, like the screenshots below; delivering a sense of intimacy to the audience and further distinguishing the film.

Pepper, also working out of Denver, was a member of the Amateur Cinema League, Denver Cinema League, and the Amateur Motion Picture Society of Denver (Movie Makers). He also taught two cinema courses at the Emily Griffith Opportunity School in Denver and published an article in Movie Makers, “Welcome to Denver,” in 1948. Other titles by the filmmaker, documented, include: The Big Three and Colorado Landscape (whereabouts unknown).

Campus Culture and Gender Ideology: A Look at 1953’s Your Daughter at I.U.

your daughter at iu       your daughter at iu 2

Beneath the veneer of the seemingly idyllic 1950s America lay an undercurrent of social unrest, as postwar expectations of gender roles, particularly·in regards to receiving a university education, sought to reinforce traditions that had all but been upended in the previous decade.  Prior to World War II, admissions at Indiana University Bloomington saw men outnumbering women three-to-one in the classroom. During wartime, women outnumbered men two-to-one.

gi bill
Students register for classes using their GI Bill (1947). Image courtesy of Indiana University Archives.

Thanks to such measures as the G.I. Bill, the postwar years saw the majority male student population return to Indiana University, and images of female empowerment of the previous decade (perhaps best represented by the iconic Rosie the Riveter campaign) were replaced by images of docility, compliance, and traditional femininity, as women were once again being primed for futures as wives and mothers.

Your Daughter at I.U., a 1953 college recruitment video marketed toward the parents of prospective female students, serves as a striking representation of how gender roles were being negotiated in the postwar years.  As the film’s (male) narrator cheerfully proclaims in its opening moments, “modern life is complex…to meet it, our daughters need a many sided-education.” The result of such a well-rounded education?  “A woman may be the center of the home, bringing up a healthy, well-adjusted family in comfortable, attractive surroundings.”

your daughter at iu 4
“Students in the home management house care for a real baby…and as you can see, he gets good care!”

The film’s  exploration of career paths for Indiana University students highlights professions viewed as traditionally feminine – nurses, teachers, and other positions related to home economics and domestic work.  The university is depicted as offering courses in “basic subjects” including “arts and crafts.”  Further, such curriculum options are deemed necessary not for the student’s betterment, but for the eventual support of her husband and family: “[the woman] will do most of the family buying, and she will be her husband’s  partner in major decisions; therefore, she must understand financial matters and how to deal with them.”

your daughter at iu 5
“The modern woman may be a wage-earner until she gets married, or even after marriage. Or later, when her children are grown, she may help her husband in his business.”

Yet Your Daughter at I.U.’ s representation of traditional gender roles was incongruous with notable campus developments of the time.  Only one year before the film’s release, the Indiana Memorial Union Board began admitting women for the first time, despite the fact that the organization had been active since 1909. Also of note is the publication of Alfred Kinsey‘s controversial Sexual Behavior in the Human Female in 1953, which challenged conventional beliefs about female sexuality. The hiring of Eunice Roberts as Indiana University’s Assistant Dean of Faculties cemented the university’s status as one of the few colleges at the time employing a woman full-time to develop educational programs and services for women.

Kinsey
A student reads Kinsey’s Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948). Image courtesy of Indiana University Archives.

Such achievements in redefining gender norms were in direct contrast to university policy, which aggressively policed female students’ behavior. According to a 1947 social guidance booklet distributed by the university, female students were instructed to wear sweaters, skirts, ankle socks and loafers, and were forbidden from wearing slacks or shorts in the campus dining halls.  Jeans were also prohibited save for a few exceptions – lounging on Saturdays, at hayrides, or at picnics. Further, the Association for Women Students published a yearly handbook of mandatory moral and social standards, guidelines that were perhaps best expressed in the curfew policy.  Nightly curfews applied to all women, and expressly stated that women had to be in their dorms or houses by 10:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and by 12:30 a.m. on weekends.  Social Standards and House Regulations were distributed to dormitory residents in much the same way these other social guidance booklets were.

Arguably, the Indiana University of the 1950s was something of a microcosm of the United States at large, simultaneously reinforcing and questioning cultural expectations of gender roles, which would soon be on the cusp of significant transformation with the emergence of second-wave feminism in the early 1960s. Your Daughter at I.U. is an important work in understanding the intersection between conventional gender role expectations of the postwar era, how these expectations were reinforced in the context of receiving a university education, and perhaps most importantly, the gradual yet significant unrest in maintaining them.

Your Daughter at I.U. is held in the Indiana University Libraries Film Archive’s Educational Film Collection and can be viewed online via the university’s video streaming service. 

~Kaitlin Conner

John Klacsmann of the Anthology Film Archives

Based in the East Village of Manhattan, the Anthology Film Archives has long held a place in the hearts of cinematically inclined artfolk.  With holdings comprised primarily of avant-garde and experimental art film, Anthology has evolved from its original conception as an experimental museum of film to a well-regarded, more traditional archive, with weekly film screenings, a reference library, preservation activities and a healthy dose of community outreach.

John Klacsmann (second from left) of the Anthology Film Archives
John Klacsmann (second from left) of the Anthology Film Archives

I recently spoke with John Klacsmann, one of the professional film archivists at Anthology, about the background necessary to pursue a career in film archiving and the future of the field in the face of increasing/encroaching digitization.

One of the first questions that came to mind to ask Klacsmann was how he came about film archiving. As a current student in the Archives Specialization at the IU School of Library and Information Science, it seems as though the obvious route of getting a degree in archiving and then maybe a degree in film studies would not leave you very well prepared. For example, at SLIS there is only one class directly related to moving image preservation and regardless of how amazing a single semester is, it can’t set you up for a lifework in film.

Klacsmann backed up this original assumption when providing his educational and professional background. While he stressed the importance of archiving best practices: planning preservation paths, processing new materials and collections and the overall attention to detail and minutiae at hand in archival organization, Klacsmann was also very clear that the skills he thought most essential and, perhaps for analog fetishists, under-appreciated were computer science related. In fact, though Klacsmann says he knew he wanted a career in film archiving science he began his undergraduate career, he choose to get a bachelors in computer science and receive much of his hands-on film experience at the time through working in his university’s film and media archive.

The Anthology Film Archives building in the East Village.
The Anthology Film Archives building in the East Village.

Although he has worked on projects like a 35mm film preservation project for the Eastman House at Technicolor Hollywood and with a collection of historical Technicolor dye-transfer equipment, Klacsmann says the skills he gained in pursuit of his computer science degree (playing with databases, filesystems, and building servers and RAID arrays, etc.) have become increasingly valuable as film archiving, in his experience, moves away from storage possibilities for physical materials and towards a digital future.

Later in the interview, Klacsmann said that

These types of [computer] skills are becoming increasingly important within the archiving field as digital restoration techniques take over and digitization and seamless video access to collections are on everyone’s mind.

The focus on digital video access, which at first glance might seem out of line with the ideals of an art-for-art’s-sake archive of experimental film, seems to be a topic that Klacsmann is very excited about.  I asked Klacsmann about his ideas on access in a film archive, which can be more challenging than in a paper archive due to playback issues. Anthology Film Archives maintains two theaters and has almost daily film screenings, so it would appear that large public screenings are their preferred method of archival access. He seems, however, to be more on the side of wide scale access than of traditional theatrical access, saying

I wouldn’t necessarily promote public screenings as the only or primary form of legitimate access. The ease and affordability of digitization, as well as internet connectivity, have come a long way in recent years. Being able to provide access to a worldwide audience through the internet – an audience much larger than only those who are able to visit us in New York City – is something we are tackling at Anthology now. We are planning to launch an online collections website this year where people can explore large portions of our collections – videos, photographs, audio, and documents – online.

Though Anthology Film Archive and the aforementioned digitization work expressed by Klacsmann represent a sort of financial solvency that is perhaps not the norm in the world of media archiving, the prophesied ability to combine daily public screens, access to reference materials, preservation and a publically accessible online collection is something of a dream scenario. The work of younger archivists like Klacsmann who have a knowledge and a certain comfort level with new technologies, while still retaining a love and respect for analog materials, will hopefully continue to shape moving image archives into more and more accessible institutions.

~Dorothy Berry

Presenting … The Study of Government

This is the second (and final) part in our spotlight on educational films about politics and government – just in time for the 2012 Presidential Election. Our previous post looked at the ways in which polling can be used to predict election results and highlight the way certain demographic groups vote through the film Making Inferences from Statistical Data. Today’s film, The Study of Government, takes a more qualitative approach, which makes it a great companion piece. Like last week’s film, today’s was produced at Indiana University, is held by the Indiana University Libraries Film Archive, and is just one of several IU produced educational films IULFA streams online. It’s possible the film was used as a way to recruit students as political science majors.

Though The Study of Government comes from an era that might seem distant to us today, the short film asks a question that lives on: How can the study of politics and government (aka political science) benefit our political process? Or, what role should political science and political scientists play outside of the academy?

The film starts out by mapping what political science looks like as an academic discipline. While political science departments continue to debate the merits and value of certain sub-fields, the structure of political science at the time this film was made still exists. The film identifies American politics, public administration/policy, political theory, comparative politics, and international relations as the major sub-fields.

An IU professor explains the different fields in political science to a potential major

The tone of the film and the way it describes the various sub-fields marks it as a clear product of the Cold War. It’s brief narration over political theory emphasize American political thinkers with concepts such as democracy, equality, and freedom while, inaccurately, linking figures such as Machiavelli, Nietzsche, and Hitler as advocates of untrammeled state power (a strange and contradictory mix of people!).

The narrator, interestingly, notes the increased importance and complexity of international relations and comparative politics. This emphasis on individual rights and the increasing interest in world politics clearly come out of a Cold War mentality that ideas about state and economy are central in the new post-1945 geopolitical environment. The narrator emphasizes the necessity of understanding the political history and customs of other nations in order to have a successful foreign policy. It is very likely that comparative politics and international relations is highlighted due to Indiana University’s strong foreign language programs. Indiana University has retained this reputation, with 82 different languages having been taught within the last 10 years.

A seminar discussion on the ethical and constitutional ramifications of wiretapping.

The Study of Government closes by stating that knowledge about government and politics alone will not produce ideal, engaged citizens. Our narrator defends the idea that an educated citizenry needs a well-rounded base of knowledge. Having a basic understanding of other subjects such as literature, history, physical and natural sciences, etc. is essential for engaged participation in the American system. The final bit of wisdom our narrator imparts us with is that the study of political science has real world consequences – from lofty theoretical debates to mundane policy details.

~ Sean Smalley

 

Reading Polls and Teaching Citizenship in American Political Behavior: Making Inferences from Statistical Data

The question of what predictions one can make from political polls has been a hotly contested one this political campaign. Despite the appearance of scientific certainty, who’s ahead in a poll is reliant on the demographic make-up of the polling audience. For example, when Romney was behind in the polls before the first presidential debate his advocates suggested that pollers were under representing his supporters.

Shirley Engle, a former Indiana University professor of education and director of the Social Studies Development Center (SSDC), addressed the issue of what exactly you can learn from polls in his 1969 educational film Making Inferences from Statistical Data, one of the educational films held by the Indiana University Libraries Film Archive and available for viewing online along with several other IU produced films. Okay, not a barnburner of a title and the film itself is rather staid. But stick with me here.

IU social studies professor Shirley Engle informs the young electorate.

No one said making well-informed democratically-minded citizens was a blast. Though leaning towards the functionally pragmatic in terms of filmmaking – the film is mostly a staged version of a class discussing polls and what they might have revealed about demographics and political beliefs – Engle was working to transform social studies from a rote memorization of facts to a politically engaged subject built off of the concerns and experiences of students.

Students heartily engaged in polling education in Bloomington, IN.

The film was part of a program to train social studies instructors in teaching the subject in this then new progressive manner. This particular module focuses on the limits of reading data. John Patrick, the director of the SSDC after Engle, leads a group of Bloomington -area high school students, all white, through data on how different demographics groups voted in recent elections. The students then attempt to infer whether these different groups were more likely to vote Republican or Democrat.  Showing the strong brand continuity of these political parties the general conclusions more or less hold true in 2012. Older people tended to vote Republican while younger generations trended towards the Democrats. Republicans attracted white voters while the Democratic Party was more closely aligned with minority voters.

Students forming their own opinions and conclusions about polling data.

But what is revealing about this film is the degree to which Patrick attempts to place the students’ findings in dialogue with each other. It might seem like a minor detail, but while he leads the class from one topic to another, it is the students who present the conclusions. Patrick doesn’t tell them what to believe. They analyze the evidence and come to a consensus on the limits of reading into polls.

Engle was greatly concerned that what he termed the “authoritarian school climate” would prevent students from growing into politically active well-informed citizens. To counter that dictatorial pedagogy, this film models a classroom where students come to their own conclusions, but, importantly for Engle, they are conclusions based on a considered reading of empirical data and are tested through group dialogue.

While as a piece of filmmaking Making Inferences from Statistical Data might mirror Engle’s button-downed appearance, the film and its maker were advocating for a transformation in how educators helped students become politically aware. In reading his writings from the time of the film, Engle almost comes off as a political radical despite his moderate appearance of a flattop haircut and grey suit. This gap between the film, created to instruct as clearly as possible, and the more revolutionary approach to pedagogy that undergirds it, point to the necessity in placing these educational films in the theoretical contexts in which they were made.

Engle smiles at the idea of helping students for their own political opinions.

This is the first blog post in a two-part look at how educational films addressed politics. Tune in next week for an examination of Study of Government.

~Andy Uhrich

A Day In the Life: DoDA 2012

In anticipation of the second annual Day of Digital Archives (DoDA) coming up on Friday October 12, 2012, we present a glimpse into the world of the digital film archive at Indiana University.

Day of Digital Archives

DoDA was first established by Gretchen Gueguen as a way to connect archivists, digital humanists, programmers, and anybody else using or managing a digital archive. It is an online platform to raise awareness and spread knowledge about digital archives. To be more specific, who are the users of digital archives? Who manages them? What other projects are happening in the vast domain of digital collections? What can we learn about our own work by catching a glimpse of what other professionals in the field are doing? This being the second year of DoDA, the coming years will hopefully provide many connections and insights to other projects happening around the world. Past contributors have shared posts about data management, digital forensics, university archives, natural disasters and the video collections at the Hormel Gay and Lesbian Center of San Francisco Public Library, just to mention a few.

Digitized Films and Loans

Chuckylou gets dolled up with the kids

Many of the contributors for DoDA 2011 deal primarily with born-digital objects, but for many institutions, and we at the Indiana University Libraries Film Archive are no exception, that is not requisite. Our online archive of digitized films were filmed between 1949-1978. These films were digitized over the course of the last 10 years by Scene Savers in Covington, KY. The Bradley Collection was the first collection to be digitized, however some of the items that are digitized cannot be streamed online due to copyright issues. The educational films that are online were all digitized in the past four years. Due to the fact that IU made these films and owns the copyright for them, we are able to stream them to the public. Issues of copyright are ever apparent with digital libraries given many materials people want access to are not yet in the public domain. Currently in the U.S., any work published before January 1, 1923 is considered to be in the public domain.

We receive many requests on an almost daily basis for digitized copies of particular films in our collection. Oftentimes requests come from libraries, universities and researchers. After licensing and copyright issues have been cleared, we are able to send away for a digital copy, which is then loaned to the patron. In the future we will hopefully be able to digitize a large portion of our collection in-house and provide our own digital copies for specific requests.

Currently, for titles already in our collection, item information may be retrieved from IUCAT. Because the majority of our holdings have yet to be digitized, metadata must be added to the catalog in order to locate an item. For collections that we have recently acquired, for example,the Oregon Collection, we are still processing, bar coding and adding metadata to each canister simultaneously as it is inserted into IUCAT. This is a time consuming but essential step in the process of digitizing these films down the road. Additionally, the Oregon Collection is still on the burner and we are continuing to plow through the remaining palettes at  a steady clip.

Palettes containing the Oregon Collection (most of these are now emptied and cleared away).

In managing this archival collection, our goal is to preserve what we have through a process of collecting, organizing and ultimately making public our holdings. By allowing for easier access we ensure that these items are usable, not simply left to collect cyber dust in an electronic box with no key.

Digital Archive Considerations

When considering a digital library, it is important to note the difference between a website and a digital library or archive. According to How To Build a Digital Library by Ian Witten, a digital library is defined as “a focused collection of digital objects, including text, video, and audio, along with methods for access and retrieval, and for selection, organization, and maintenance of the collection.” Digital archivists must consider how they will collect, preserve and dispense or allow access to their materials. In contrast to a website, which might have little or no organizational structure, a digital library or archive must meet the needs of its users and allow them to find materials of their choosing. By including extensive metadata, users are able to browse and search tags or other components to find a specific item. Compared to the typical library where a user might simply browse the shelves until the right book jumps out at them, how do users find materials in digital collections? Are they able to browse and search? What tools must be put into place to allow for browsing and then, once an item is selected what is the protocol for accessing and viewing an item?

There are many small things that must be taken into consideration when working with a digital collection and this is just a small slice of the pie. We will continue to provide quality materials and easily accessible finding aids as our online collection grows over the coming years. Have a great DoDA wherever you are!

~Asia Harman

The Freezer Project: Film Decay and Media Collections

Over the months of July and August 2012, Indiana University Libraries Film Archive (IULFA) staff began (with only a small amount of foot-dragging!) the ominously-named Freezer Project. For a number of weeks, we’ve been leaving our comfortable desks at 9am each day, in teams of two, to work on inventorying the hundreds of deteriorating 16mm and 35mm films that have been quarantined from the “healthy” films in a large walk-in freezer at the Ruth Lilly Auxiliary Library Facility (ALF). These films run the gamut in content and time period, but it is significant that certain items, such as 1950s regional football games, ethnographic anthropological research in 1970s South Africa, and film and television outtakes and production elements, are unique items that may only exist at the IULFA. Thus, it is all the more important to regain greater physical and intellectual control over these items, so that they may be available for and findable by interested parties.

Indeed, a significant challenge in moving image preservation programs is the storage and care of decayed and deteriorating cellulose film. Cellulose film base, also known as triacetate film base, was introduced in the early

A can of 16mm film exhibiting warping, rust, and other signs of decay.

20th century as an alternative for the highly-flammable nitrate film base (it was thus given the alternate moniker “safety film”). The benefits of this material meant that by the 1950s, cellulose had phase out nitrate in the 35mm format, and would go on to be the most widely used film base, used in gauges ranging from 16mm (for which triacetate has been almost exclusively used since the gauge’s introduction in 1923) to 8mm and Super 8mm.

Archivists have found that this particular type of film base is especially susceptible to shrinking, warping, and brittleness, and at this deterioration process occurs, film becomes more and more difficult to play back, digitize, or even inspect. Due to the highly acidic odor that decayed cellulose film puts off, this particular variety of deterioration is widely known as “vinegar syndrome”. A report by Jean-Louis Bigourdan of the Image Permanence Institute at the Rochester Institute of Technology found that “freshly processed acetate base film can last for several centuries in cold storage.” But the author goes on to warn that “under adverse storage conditions … acetate base decay has been observed after only a few years.” And dealing with items that have lived under such conditions is certainly part of archival work.

The IUFLA, for instance, is home to one of the world’s largest academic film collections, housing over 55,000 items. Because all these films came to the IULFA from a variety of sources, some items are in better shape than others.  Oftentimes, collections were once stored in non-ideal facilities such as the attics or basements of owners, or non-climate controlled warehouses or storage facilities.

Because of this variety in previous storage conditions, all incoming films are checked for vinegar syndrome during accessioning. This is done with the use of A-D strips, small paper strips placed on the film reel which detect the acidity level in the film and demonstrate that level by changing color from dark blue (healthy) to green (decaying) to yellow (significantly decayed). Its a process reminiscent of a 1970s mood ring, something we retro-fetishists at the IULFA can certainly appreciate!

Staff member Asia Harman pulls decayed films from the IULFA’s walk-in freezer.

As mentioned previously, significantly decayed films are quarantined from the “healthy” items and kept in a walk-in freezer at ALF which is kept at a temperature below freezing, until funding is available for preservation reformatting. IULFA staff maintains the stability of the other films by keeping them in the optimal storage conditions of the vault at ALF, which is kept a consistent temperature of 50 degrees Fahrenheit and a stable relative humidity of 30 percent.

Since we began the Freezer Project, we’ve tackled the task of inventorying all of the films in the ALF freezer, bagging similar sizes together in order to create more space, and noting instances of duplicate copies. The process begins with taking films from the freezer (usually in disarray and not properly bagged for an additional level of climate stability) into the vault to slowly warm up to 50 degrees.

The IULFA’s Sean Smalley (left) and Andy Uhrich (right) inventory decayed films

After several hours in the vault, films can be brought into the warmer work area, where they are inspected for title, series, catalog number, barcode, and element (such as “A-roll” or “soundtrack”).  The amount of information on the can itself varies wildly – some cans contain all this information, while others are incomplete, or in a few instances, completely blank. Films are then bagged according to best practice guidelines (or set aside for disposal), and placed back in the freezer, where they will be easily accessible when it comes time to rehabilitate them. The Freezer Project is one of the less glamorous projects at the archives, as it involves handling rusty metal cans filled with foul-smelling acidic film, and wearing rubber gloves and butchers smocks in order to protect oneself from said rusty metal cans filled with foul-smelling acidic film! But this particular project is part of a larger goal of “unhiding collections”, as media collections consulting firm AV Preserve has put it. As they have said, “in order to unhide audiovisual collections they need to be transferred to a state where they can be described and accessed.”

IUFLA staff member Jason Evans Groth emerges from the freezer with films of various sizes.

Though the work is physically demanding and the number of films to inventory and bag was initially quite overwhelming, it’s a feeling of real accomplishment to know that this work will allow the public to find and view these films.

Read the National Film Preservation Foundation’s a PDF “Film Preservation Guide” for more information about film preservation practices and processes.

~Josephine McRobbie with Andy Uhrich

 

 

 

 

Presenting… Presenting Indiana University

As has already been mentioned on this blog, the Indiana University Libraries Film Archive (IULFA) recently posted close to 200 films from its collection for streaming. This effort is an important part of the Archive’s, as well as the IU Libraries’, central mission of providing access to students, faculty, researchers, and the larger public to our collection of over 80,000 films. This monthly series of blog postings, which we’re calling “Presenting…”, will examine one of these streaming films in greater detail, look at its production and exhibition history, and connect them to the wider field of film scholarship, moving image archiving, and media pedagogy.

This first batch of films we’ve put online were made by the University’s Audio-Visual Center, or AVC for short.

Indiana University Audio-Visual Center Logo

The AVC was founded in 1912 (Happy 100th Birthday!) and it functioned until the beginning of our current millennium. During its existence the AVC worked to create and distribute educational materials in the new media formats of the day, be they magic lantern slides and photographs, motion picture film, videotape, or computer programs. Most relevant to our work as a film archive the AVC distributed over 35,000 titles from a variety of educational film producers, as well as making its own line of award-winning films that benefited greatly from the expertise of IU’s professors. In later postings we will look more closely at some of these classroom films that explored the functioning of biological lifeforms, the structural inequalities that held back lower income Americans, the ways to teach with electronic and photographic media, and other topics in the hard and soft sciences.

The AVC also made a number of films about Indiana University. It seems appropriate to start this blog series presenting the film work of Indiana University with a 1961 film, Presenting Indiana University, that presented the college to potential students.

 

Presenting IU title card.

As we are still in the process of researching the production and exhibition methods of the AVC, which we are doing with the help of PhD candidate Natasha Ritsma and the University Archives, we have not yet come across any specific documents that detail how this film was used. But other research has uncovered the work of the University’s Junior Division whose representatives traveled across Indiana with a spiel for high school students about what IU had to offer them. Promotional films such as Presenting Indiana University were an important part of their persuasive appeal. According to the 1967 edition of the IU yearbook, Arbutus, “Junior Division counselors go to the high schools for ‘College Day’ or ‘College Night’ programs to acquaint students with University policies and opportunities. Through films and discussions with Junior Division counselors, freshmen can learn what I.U. is like long before they arrive.”

Assuming Presenting Indiana University was used for this purpose, what would prospective students have learned about IU from watching the film? These individuals would have been exposed to the wide range of educational opportunities that the University had to offer them. A high school student who was deciding which college to attend would have seen a University that paid equal attention to the hard sciences – the film shows an experiment testing the human body’s reaction to painful sound frequencies, which you can see at the 1:40 mark in the video – and the creative arts and humanities, which is represented by footage of a composer working at the piano. By having two examples, each focused on sound and our physical and emotional response to it, the film explicitly notes how both the sciences and the humanities are working towards the same goal, which is to “know our selves better.”

The film shows an experiment testing the human body’s reaction to painful sound frequencies
They would have seen a student body integrated by gender and race, though the faculty was still, as seen in this film at least, entirely white men.

Potential IU attendees would have also gained a sense of the social atmosphere of the campus by watching the film. They would have seen a student body integrated by gender and race, though the faculty was still, as seen in this film at least, entirely white men.  High school students would have gained a sense of the respectful classroom environment at IU, where professors mixed lectures with probing questions to their class that seem designed to elicit engaging discussions. Though these in-class sections might seem a little staged now, the scenes show students grappling with heady intellectual material, such as the sequence in Dr. Henry Beech’s philosophy seminar where he and a young woman debate the freedom of choice available to a narcotized society, which can be viewed at the ten-minute mark.

Just as importantly, viewers would have learned that a University is much more than only the classroom. They would have seen the breadth of departments and facilities that supported their educational career at IU including the libraries (the film shows the new reading rooms and the priceless artifacts of the Lilly Library), the advising system offered by the Junior Division, the state-of-the-art computer center, and, of special interest to our archival work, the IU film library and audio-visual support center.

IU film library and audio-visual support center.

Further, by watching the film high schoolers would have seen all of the ways they could have gained practical experience while at IU including a number of student theater groups, teacher training programs, and the student newspaper. They would have received a sense of the world-class entertainment offered at IU including lectures by Nobel prizewinners, operas by the Music School, football games, art openings, and proms.

However, since this film no longer fulfills its intended purpose, what is the value of watching it today? Well, there are the always entertaining differences between then and now that one finds in old films, such as buildings that are no longer standing and changes in clothing worn by students – college men used to wear ties like nobody’s business! More importantly however, this film provides revealing insights into how a university justified its existence fifty years ago. It’s no secret that higher education is currently facing a myriad of challenges from declining state funding, rising tuitions, and the disruptive yet beneficial shockwaves of the digital transformation. Presenting Indiana University doesn’t directly address these concerns or provide us with any easy answers in 2012. But it does provide us with a clear sense of the central purpose of a university, which is to, as the film’s narrator states, “help each student probe the limitless frontiers of his own mind” in the goal of transforming them into “a contributing citizen in our modern society.” As the gendered use of the word “he” implies, we have to continuously update these goals for our current times, exegencies, and community. But as the film makes explicit throughout, the unfettered but directed pursuit of knowledge, however ridiculous it might appear – check out the sequence where they are bombarding a woman with painful sounds again – has a clear benefit to students as individuals and the society they enter when they graduate.

Like all universities, IU has continued to make these sort of promotional films. If you’re interested, you can check some recent examples of this genre of film/video making out at the IU YouTube page. These current videos cover many of the same topics as Presenting Indiana University, but, not surprising considering the shorter duration of YouTube videos, are broken up into more discrete chunks. Comparing these newer videos such as IU Extraordinary, Welcome Home, and This is Your Epic Adventure (all below) to Presenting Indiana University shows the continuity and changes in how a university promotes itself. While many of the same issues are covered, the student’s individual experience, on an academic and emotional level, takes center stage in a way not found in the 1961 film. Part of this difference can be explained by changes in the technology and styles of filmmaking; video records live sound in a way that was more complicated to achieve in 1961 and we expect people to speak for themselves instead of only hearing from a voice-of-god narrator. However, the change suggests a greater emphasis on the student’s mental and physical wellbeing than just the intellectual aspects focused on in Presenting Indiana University. To conclude, looking at these old promotional films, especially in relation to current publicity campaigns, affords an understanding of what a university thinks is most important at that particular time. This can reveal whom they were trying to appeal to and which social, political, and economic forces they were responding to.

IU Extraordinary

Welcome Home

This is Your Epic Adventure

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XfHFU0Vx_9A&feature=related

~Andy Uhrich