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The purpose of this page is to give you an idea of the typical programming of a ciné16 show, and to provide you with details on films and filmmakers we've showcased. The following programs are chronicled from most recent 2004 show backward to the first of the calendar year.
2004 Highlights: This year, we hosted 42 shows in San Jose, comprising 140 films, all shown without charge. On April 8, filmmaker Robert Alan (Gabriel) Weiss and choreographer Jackie Benington visited to present their extraordinary film 'Protein Synthesis: an Epic on the Cellular Level.' On May 20, we were delighted to host filmmaker Jon Wilkman, who presented his important films on aspects of U.S. geography. We also celebrated or eighth anniversary with our final weekly show, on October 28.
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Program # 412, Thursday, October 28, 2004... Celebrating ciné16: an Eight-Year Anniversary Retrospective, Celebration, and Final Weekly San Jose Show
Thursday, October 28, 2004 will be our last weekly cine16 show. Our first show was eight years ago, on October 31, 1996, and featured two Yugoslav war films from Predrag Golubovic, and Eugene S. Jones’ startling ‘Face of War.’ Since then, we have programmed 412 shows, comprising (through tonight) 1,503 films. We began tracking audience numbers in mid-2002, and since then, over 4,000 of you have attended our San Jose shows. All weekly shows have been shown free of charge. We believe that this film project, programming free films weekly for eight years, has been unprecedented in its breadth and focus, and San Jose has been fortunate to have been the beneficiary. Highlights would have to include the visits of many filmmakers who came to meet our audience, and discuss their films (Richard Leacock still raves about it).
On a national scale, our original goal was to issue the hue-and-cry that 16mm academic films were in danger of being lost. Our programming underscored their importance, as our weekly write-ups generated interest from around the country, among historians, scholars, media librarians, and people who participated in the films themselves. Early on, we advocated using the term “academic”, rather than “educational” film to differentiate humanities and sciences films from guidance films, and we’re happy to note that at least one other significant archive is using that terminology. Academic films continue to be discussed at the yearly conference of the Association of Moving Image Archivists, using our nomenclature.
During our tenure, we’ve launched a much-lauded series of monthly shows in St. Louis, and New Hampshire will be ushered in sometime in 2005. There is now interest in Chicago, and we look forward to adding a venue there in the perhaps not-too-distant future. Film donations to us have arrived from around the country, assisted by organizations such as the Smithsonian, Library of Congress, and UCLA. We’ve forged a good relationship with History San Jose, who has generously donated archival space for our important and growing collection.
Personally, looking back at my first attempts at writing on film, I feel I’ve become a better writer, and much of I’ve written in these weekly notes has been amassed in a book that is ¾ written, but will not be published until we find an interested (and progressive) publisher. I continue to believe that the challenge is not in the quality of the films or the significance of the genre, but rather the fact that the demise of 16mm academic film is too recent (circa 1985) to be considered historical by many film scholars and historians. 16mm academic film, therefore, rests somewhat uncomfortably in the uneasy stratum between the antique and the forgotten, and hasn’t been outmoded long enough to provoke the national interest it deserves. We’ve done a good job in saving a number of films from possible destruction, and have amassed an important collection of ephemera, including hundreds of important production and promotional photographs, and notes and letters from filmmakers. Our 90-plus page website (www.afana.org) continues to be the only website dedicated to this important genre of film, and remains an essential resource for by media librarians, historians, and scholars.
The Academic Film Archive of North America, the non-profit institution we incorporated a few years back, is essentially a museum and archive waiting to happen. Although we’ve been the recipient of welcome grants from Arts Council Silicon Valley and donations from folks attending our shows, we’ve been unsuccessful in getting needed grants from other local and national organizations. To make the museum and archive a reality, we need a large infusion of capital, and it’s become apparent that we’ll just have to do it ourselves. To that end, I’ve been engaged, along with AFA officer Dave Peters, in building an offshore media company that, when successful, should provide enough money to get the job done. Most of my personal efforts in 2005 will go into building that company to the financial point that the AFA won’t have to rely on others.
This is not the end of the AFA’s film involvement in San Jose. Our officers Barinda Samra, Rob McGlynn, and Michael Selic have formed a task force that will determine our film schedule and venues for 2005. Our intention is to work with other arts organizations in San Jose to develop joint programming, and we’ll continue to host our own special events, which will essentially be film salons held at various non-traditional venues. You’ll find out about these via email.
We want to thank all of you for being generous supporters of our shows, both financially, and through your attendance. I also thank Ann and Jacek at the Agenda, and Steve Borkenhagen at Eulipia for being our hosts over the last eight years.
Tonight, for our final program, I’m going to program some of the films that, in 1996, I thought were important enough to introduce in a film series that would be like no other. I personally will enjoy programming again, thinking back to the excitement Barinda Samra and I felt as we began the series in late 1996.
We look forward to seeing you again. 2005 programs, as they occur, will be announced in emails, as well as on the "Upcoming Shows" page on our website, http://www.afana.org/upcoming.htm
- Geoff Alexander
'Bate's Car: Sweet as a Nut' (1974) 15m, dir. Tony Ianzelo. Harold Bate is an eccentric British inventor whose old car runs on 'the material', which we soon find to be chicken droppings (the engine compartment is full of weird gauges, hoses, and pumps invented by him, and the damn thing actually runs...) Bate also showcases his perpetual-motion bicycle, which the assistant cameraman rides but cannot stop (oops, Bate forgot to install brakes). Ianzelo’s portrayal of this brilliant and ultimately odd inventor, which was shot in one day as a vignette while the crew was engaged in working on another film deemed more important, is funny, whimsical, and intelligent, and one of the more memorable films ever produced by the National Film Board of Canada.
‘Fiddle De Dee’ (1947) 3m, dir. Norman McLaren. McLaren created the animation group at the National Film Board of Canada, and served as its director until his death in 1984. Whether painting directly on film, experimenting with slo-mo multiple images, or pixillation, he championed high-art animation in a financially austere environment. Incredibly, his entire output consists of under three total hours of film. This one’s a riot of hand-painted color on film set to Quebecois fiddle music.
‘Doubletalk’ (1976) 10m, dir. Alan Beattie. Ever been scared to meet someone’s parents on a first date? Unless you’ve made it a point to concentrate on dating only people whose parents live overseas, you’ve been through the hell that Alan Beattie describes in this film, which records not only the spoken words, but the thoughts that occur simultaneously by those doing the speaking as well as those spoken to. The film is so quick and witty that it took us three screenings to get all of it.
'Modern Pirates’ (1930?) 10m, unknown director. This silent short is an example of non-titillating "nudie" films popular in the 1920s and 1930s. Here, several women decide for form their own nudist colony on Catalina Island, and include paddling as an initiation rite. A randy sea captain steals their clothes, and cajoles them to return to his craft. Eventually, he's tossed overboard, and the girls go on their merry naked way. A colleague at the Kinsey Institute considers this to be one of the first erotic films made from a Feminist perspective, and she may have a point...
‘A Dog’s Tale: a Mexican Parable’ (1986) 4m, dir. Caroline Leaf. Animation encompasses many forms, but here, animator Leaf may be taking on a whole new concept, with a fellow in a cartooney dog costume being infuriated by large cut-out cartoon legs in weird perspectives. This is reminiscent (to me, anyway) of Diaghilev's early 20th century ballet sets and designs, and probably never got the distribution it deserved.
'Slima the Dhowmaker' (1978) 30m, dir. Paul Saltzman. 1978. In an interview with 'ciné16', Saltzman tells us that it took 3 1/2 hours over a rutty dirt road to reach the remote village (Ras Nungwi, Zanzibar) where "Slima" was filmed. In the best ethnic tradition, the film details the building of these boats, a traditional which has lasted probably thousands of years. The launching, carried out by what seems to be the entire village laboriously -- yet joyously --- pulling the boat overland by ropes is one of the most astounding bits of filmmaking we've seen.
'Gerald McBoingBoing' (1950) 10m, dir. by Robert Cannon. A Dr. Seuss story about a boy who is persecuted for his terrific speech impediment. One of the funniest and most remarkable cartoons ever made.
'Liberace' (1955?) 10m, uncredited director. The world hasn't been the same since this self-effacing, flamboyant, funny entertainer passed away. Every year, we've found some excuse to show this gem, and in some twisted way, the film has become a theme of ours. If you've seen early Liberace, this will be a treat; if you haven't, you'll may end up asking yourself if our world in 2004 is that progressive, having not produced an entertainer this... this... FABULOUS! His "I'll Be Seeing You" theme song is a fitting way to bid you adieu until 2005.
Program # 411, Thursday, October 21, 2004... Theodore H. White's 'The Making of the President, 1968'
'The Making of the President, 1968' (1969) 90m. dir. Mel Stuart. This outstanding documentary, written by Theodore H. White, focuses the primary battles between Nixon, McCarthy, Nelson Rockefeller, and Robert Kennedy. Here, we witness campaigning, primary machinations, and the final election. Computer animator Robert Abel won an Emmy for this film.
Theodore White (1915-1986) was an astute political writer whose work was made into three films related to the political process involved in electing a president. In the next two weeks, we'll show two important political films, describing the 1960 and 1968 elections, interesting today not only for the footage of historical figures, but for the intriguing scenes behind electioneering as well.
'The Making of the President, 1960' (1963) 82m, dir. Mel Stuart. Here, we view Kennedy and Nixon, and also front-runners Stuart Symington, Nelson Rockefeller, Henry Cabot Lodge, Hubert Humphrey, and LBJ. Some of the most interesting footage shows producer Don Hewitt (perhaps best-known for his later '60 Minutes' television documentary series) preparing the candidates for the important Nixon-Kennedy debate. This film won the Grand Prix at the Cannes International Television Film Awards in 1964.
Tonight, we present three remarkable documentaries from our collection, rare items that we'd wager you'll not see elsewhere. To wit:
'Harvest of Shame' (1960) 54m, prod. David Lowe. Hosted by Edward R. Murrow, this landmark episode of 'CBS Reports' generated a tremendous amount of controversy, in both its content and aftermath. Here, Murrow and crack producer David Lowe follow migrant families east & west, describing sparse living and working conditions. averaging $900 per year, working 136 days. Perhaps the most poignant elements concern the plight of migrant children who would never have the opportunity to properly finish school. Later, Murrow would accept a position at the U.S. Information Agency, and attempt to block the film from being shown overseas. Visit http://www.vcdh.virginia.edu/HIUS316/mbase/docs/harvest.html
'Remember Mandela!' (1988) 30m, dir. Peter Davis. This moving film documents the life and times of Nelson Mandela, produced when he was still imprisoned on Robben Island. Here, we see old photos documenting Mandela's early life, and visit with associates such as Oliver Tambo, Paul Joseph, Helen Joseph, and wife Winnie Mandela. Now nearly twenty years later, the film represents a remarkable document of the struggle against apartheid. An interesting review of the film, and a provocative analysis of the character of Mandela, can be found at: http://www.und.ac.za/und/ccms/amp/reviews/remant2.htm
'Music from Oil Drums' (1956) 20m, dir. Toshi & Peter Seeger. Long unavailable, this film presents Pete Seeger (who wrote a manual for playing steel drums) visiting steel drum makers and players in Trinidad. We found the process of tuning the pans particularly interesting.
'Harlan County, USA' (1976) 103m, dir. Barbara Kopple. This film, winnner of the Academy Award for Best Feature Documentary, documents 1973 strike of Kentucky miners at Brookside Mine, against the Eastover Mining Company division of Duke Power. Here, we witness corporate greed, union corruption, violence, and mountain songs, in a powerful expression of the filmmaker's art.
San Jose's always been a great 'Chicago Blues' town, with loads of home-grown musicians, enough to provide a constant stream of entertainers at JJ's, San Jose's own Blues honky-tonk. 16mm films documenting the people who made the music famous aren't easy to come by, so here's your opportunity to see a few people who won't be coming around again. Also on the program, a documentary involving a well-respected New Orleans institution.
'Chicago Blues' (1970) 50m, dir. Harley Cokliss. From its roots in Mississippi, Chicago Blues became a major force in American urban music. This film describes the history of, and the social milieu surrounding, the music. It features many of the greats at the creative best, including Johnie Lewis, Wille Dixon, Reverend Ridick, , Muddy Waters, Floyd Jones, J.B. Hutto, Junior Wells, and Buddy Guy. Commentators include Dick Gregory, Alderman A.A. Rayner, and the always-observant Bob Koester of Delmark Records.
‘Black Indians of New Orleans’ (1976) 30m, dir. James Hinton/Maurice Martinez. At Mardi-Gras, dozens of Black Indian tribes dress in 80 lb. costumes consisting of elaborate headdresses and meticulously sewn gowns, and parade down the streets of New Orleans. Interestingly enough, groups such as the Yellow Pocahontas and White Eagles actually do descend from native groups of Louisiana. Hinton and Martinez not only cover the pageantry, but address the social ramifications of the jealousy and envy that accompany this rite.
'Man of Aran' (1934) 76m, dir. Robert Flaherty. We don't care much that this film, made by the 'Father of the Documentary,' is not considered a true documentary by purists. Like his earlier 'Nanook of the North', Flaherty here used local people as actors in a scripted film, documenting the hard way of life for inhabitants of Irelands Aran islands. The cinematography, focusing on the unforgiving sea, is exceptional, and the portrayal of daily life is sobering, from the catching of a basking shark, to the attempt to grow potatoes on a bed of seaweed and meager amounts of soil scavenged from cliff crevices, on this soil less island. Later documentarists, while admitting their debt to Flaherty, eschewed acting, preferring to film people going about their business, followed by a camera. Here, Flaherty's scripted drama involves harrowing scenes that give one a sense of the struggle that defines life in an unforgiving geography. If you've never seen a Flaherty film, this, a bedrock of the documentary form, is a good place to start. More information on the film can be found at: http://www.dvdtalk.com/reviews/read.php?ID=6481
'English Family: Life in Sheffield' (1975) 22m, dir. Dirk Campbell. In the English village of Greenmoor, we visit with Colin Taylor & wife Sally, daughter Emily and the Birch family, and includes a visit to Bob Birch's 800 year old farm. Actor Douglas Campbell (Dirk's father) is staying with the family, while acting in "The Persians", performed in Sheffield's Crucible Theatre. This film is a wonderful portrait of village life, and includes a Mini-Cooper wagon, visits to a steel mill, an old grinding mill, a traditional pub, and a one-room schoolhouse, built into a former church.
Program # 403, Thursday, August 19, 2004... Genocide and Gentrification
Much of the history of the human race can be summed up in countless stories of powerful groups of people displacing the weaker. Fueled by brute force or laws, the movement of villages, countries, and races constantly changes the face of the globe, causing the never-ending rewriting of history texts and institutional policies. Tonight, we investigate three groups of people, the lost indigenous tribes of Tasmania, the Herero of Namibia, and the legendary Tasaday of the Philippines.
‘Last Tasmanian Ancestors’ (1977) 17m, dir. Tom Haydon. This sobering
film examines the geographical and social history of this island south of
Australia, and focuses on the work of early French anthropologist François Perón
(called "father of anthropology"), and the later work of Rhys Jones and Jim
Allen. The aborigines of Tasmania couldn't start fire, so instead carried it
constantly; they ate shellfish, but no scaled fish. In 1802, when the British
settled, there were over 4,000 aborigines there, until, in what Jones
characterizes as the most "complete instance of genocide ever" they were all
killed off. The line ended with "Paganini", who died in 1876.
Two of the more compelling ethnographic films we've shown are these, made when Afghanistan was rarely considered newsworthy. Upon seeing these films, and bonding with the principals, we wonder if they still occupy their ancestral villages, or if they're still alive...
‘Naim and Jabar’ (1974) 50m, dir. David Hancock and Herbert di Gioia. Essentially the story of a deep friendship between two adolescent youths, ‘Naim and Jabar’ captures the hopes of parents wishing to see their sons escape the misery of a meager Afghan village existence, as Naim and his father cultivate only heat and dust in their sharecropped field that, only in the best of times, would bear wheat. It’s rare to find an ethnographic documentary that feels more like a drama than a social treatise, yet that’s what Hancock and di Gioia have provided, focusing on Naim’s wisecracking braggadocio as he boasts about leaving the Tajik village of Aq Kupruk behind, and going to the "big city" of Mazar-I-Sharif for formal schooling, or Kabul for military cadet training. Naim laughs at the tears of Jabar, who cries at the prospect of losing the easy proximity of his lifelong friend. Overall, the dark cloud of fate casts shadows only occasionally broken by rays of optimism, in a film more reminiscent of the dramas of Satyajit Ray than the formal ethnographic documentaries for which this film company (American Universities Field Staff) was best known.
'Glassmakers of Herat' (1979) 30m, dir. Elliott Erwitt. This well-known still photographer provides a fascinating look at some of the oldest glassworks in existence in this film, featuring an Afghan family still making glass by crushing rock and vegetation, and blending them to make blue glass.
Program # 400, Thursday, July 29, 2004... Going Beyond the Mission (Presented by
The story of our involvement with Clifford West and his family is told by AFA director Geoff Alexander:
"My discovery of Clifford West’s films was accidentally borne out of a desire
to get to the farthest corner of the U.S, away from films, so I could
concentrate instead on writing my book, a project which has taken a good chunk
out of my life for the past six years. I picked Enfield, New Hampshire, a tiny
town on the edge of Lake Mascoma, where an abandoned Shaker village has been
taken over by a small local company that has turned the Shaker meeting house
into an austere inn. Every room has Shaker furniture, no pictures on the walls,
no television; it’s the perfect writer’s hideaway.
"My own philosophy with ciné16, and our new Academic Film Archive of North America is to, when possible, keep the work of filmmakers in the hands of passionate and interested family members who wish to become archivists of the work, but aren’t necessarily sure where to begin. We are convinced that donations to universities aren’t always the best thing; given the overall lack of appreciation for academic film shown by the scholarly community at large, I believe that, in most cases, trusting the work of academic filmmakers to the caprices of university storage processes leaves them at best open to abuse, at worst, to discarding, and loss. It is apparent that new archivist Anna West will contribute significantly to the knowledge and understanding of her father’s work over the next several decades."
Program # 399, Thursday, July 22, 2004... Joel Weber Presents: With an Eye Toward Spanish America
Joel has programmed several shows for us, and returns with some of our best films from the past. To wit:
‘Americas in Transition’ (1981) 29m, dir. Obie Benz. There may be few indictments of the Reagan-era Latin American foreign policy as powerful as Benz’ Oscar-nominee for Best Short Documentary. Providing a historical perspective on the successes of previous U.S. administrations in destroying democratic governments in Guatemala, Nicaragua, Chile, El Salvador, and the Dominican Republic, Benz’ film provides a scathing report on how the Reagan regime and CIA continued to support right-wing death squads and undemocratic, right-leaning governments. Augmented by interviews with experts such as Murat Williams (former US Ambassador to El Salvador) and writer Carlos Fuentes, it’s surprising that this film, deviating as it does from the conservative political perspective inherent in many U.S. school districts, made it into American classrooms at all.
‘Family of the Mountains: Peruvian Village’ (1971) 12m, dir. Lee Bobker. This fascinating non-narrated film chronicles the daily tasks of gathering water & wood, cultivating land, and attending the local school.
‘Highland Indians of Perú’ (1969) 15m, dir. Unknown. The other side to the coin of quaint Indians spinning yarn and weaving textiles. This extremely hard-hitting film asks the question: a life of toil in the mountains, or an unknown fate in the big city (Lima)? Here, we see tired faces, broken bodies, tortured souls. A great and terrifying film from Germany’s Institut fur Film und Bild.
‘So That Men Are Free’ (1963) 25m, dir. Willard Van Dyke. CBS News’ ‘20th Century’ series contracted with this noted documentarian to film this story of a ten-year old effort to provide 2,300 formerly feudal peasant farmers a stake in their own country. In spite of the fact that this print is filled with splices, and the orchestral musical score disconcerting, the film is compelling, especially with the testimony of former overseer Enrique Luna, who befriended and assisted the campesinos who were his former adversaries. Dr. Alan Holmberg of Cornell works here with Dr. Mario Vásquez, a local sociologist, to assist in the empowerment efforts. On 1 September 1962, their hard work pays off, as the farmers buy their village. Fore more of the story, as told by one of the participants, visit: http://www.stanford.edu/dept/news/report/news/november11/barnett1111.html
Program # 398, Thursday, July 15, 2004... Robert Emmett Presents: The
Return of John Barnes. Classix from Cine 16 John Barnes' 'Odyssey' series
'The Odyssey' (1965) 90m, dir. John Barnes. The filmmaker's three 1/2
hour films made in 1965 on the subject of the 'Odyssey' were --- in the Barnes
tradition --- filmed in sumptuous surroundings, in this case the sound stage at
Cinecittà in Rome (the storm scene using models is wonderful). Starring Simon
Lack and Ann Moorish, this is a tremendously exciting rediscovery of Homer's
epic tale. Barnes' films are several cuts above virtually all educational films
dealing with the humanities: they feature superior cinematography --- for
example the opening beach pan, which stops at a hole in a beach cliff, then
fades to a similar cave in the studio, then reverse pans to
Program # 397: Thursday, July 8, 2004... Flyin' High
Much of the political history of China in the 20th century can be summed up in the dynamic between Mao Zedong and the Soong Family. While the Soongs are no longer in the public eye, they were a major force in Asian politics for over 50 years. The daughters of merchant Charlie Soong danced toe-to-toe with the heaviest hitters in the country, and many scholars believe that Soong Ai-Ling was the most significant string-puller of all of them, solidifying the union between the Kuomintang and the notorious Green Gang. Along the way, daughter Mai-ling married Chiang Kai-Shek and stumbled her way through FDR's White House, while Ching-ling tried desperately to promote the principles of her late husband, Sun Yat-Sen. Many of the most observant of the expats of the pre-Mao era were missionaries, who managed to run back and forth between two continents without much interference. One of them was Chester Ronning. Tonight, we'll view China through Ronning's eyes, in a long-forgotten documentary. We'll also investigate part of the legacy of Soong Ching-ling we visit an orphanage she sponsored, and revisit Mao from a non-Chinese perspective.
On tonight's show:
'China Mission: the Chester Ronning Story' (1980) 58m, dir. Tom Radford. From missionary to peace activist, Ronning, who died in 1984, was a remarkable individual who, in this documentary, chronicles an era. From the National Film Board of Canada.
'Children of Soong Ching Ling' (1984) 30m, dir. Gary Bush. In this Oscar nominee for best documentary short film, we discover Madame Sun Yat-Sen's programs for children and the elderly.
'Mao Tse-Tung: Life & Legacy' (1976) 13m, prod. Hearst Metrotone News. To its nefarious credit, Hearst never gave the notion of having an unbiased slant on international events. Here, after Mao's death, is their take on the state of that nation.
Thursday, June 17, 2004... The Uncompromising Editor: a Tribute to Grace Garland Janisz
Grace Garland Janisz was an exceptional editor whose academic film work encompassed forty-four titles for Encyclopaedia Britannica films, in addition to the 100 others she edited for feature film and industrial companies, spanning the years 1949-1994.
Tonight, we present a retrospective of her work, encompassing a number of films (for a picture of Grace at the editing console, visit: http://www.afana.org/garland.htm ).
Born in Weybridge, England on November 24, 1920, she was noted for her keen eye, attention to detail, and long work hours. "From my father, an engineer and champion race car driver, I learned to be an independent risk taker with a bit of a daredevil attitude," she stated, in her unpublished autobiography. Beginning her editing career in 1940, she fell into editing by happenstance, finding wartime employment close to home. Soon, her reputation brought her to Alexander Korda, for whom she edited 'Bonnie Prince Charlie.' She married Polish officer Teddy Janisz after the war, and immigrated to the United States, where she soon began editing for Jam Handy Films, while her husband took on a teaching and research role at the University of Detroit. Bill Deneen, who at the time owned a Detroit-based film company, was desperate for a film editor to fix a film that had not synched properly, and had heard about her reputation. He didn't know her married name, but knew her husband worked at the University, and was Polish. Calling nearly every Polish-named faculty member, he finally found her, beginning a cinematic partnership that would span four decades.
Grace Garland Janisz now lives in retirement in New Jersey. In 1999, she wrote her unpublished memoirs, the most fascinating excerpts of which document her adventurous days working for Deneen. Deneen who created a series of films on the world's cultures, had a reputation for doing whatever had to be done to get a film made, even if it involved not operating strictly within the laws of the host country. She recalls her nerve-wracking experience with Deneen, in this 3-page excerpt from her memoirs, as they skirted Mexican authorities while making a series of films in the 1960s:
On tonight's show...
‘Arts & Crafts of Mexico, part I’ (1961) 14m, dir.
William F. Deneen. This is one of the films that resulted from the adventures
described by Grace in her story, above. They feature, among other things, the
well-known pottery maker Doña Rosa de Nieto of Oaxaca.
Thursday, June 10, 2004... None of My Business: Uncomfortable Films from
Thursday, June 3, 2004... Industrial Films Without Words
Thursday, May 27, 2004... Book ‘em, Patriot: Historical Films
Produced by Colonial Williamsburg
Jon Wilkman set the standard for excellence in academic films dealing with
the cultural aspects of differing geographic regions within the United States,
and we are honored to have him as our guest tonight. Jon will be bringing four
of his 16mm prints to screen, and will discuss the background for his series,
which was made in the 1970s, and remains fresh and timeless. We think you’ll
enjoy his films as much as we do, and he’s looking forward to meeting the cine16
audience. Screenings with filmmakers are always enlightening and well-attended,
so please arrive early for best seating. We promise you an exceptional evening,
with an erudite and talented filmmaker.
Thursday, May 13, 2004... Joel Weber Presents: Before '60 Minutes'
Tonight, Joel presents two films from what we consider to be the finest television documentary series ever produced, Fred W. Friendly's 'CBS Reports'. If you've never seen a documentary from this series, you must, if only to witness what television documentary lacks in today's market.
'Abortion and the Law' (1965) 60m, prod. David Lowe. CBS Reports had undoubtedly the most extensive and talented documentary team of the 60s. Legendary reporters such as Cronkite, Sevareid, Charles Kuralt, Daniel Schorr, and Dan Rather teamed with producers such as David Lowe to create a body of work so vast that it was not uncommon for production teams to be working on twelve or thirteen stories simultaneously. Great documentaries stand the test of time, and speak to issues that are just as great of a concern 30 years later as they were originally. This film was shot before the Roe v. Wade decision, and describes the world as it existed when the only means to terminate pregnancy were illegal. It's a sobering, challenging, and well-written documentary, with plenty of the cross-cutting interview technique for which CBS Reports was famous. Regardless of where 'ciné16' viewers stand on the abortion issue, this film is of value in going beyond the theory, and instead addresses the practical realities surrounding unwanted pregnancy. One of the finest documentaries ever made, and one you'll never again see on television.
'Campaign American Style' (1968) 40m, prod. Jay McMullen. The premise is basic enough: a democrat running against a republican in a relatively minor race in the state of New York. Both candidates appear to be intelligent, personable, and ethical. The campaign of one of the candidates changes radically when advisors are brought in, and a new candidate emerges: one who bears little resemblance to his former self. A shocking look at what goes on behind the election process, and features Sol Wachtler future chief judge of the New York State Appellate Court who eventually served time for attempting to extort money from an ex-girlfriend while suffering from mental illness and over-medication. Interestingly, Wachtler's memoirs as a convict ('After the Madness', Random House 1997) are fascinating indictments of the prison system, and the ex-justice now is an eloquent and forceful speaker on the subject of prison reform. Impeccable narration by Eric Sevareid.
Thursday, May 6, 2004... Robin Morris Presents: François Truffaut's 'The
Story of Adele H'
Joel has been interning with us for several months now, and has prepared a program based on ciné16 shows from the past. He will host the program.
‘Entr’acte’ (1924) 15m, dir. René Clair. The film was commissioned by Les Ballets Suédois de Rolf De Maré to appear between two acts of the Dada ballet ‘Relâche’, with music by Eric Satie (who also wrote the film score to ‘Entr’acte’, unhappily not part of our print). The film is a loose collaboration between many of the leading lights of the Dada set, including Satie, Man Ray, Georges Auric, Marcel Duchamp, and Francis Picabia, the latter of whom Clair considers to be the genius behind the film, and who characterized the film by stating that it "respects nothing except the right to roar with laughter". Here, everything is absurd, from the camel-led funeral, to the chess players (Ray and Duchamp) being doused with water, to what is certainly one of the most marvelous endings in film history, disputed by one emphatic member of the cast.
‘Adventures in Perception (Escher)' (1971) 21m, dir. Han Van Gelder. A beautifully crafted film relying on the two-dimensional drawings of M.C. Escher, master of perspective. A favorite of art school students everywhere, our print is a bit hacked at the beginning before it settles into sprocket-arms of the mighty (but temperamental, mind you) Bell & Howell 552s for a gentle glide to finish. Of the numerous prints we’ve seen, this is the most watchable. An Oscar nominee in 1971 for Best Documentary short.
‘Rail-Rodents’ (1954) 6m, dir. Dave Tendlar. This ‘Herman & Katnip’ cartoon is certainly one of the most violent we’ve seen, and we’re not sure whether to blame the director or writer Jack Mercer for the ten grisly murders or three maimings that take place in this short cartoon for small children. Parents who yearn for the ‘child-protective’ years of the fifties may want to step into tonight’s wayback machine to see how things really were...
‘Masque of the Red Death’ (1970) 10m, dir. Pavao Stalter/Branko Ranitovic. This beautifully animated (shades of Vermeer and blue period Picasso) production from Zagreb is so dark that we can’t see how it ended up in a school film library, but it did. Parents who want internet filters at the library to shield the kiddies from porn may want to add Yugoslavian cartoon filters as well, as these pictures induce more nightmares than pictures of naked ladies ever will...
'How Death Came to Earth' (1971) 15m, dir. Ishu Patel. A riotous Indian tale is told in firestorm of color. Terrific tabla soundtrack. From the National Film Board of Canada.
‘The Hangman’ (1964) 12m, dir. Paul Julian. A cynical look at how humankind loves to feed others into the death machine, from a disturbing poem by Maurice Ogden, read by Herschel Bernardi. Shadows and shifting geometric planes lend a Chirico-like quality to Julian’s animation. Not a happy film.
'Shoeshine' (1987) 10 m, dir. Tom Abrams. A wonderful story featuring Jerry and Ben Stiller, shot on Staten Island ferry.
'Rashomon' (1951) 83m. dir. Akira Kurosawa. Many critics list this epic, the story of four differing accounts of a rape and a murder, in their top ten lists of best films. Like many great films, it has an inconclusive ending, characterized by Kurosawa critic and biographer Donald Ritchie as a film "like a vast, distorting mirror, or better, a collection of prisms that reflect and refract reality." Somewhat surprisingly, the film was shelved by its Japanese production company, Daiei, shortly after its introduction, and was never slated for international distribution, the feeling being that its plot would never be understood by non-Japanese. It was reluctantly entered into the Venice Festival of 1951 at the behest of Guilliana Stramigioli, the director of Italiafilm in Japan, where it won first prize. In discussing this series of events, Kurosawa, in Ritchie's 'The Films of Kurosawa', noted:
Kurosawa was a masterful director, and actor Toshiro Mifune plays a magnificent role here. ciné16ers who aren't familiar with this well-known and respected team are encouraged to begin their introduction with this film, a forerunner to 'The Seven Samurai' (1954), a later film which propelled them into the spotlight of the international cinematic world. Although the sound on our print isn't the greatest, we're happy to have acquired this remarkable film to present to you.
Thursday, April 15 2004... Robert Emmett Presents: Driving Passions, Getting from One Place to Another
Tonight ciné16 takes a ride down the mean streets of the world to spin tales of courage and recklessness. You brave the weather in vintage cars in Quebec and speed through Paris at dawn. From people who crash cars for fun to those who cause crashes, tonight's program is about our obsession with all things auto.
'Rallye des Neiges' (1961) 30m, dir. Donald Wilder. A ciné16 classic! Crazy Québecoises rallye in terrible winter conditions with old Volvos and VWs; lots of spinouts with a hot jazz track by Norman Bigras.
'Rendezvous' (1977) 10m, dir. Claude Lelouch. Having rigged a camera to a Mercedes, Lelouch drove through pre-dawn Paris in a wild tour through well-known sites, in what appears to be a frantic nine-minute race to a meeting with his wife at Sacre Coeur, overlooking the city. The director uses a Ferrari for the sound track and accelerates the speed of the film, in a wonderful work of cinematic slight-of-hand.
'... And Then It Happened' (1972) 20m, dir. George Starbecker. ciné16’s Barinda Samra tells us that this film haunted her all throughout elementary school, scaring her to such an extent that she refused to take the school bus... EVER! Last year, she began calling up bad memories of the film, and recently we obtained a copy, allowing her to re-visit traumatic times from her youth. In this dramatized bus epic, which we're delighted to share with you, horseplay is the culprit that leads to the deaths of several children and a bus driver.
'Stunt People' (1989) 48m, dir. Lois Siegel. Here are Marcel Fournier and four generations of 'Les Frères Cascadeurs', a family of people who make their living by smashing cars, catching fire, and falling off buildings. Lois takes us behind the scenes, showing us how it's done, accompanied by a terrific soundtrack by Andre Vincelli (the film won the 1990 Genie Award: Best Short Documentary from the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television).
'Tops' (1973) 8m, dir. Charles & Ray Eames. Finally tonight, the pleasure of play. Over the centuries people have found delight in creating something that spins. There are all sorts of tops, and you get to see them in this elegant film made by the brilliant design team of Charles and Ray Eames.
Thursday, April 8, 2004... Filmmaker Robert Alan (Gabriel) Weiss and choreographer Jackie Benington here to present the film: 'Protein Synthesis: an Epic on the Cellular Level'
We are honored to have filmmaker Gabe Weiss and wife and collaborator Jackie Benington here to meet you, and answer your (and our) questions about a little-known, but astounding film that bridges the discipline of science with the counterculture of the early 1970s. Tonight:
Synthesis: an Epic on the Cellular Level' (1971) 20m, dir. Gabriel Weiss.
One of the strangest, fun, and perhaps most unforgettable films in the science
genre was this, produced by University of California at San Diego chemistry
professor Kent Wilson, and choreographed by Weiss’ future wife and 1969
America’s Junior Miss, Jackie Benington. After a short description of the
interaction between “stars” 30s Ribosome, mRNA, and Initiator Factor One by
Stanford’s Nobel Prize-winning Paul Berg, the camera moves to an open field at Stanford University,
where 200 students, fortified by complimentary wine, begin a Bacchanalian dance
replicating the process of DNA formation. Benington kept some degree of order by
making sure that each string of ‘processes’ was led by a student in the advanced
modern dance program at he university, but clearly the dancers are barely
controlled, spurred on the by a free-music band of musicians, who, clearly
inspired by their philosophical and geographical proximity to the
Haight-Ashbury and the Merry Pranksters’ La Honda, perform a raucous piece
called the ‘Protein Jive Sutra’. The film is, in addition to being a superior
example of affective filmmaking, a landmark film defining the early 1970s San
Francisco Bay Area art, performance, and alternative lifestyles culture. Weiss,
a multifaceted individual who eventually became a doctor of internal medicine
and led a twenty-piece jazz band, stated thirty years later that perhaps the
most satisfying element about the film is how well the biological model
presented in the film held up over the ensuing years.
Also on the program are these visually-arresting films in the science genre:
'Fire Under the Sea: Origin of Pillow Lava’ (1971) 14m, dir. Lee Tepley. One of the more extreme geological films made in the academic genre, in terms of affective value and danger to the participants, was this, filmed underwater off the coast of Hawaii’s big island. To explore the formation of pillow lava, Tepley, Gene Rugroeden, and a crew of diver-cinematographers are assaulted by tumbling clunks of volcanic debris as they explore vents of red-hot lava, exploding and imploding inches away from their hand-held cameras. At one point, a diver is hit in the back by a forcefully extruded chunk of rock, while others poke the emerging lava with spears and hammers, seemingly comfortable in the 110° waters.
'Carnivorous Plants’ (1979) 10m, dir. Thomas Stanton. This insidious film was shot by cinematographer Ken Middleham, who passed way three years ago, and who left a rich legacy of academic titles. He was an expert in time-lapse, as evidenced in this exceptional film.
'Crystals: Flowers of the Mineral Kingdom' (1983) 13m, dir. Thomas Stanton. Another remarkable film shot by Ken Middleham.
Thursday, April 1, 2004...Dino Risi's 'Il Sorpasso' (The Easy Life)
All of us have "secret" films we love alone, films that few others know about, and thus, films we can never discuss. Such films are buried at some studio archive, under heaps of dusty cans and old scripts, and may never see the light of day again, perhaps never to be resurrected in video formats viewable at home. Tonight, I’ve got the pleasure of introducing one of those films from my world.
‘Il Sorpasso’ (‘The Easy Life’) (1962) 105m, dir. Dino Risi. ‘Sorpasso’ is considered by many to be the greatest performance of the late Vittorio Gassman, in the role of Bruno, a rogue who either corrupts or enhances, depending on your perspective, the life of the young law student Jean-Louis Trintignant. We first see Gassman, a flashy playboy, on his way to a date, in his roadster, which serves as the vehicle through which much of the action takes place. The appearance of his auto is symbolic of his personality, shiny and new on one side, beat up and patched on the other. Bruno is eternally on the run, and playfully kidnaps the studying scholar, taking him to a number of venues over the course of two days. Trintignant’s Roberto is initially shocked, mortified, and reluctant, then becomes amused, and finally enamored of the trip. A visit to Roberto’s beloved relatives fuels his realization that he was neither respected nor loved by them, as they take to the bombastic Bruno immediately. Each scene is brilliantly crafted by Risi, and underscores the play between the Dionysian and Apollonian extremes of debauchery and asceticism.
Some of the most powerful scenes take place between Gassman and the now-adolescent daughter he’d ignored for years, played by the 17 year-old Catherine Spaak. Bruno, who’s made a career out of seducing young women, finds himself troubled by his daughter’s affections for a man old enough to be his own father. She, in turn, has acquired her father’s self-assurance and joie de vivre, but unlike him, is securely grounded, and confidant in her future path. Roberto, still along for the ride, becomes increasingly unsure of his own direction, which will be ultimately decided during these fateful two days.
'Sorpasso' is a time-tunnel reaching back into 1960s Italy. In the time capsule buried in its corridors, we find Gassman’s Lancia Aurelia B24 Spider, which boasts a 45 rpm in-dash player, in which he inserts Domenico Modugno’s "Vecchio Frack". Modugno, composer of "Volare", was THE pop star of the era, a wonderful composer and exceptional interpreter of his own compositions. A memorable sequence involves the pursuit by Gassman of two German girls in an MGA (which miraculously never breaks down), while another takes place in a full-blown bar that is part of a filling-station, where our protagonists enjoy some libation and sexplay before hitting the road. Our friend Paolo Preite, who identified the car, and grew up in this era of Italy, writes: "the road trip they took, from Rome to central Tuscany, was mostly done on the road the Lancia was named after (Aurelia). This is true about all Lancias of that period (Appia, Ardea, etc.)." The musical score by Riz Ortolani is extraordinary, ranging from blistering be-bop to the main theme, Ortolani’s famous signature tune, "Quando, quando, quando."
‘Sorpasso’ is unfortunately, a difficult film to see these days. In New York this February, the Film Society of Lincoln Center is holding a retrospective of the films of Gassman, who they refer to a the "Beloved Rogue" http://www.filmlinc.com/wrt/programs/2-2004/vgassman.htm I encourage you to join us tonight for a brilliantly acted, directed, and scored film, which we’ll show in our underground Speakeasy, the perfect venue for this racy, intelligent, and human film.
Thursday, March 25, 2004... The Agenda Lounge is booked tonight for a special event. See us next week.
Thursday, March 18, 2004... Puerto Rico
I got introduced to the island musically, through the mountain jíbaro music on the old Ansonia record label, where maracas and cuatros accompanied great singers like Ramito, and Blanca Iris Villafañe, and José Miguel Class. West-coasters, typically, miss the island, and instead head south, through Central America and points below, when we desire a full-blown Latino experience. On a business trip to Florida, I grabbed my chance, landed in San Juan, rented a car, and drove over the island. On an interior mountain pass I nearly met my death. There’s some slinky mud on that island, and when you hit it on a rainy day, it behaves like an oil slick. Rounding a curve heading downhill, I passed through a span of it, and the car went berserkers, heading off the road, toward a miserable death below. Fortunately, a tree stood in the way, and I smacked it. Damn, I thought, close call, but I’m sure the car is totaled, and I’m stranded. Unbelievably, the bumper had taken all the energy of the crash, and hurled it back at the tree… except for a black mark on the bumper, which must have been made out of superior Puerto Rican sword steel, the car was unhurt. After a 30 mph crash. I drove away. That night, I found myself in an old mountain coffee plantation at Las Gripiñas, which had been turned by the government into a rustic inn. It was still raining, but I was warm under the roof, with my feet up on the railing, a bottle of rum at my feet, a full-bodied cigar between my fingers, and no one to complain about it, ¡Sí Señ6r! And all night long the frogs peeped "coKEE, coKEE, coKEE"…
Now, I can’t provide the rum, the cigar, or the head-on collision, but tonight’s films will give you a sense of the place. The music of the island is exceptional, and ‘La Plena’ is a wonderful introduction. Some people are angry, and ‘Paradise’ explains a few of the reasons. Not everyone stays in Puerto Rico, and jíbaro music (most of which is recorded in New York anyway) is full of plaintive songs of longing for the mountains. ‘Uptown’ portrays Puerto Rican life off the island, in a wonderful film documenting a neighborhood at the height of its vibrancy.
‘La Plena’ (1966) 29m, dir. Amilcar Tirado. Born in 1922 in Coamo, Puerto Rico, Tirado has made more than 30 films, from features to documentaries. This rare film was made for the Puerto Rican government, and focuses on the "bomba" and "plena" song forms, and on the mountain jíbaro culture in which they thrive. Get this: one guy (Sindo Mangual?) reads a paper, writes a song about the story he’s been reading, then his whole band sings it, with accordeón, guiro, y rítmo. Tirado also visits mural painter Rafael Tufiño, who uses a 16mm film can as a palette, and visits a cuatro (4-stringed guitar) maker's shop. En español, y inolvidable.
'Puerto Rico: Paradise Invaded' (1977) 30m, prod. Mario Vissepo and Carlos Ortíz. Here’s one you’re not going to find in the "feel-good" aisle at the local video store. Some Puerto Ricans have the odd idea that the United States has been all-take and no-give, and you get to play international law court judge after seeing this film. The prosecution presents as evidence footage discussing how US petrochemical interests destroyed sugar plantations, and US companies exploited their workers. You’re not allowed to accept human testimony as evidence, because they all fled to Nueva York, where they live in slums and listen to Ramito. In case I didn’t mention it, this film is hard-hitting, and patriotic, from a Puerto Rican perspective. In the US, we can be a bit insular, so I find films such as this well worth seeing.
‘Uptown: Portrait of the South Bronx’ (1965) 27m, dir. Herbert Danska. An important ‘Newyorícan’ neighborhood was the South Bronx, which thrived until its cultural back was broken in two by the construction of an expressway, which bisected the barrio. Danska here captures the exciting elements of life in this now-forgotten time.
Thursday, March 11, 2004... Exceptional People: Films on People with Disabilities II
(for introductory notes, see filmnotes for show of Thursday, March 4, 2004, immeditaely below.
‘A Different Approach’ (1978) 20m, dir. Fern Field. In a hilarious take on PWD films, a very young Michael Keaton plays the part of a director who makes an innovative film about hiring the disabled, featuring a choreographed, wheelchair riding chorus line, singing about the joys and rewards of including the handicapped in the personnel mix. If you think this is in bad taste, join Keaton’s boss, who thinks he’s plum gone off his rocker. Carol O'Connor, Jim Nabors, Martin Mull, Ed Asner, and Norman Lear make guest appearances.
‘Play to Learn’ (1974) 15m, dir. Joe Bas. A tour through Julius Erdelyi’s wonderful classroom for the developmentally disabled, which includes many fixtures he’s managed to wheedle out of local businesses, in order to teach his students using "hands-on" tools. Bas wisely has chosen Erdelyi --- possessor of one of the truly great accents ever documented on film --- as narrator, to wit: "Any teacher don’t look the clock, don’t look the date, don’t look the day off, and have a guts for scrounging, can explain to the people what he or she want, yes, can do the job".
‘Just One of the Boys’ (1975) 16m, dir. Ted Haley and Mike Mahoney. Here we meet Eric Davidson, car mechanic, blinded in the 1917 Halifax steamship explosion.
‘Leo Beuerman’ (1969) 13m, dir. thirteen filmmakers. Leo Beuerman was disfigured at birth, and somehow created a life for himself in a small town in Kansas. This film is not inspirational, but sobering, as it follows him on his daily tasks and travails, involving his tractor, his special cart, and his business of selling pencils and watches streetside. This, one of the best-selling educational films of the 1960s and 1970s, has a maudlin tone, that we frankly find disturbing. The final sequence of the film ends with the words: "Leo Beuerman, homeward bound, on the 24,373rd day of his imprisonment."
‘Gravity is My Enemy’ (1978) 30m, dir. John Joseph. Winner of the 1978 Oscar for Best Short Documentary, this film tells the story of an exceptionally talented artist, Mark Hicks, who as a child lost the use of arms and legs as the result of a fall. Drawing with a pencil, brush, or charcoal clenched between his teeth, Hicks’ works are startling in their complexity and execution; we become drawn into his challenging world, one of daily physical challenges juxtaposed with artistic triumphs.
Thursday, March 4, 2004... Exceptional People: Films on People with Disabilities I
In the nearly eight years we've being doing this, our least-attended show was 1999’s "cine16 Pow-Wow", a special on Native Americans, which attracted two people. By the late 1990s, American Indians were decidedly out of fashion (twenty years earlier, the show would have been packed.) Our two PWD programs may give the Pow-Wow a run for its money, because many people still find films about disabled people disturbing. That, in spite of the fact that just about everyone’s got a disability of some sort (including my Grandma Freeman, who actually thought she could clean her grandkids’ ears by rolling a washcloth around her fat fingers, and driving them full-force into tiny ear canals.) In reviewing these films, adjectives as varying as funny, maudlin, inspirational, and arty all came to mind, because treatments on the theme spread widely along the cinematic continuum. You will not see a "PWD Filmfest" like this anywhere else in the U.S., because festivals must make money to recoup costs, and these films aren’t "box office." The films on these programs are historically important, and they’re all quite good. We’ll show them in two segments, one week apart.
Here’s a bit on the historical aspect. The 1970s represented a watershed for people with disabilities and special needs as far as educational access was concerned. In terms of logistics, special ed programs featured higher than usual teacher-to-student ratios as well as new educational materials that were built specifically for the special needs learner. The psychological element had changed for the better; films were produced that not only provided additional esteem value for the individual, but made a case for his or her inclusion into the mainstream school population as well (as the end of the decade approached, mainstreaming would represent the preferred educational track for many of these students). The films on tonight’s program were an essential part of the battle to counter the prejudice against --- and ignorance of --- special needs students as they prepared to enter a world that to a very great extent denied them physical access to the most basic needs and services.
‘Voice in Exile’ (1986) 30m, dir. Mark Alan Kaplan. This was among the most notable sociodramas on the subject of people with physical challenges, that of a high school student struggling to overcome a seemingly insurmountable stuttering problem. While the predictable ending creates no surprises for the viewer, Kaplan, himself a stutterer, created a nightmarish external perspective of the inner world of the protagonist, exemplified by a sequence in which the protagonist falls from an impossibly high balance beam amidst cacophonous sounds.
'Who Should Decide?' (1984) 14m, dir. Beverly Shaffer. In another film in producer Wolf Koenig's thought-provoking 'Discussions in Bioethics' series, marital conflict over abortion arises when a pregnant woman discovers her early term fetus will result in a baby born with her own condition, spina bifida.
‘A Little Like Magic’ (1984) 24m, prod. Peter Rosen. Boy, do we dislike 16mm films shot originally on video... the nasty, fuzzy quality of the image reminds us of big-screen TV sports, and, ‘twixt you & me, it takes a glass or two o’ the hard stuff before all the lines seem to look right. This film about an exceptional theatrical team is well worth seeing in spite of the image quality. Diane Dupuy directs Toronto's Famous People Players in a fluorescent, black-lit large stage featuring large puppet-caricatures of Liberace, Carol Channing, and other notables. Coincidentally, the performer/manipulators are all developmentally disabled people, cajoled, entreated, and occasionally blistered by taskmistress Dupuy in an extremely funny, thought-provoking, and emotional film. Their website’s a nice teaser: http://www.fpp.org/index.html
‘Silhouettes of Gordon Vales’ (1980) 30m, dir. Robin DuCrest. Another unforgettable person, again with exceptional artistic ability is the subject of the second film on tonight’s program. The conditions surrounding Vales’ learning disabilities are explained early on, and very soon we learn that somewhere along the way, he picked up the art of creating silhouettes by tearing pieces of black construction paper. Vales work is far from simple: the complexities of each portrait are astounding, providing a three-dimensionality rarely seen in the art form. In the final scenes of the film, Vales’ complex, multi-character silhouettes are animated by pixilation. One would like to have contacted the filmmaker to learn more about the process behind making the film, but DuCrest has been impossible to find (the trail grew cold in Las Vegas); Vales, however, continues to make silhouettes for $5 an hour at a small Spokane music store.
Beyond the teaching of language alone, do foreign language instruction films carry a social agenda as well? Investigating this question, there may not be a finer series of films worth studying than the ‘Guten Tag’ and ‘Guten Tag wie geht’s’ series, produced by Bayerischen Rundfunk and the Goethe Institut, in 1964-65, and 1966 respectively. Each series consisted of twenty six fifteen-minute films, was witty, charming, and consisted of funny mini-dramas embracing multi-ethnic and multi-cultural values. Entertaining, charming, funny, and occasionally thought-provoking, the films contained embedded socio-cultural messages that clashed with prejudices many North Americans still harbored toward Germans, nearly one generation after the second world war. The Germany of the mid-1960s, in the minds of many U.S. students, was eternally at the wrong end of gun-barrels, bomb-sights, and war-trials.
To many Americans of the era, the German archetype was cold, inhuman, devoid of humor, and heavily prejudiced against people of other races and ethnic origins. In essence the Nazi and the German were one and the same. This presents a marketing problem for any company selling German language instruction films in the U.S. If Germans aren’t seen as being fun and socially progressive, people may not want to study the language, as they probably won’t be traveling to Germany on vacation. Therefore, distribution figures will be so low, that the films won’t make a profit.
Clearly, in both ‘Guten Tag’ series, the Goethe Institut had a social agenda that went far beyond creating a simple series of language instruction films, and, as such, they are worthy of further study. On one hand, they can be cynically perceived as being successors to the successful propaganda films of the Third Reich. On the other, with their reappearing themes of humor and racial and generational co-existence, they perhaps seek to define a new reality, as Germany strove to remake itself internally, and redefine itself externally. This new Germany, it was hoped, would be perceived as a radically different one than the uncredited executive producers knew North American students would most often have otherwise seen, from a cinematic and television perspective.
The films on tonight’s program make the case that a language film is more than just that. It serves as an introduction to the people speaking the language, and provides insight to the culture. I suspect the executive producers knew they had a big job at hand. You’ll have to judge their relative success yourself. The films are, unfortunately, out of distribution. Although widely distributed, and shown as a staple on NET (the precursor to PBS), their production values are somewhat dated. The workbooks, which at one time were easy to come by have been out-of-print for years, and can only be found with great difficulty in the most arcane of used bookshops.
Tonight’s films should be seen again, not only for their cultural merit and their socio-political orientation, but also because they’re damn fine language instruction films, with a wit and charm all their own.
‘So ein Zufall’ (‘What a Coincidence’, Guten Tag #15) (1965) 15m, uncredited director. Miss Shivutse is an African student trying to find her way in a new university in Germany. Needing assistance in compiling her class schedule, she is rescued by a friendly, white fellow student, and is integrated into a fun dormitory party. All sense or order is foiled by the continued re-appearance of a crazed trombone player, who invades practically every scene, attempting to foil any sense of order. This zaniness is in keeping with much of this, the earlier ‘Guten Tag’ series, many episodes of which featured introductory sequences taking place in unlikely-sized constructivist sets of everyday objects (oversized alarm clocks, etc.).
‘Kennen Sie meinen Sohn?’ (‘Do you know my son?’, Guten Tag wie geht's #1 ) (1966) 15m, dir. Rudiger Graf. The ‘Guten Tag wie geht’s’ series, filmed a year following the former series, differs from its counterpart in several respects: the story lines are more involved, the series is filmed in color, and credits are always given to film personnel. Graf’s film is significant in view of its treatment of cross-generational relationships. Here, music professor Hoffman’s son has been away at college for awhile. Upon hearing his son now has long hair and a beard, he visits the university in search of his son’s residence. Hoffman quickly finds himself immersed in 1966 Munich counterculture, and engages in drinking and revelry at a psychedelic "hippie bar". The staid-looking professor eventually finds himself with a five-o’clock shadow, a new group of friends, and a reaffirmation that outward appearances have little to do with the person inside. A bit tipsy, he then relates this philosophy to his son who has just arrived, newly-shaved and barbered, and shocked at his father’s appearance.
Bearing in mind that the episode was filmed in 1966, no educational film made in North America up to that time, to my knowledge, had ever embraced these inter-generational commonalties existing in spite of differing external appearances. Nor did they realistically address the beneficial social aspects of the drinking of alcoholic beverages, which generations of Europeans had successfully integrated into family meals and get-togethers. Hippies, responsible social drinking, and long hair were clearly avoided in educational films originating in the western hemisphere.
‘Heidelberg hat noch immer seinen alten Zauber’ (‘Heidelberg still has its old enchantment’, ‘Guten Tag wie geht's’ #20 ) (1966) 15m, dir. Fritz Schuster. This film is about the romance to be found in an old historical city, where two zany ghosts spark love interests in youths, and a couple in their 40s.
Also on the program:
‘Départ en Vacances’ (1970) 20m, dir. Pierre Sisser. This French language instruction film is a wonderful, wistful story of a French family touring Brittany-Normandy in their Citroën. Even in France, mosquitoes rule picnics...
‘L'entente Cordiale’ (1951) 11m, unknown director). This film, in the ‘Beginning French Conversation’ series, portrays a slice of life that is rapidly disappearing in many French villages, in this case, the traditional French corner market, with its harried proprietor.
‘Une recette d’Abidjan’ (1974, 11m, unknown director). Here, a young Ivory Coast couple living in France invites some French friends over for dinner, and someone brings a projector! They have so much fun watching a 16mm film about the African nation, that dinner gets burned. ? From the ‘Pays Francophones’ series.
‘Quelle Chance’ (1953, 10m, unknown director). Zut alors! In the charming village of Vaires-sûr-Marnes, an accident occurs, and everyone leaves the restaurant to watch the aftermath. In their absence, a wandering accordionist and two children polish off the food and drink from everyone's table. The French sense of justice is secured, and the children are led away, holding their bellies. From the Modern Language Association.
Thursday, February 19, 2004... Two Men Behind the Mind: BF Skinner and RD Laing
One evening three summers ago, I found myself having a beer in a pub in Glasgow. Glasgow had been something of a draw for me, because it is here that one can see best and appreciate the work of Scot designer and architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh. In the middle of my first pint, I caught the eye of a beautiful woman against the opposite wall, and we soon engaged in a spirited conversation. Eventually, we got into bits about our own personal histories and childhoods. "Mine was hell", she told me. "My father was a well-known psychologist, and my childhood was difficult." She proceeded to share some horror stories with me, and I asked who her father was. "His name was Ronnie Lane," was her response, which didn’t register with me. Karen’s girlfriends soon showed up, and at closing time we repaired to the house of one of them, where, as best I can recall, we continued with merriment and libations until the early morning hours, with the conversation centering around human interactions and behaviors. It finally occurred to me to ask her, after a bit of extraneous information had swum around in my mind and surfaced, if her father were R.D. Laing, the noted author and psychologist. Indeed it was, and Glasgow had been his home. I had missed her "g", and the name "Ronnie" is not the name he used in his writings.
Phil Dore writes: "[Laing's] self-destructive tendencies and mood swings are well documented. In 1989 he died of a heart attack at the age of 62, his health ruined by years of depression and alcoholism", one year before the passing of behavioral psychologist BF Skinner.
Tonight’s films focus on visits with Laing and BF Skinner, two individuals whose work in psychology has prompted much discussion and controversy. Skinner, the behavioral psychologist, was famed for his investigation into operant conditioning, teaching machines, his vision of a Utopian world, and "the box" in which his daughter spent a portion of her infancy. Laing, a leader of the informal "anti-psychiatry" movement, sought to understand schizophrenia within the context of normalcy. They were both lauded and derided in their day, for their professional opinions as well as their private lives. Tonight’s films go beyond the formalism of research, and introduce the viewer to a human side of these two historically important individuals.
On tonight’s show:
‘A World of Difference: B.F. Skinner and The Good Life’ (1979) 50m, dir. Veronica Young. This film is a biographical with Fred Skinner, his wife and daughter Deb, and features historical film clips of his past work. Included is a visit to the Twin Oaks experimental community in Louisa, VA, inspired by his book ‘Walden II.’ For a biography on Skinner, written by daughter Julie Vargas, visit: http://www.bfskinner.org/bio.asp
‘R.D. Laing's Glasgow’ (1978) 51m, dir. John McGreevy. Laing here appears as an animated tour guide, providing a raconteur’s view of his city. He begins by playing a bawdy version of "Bicycle Built for Two" on a piano, then discusses closes and tenements. We attend a spirited debate at Glasgow University, and a visit to Charles Rennie Mackintosh's library at the Glasgow School of Art. There is very little of academic substance in the film, but there is a whole lot of fun, and a bit of a dark clud as well. There is a plethora of information on Laing at http://www.decaelo.com/rdlaing/ and another site, http://www.oikos.org/ronen.htm tells us he "was Scottish and a Psychiatrist" , and under the heading "Idiosyncrasies" mentions that he "Played a great jazz piano even when asked to desist". If any of you know Karen Heenan in Glasgow, give her my regards, and please ask her to contact me by email.
Thursday, February 12, 2004... Exceptional Films for Children
I’ve been archiving films since 1992, and believe me, in that time, I’ve seen lots of terrible films. Of the 100,000 or so educational films made between 1920 and 1980 or so, a significant percentage were uninspired, uncreative, or intellectually insulting to the audience. In the 1960-1980 period, the collecting focus of the Academic Film Archive of North America, I’d guess the worst of these were in the category of films dedicated to the K-6 crowd. When I taught school, I’d vet these, because after all, the teacher’s gotta watch them too. Many were awful, and that’s too bad, because even though the audience for these films is relatively young, they’re still adults-in-training, actually have a brain in there, and we owe them our best. To me, that means no dumbed-down educational films.
We have precious few films for the very young in our collection, but we have a few that are real charmers. A good children’s film is, essentially, also a good adult film, and tonight, I’d like to show you the ones that made the cut. Some of them are tales of innocence, others of loneliness, others ambiguous, as are many of the world’s great films. Some feature child actors, who haven’t been overly-saccharined by well-meaning, but ineffective directors.
‘Punctuation Wizard’ (1984) 24m, dir. Mark Chotzko. This odd and, ultimately, strange film boasts a cast of extremely nelly actors. The film is corny, but soon we’re won over because it’s so obvious the cast and crew are having a great time making the film. My own personal feeling is that the film was really made for the wacky adults that made it. Proof? It’s filmed at the Renaissance Pleasure Faire. This is the tale of a kingdom in which punctuation is forbidden, and how a crazed magician makes sense of it all. Was this really Wimbledon who lives in a kingdom where punctuation is forbidden. He uses magic to add punctuation to sentences and is captured and placed in a dungeon. Finally, the king recognizes the impossibility of life without punctuation and Wimbledon is made the Royal Punctuator.
‘Color’ (1954) 6m, dir. Paul Burnford. Blink, and this entirely too-short film goes away. But in the brief six minutes, magical things occur: broad swaths of abstract colors and shapes coat the screen, to an equally abstract soundtrack, dissonantly played by Werner Bracher moving an object across the piano strings to create an autoharp-like ambiance. It can be argued that films like this formed a strong foundation for the psychedelic era.
‘Circus’ (1959) 10m, dir, Willis E. Simms. Simms was an enlightened teacher who led his junior high school class through an exercise in animating a film. The result is this charming film, in which the drawings and paintings of his students’ animals are animated, to the music performed and composed by fellow teacher Robert Clark.
‘A Very Special Day: an Adventure at Coney Island’ (1966) 19m, dir. Richard Beymer. Dealing with the topics of innocence, trust, and responsibility, the film tells the story of a young boy who, although ridiculed by his friends, feels obligated to help a girl who is lost. The cinematography by Jon Wing Lum is exceptional, and the music is by jazz guitarist Sam Brown. According to executive producer Richard Lukin, the relationship with director Beymer started on rocky feet. Introduced to Lukin by influential distributor Leo Dratfield, Beymer was invited to dinner, where he insisted on sitting on the floor, eating rice out of a brown paper bag. His first script, vociferously rejected by Lukin, was about two boys who accidentally caused a girl's dog to die, then presented the body to her at the end of the film. Lukin and Beymer didn’t talk for two months. Finally, ‘Special Day’ was accepted, and took months to finish. Beymer has gained most of his fame through acting, notably in the filmed version of ‘West Side Story’ and in David Lynch's 'Twin Peaks.' For more on Beymer, visit: http://movies.yahoo.com/shop?d=hc&id=1800052050&cf=biog&intl=us
‘Wondering About Sound’ (1986) 10m, dir. Paul Buchbinder. Buchbinder’s films are always full of fun and have great music, this time from the band Rant/Chant, whose music is the vehicle for teaching about the production of sound.
‘Fable’ (1972) 18m, dir. Rolf W. Brandis. Marcel Marceau stars here in a film about the value of building friendships, and the dangers of insularity. The presence of a beautiful blonde neighbor contributes a vital, but innocent adult element as well.
‘Meadowlark Lemon Presents the World’ (1984) 20m, dir. Rick Harper. Here, the famed star of the Harlem Globetrotters presents a corny and fun, but ultimately brilliant educational film about geographical concepts, such as latitude and longitude, with a nice mixture of animation styles.
Thursday, February 5, 2004... Talking Black: Adam Clayton Powell and Churches Sacred and Profane
Tonight, we feature a film made by WABC’s Gil Noble, portraying an individual who generated much of the race-related press activity of the turbulent 1960s. Loved and vilified in his time, we now have the luxury of looking at Adam Clayton Powell Jr. through thirty-five years of accumulated history, finding him less shocking than in his own day, vindicated in his drive to aggressively right the ship of state before it capsized under the bloated weight of years of racial oppression. Powell struggled to communicate the idea that unless the economic pie is distributed a little more evenly, those who have nothing will rise to forcefully take from those who have. Tonight’s film addresses issues that will forever be at the forefront of social and political liberation, and their lessons still apply in our own day, though voiced perhaps less eloquently by Powell's successors. Provocative, witty, and more than occasionally brutal, his words often reflect on the brevity of life, spoken in the maelstrom driven by the winds of fear, ignorance, and oppression that sealed his words all too quickly in the silent sarcophagus of time.
‘Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.: an Autobiographical Documentary’ (1977) 58m, dir. Gil Noble. It’s unfortunate that Powell, a larger-than-life figure who was responsible for much of the progressive legislation passed through congress in the 1960s, has been largely forgotten. Only the second Black person to be elected to the congress since Reconstruction, Powell had, since the age of 21, followed in his father’s footsteps as the pastor of Harlem’s Abyssinian Baptist Church, the largest black church in the United States. A fascinating character who simultaneously worked backroom deals in congress and thumbed his nose at the white power structure, Powell’s political roller coaster ride included congressional censure, reinstatement by his constituents, and a final defeat by Charles Rangel in 1971. One of the most controversial figures of the 1960s, he was vilified for his widely-known appreciation for beautiful women, as well as his conciliatory attitude toward radical black leaders (he invited Malcolm X to speak at Abyssinian, and defended the latter’s insistence that black families acquire firearms with which to defend themselves). Noble’s film, consisting of interviews with both Powell --- filmed one year prior to his death --- and his second wife (of three), pianist Hazel Scott, displays both the charm and fiery rhetoric of a man who was to change the face of racial politics in Washington more than perhaps any person before or since.
Also on the program:
'Two Black Churches' (1975) 21m, dir. William Ferris. Yale professor Ferris made an outstanding film on the culture of the Black church in the United States. Here, he focuses on the Rose Hill Church in Vicksburg, Mississippi, pastored by the Rev. Isaac Thomas. Thomas is an old country preacher, his church and congregation are small. Among many beautiful sequences, the a capella song by the children's choir is extremely compelling. In Bishop A. Coward's St. James Church, in New Haven, Connecticut, on the other hand, we witness the power of a larger urban congregation. Coward is a dynamic, charismatic force, as he anoints, heals, and shouts the gospel. The music is magnificent, the rhythm driven by a drummer who is a boy approximately 10 years old, sitting just in front of the altar.
'American Shoeshine' (1976) 30m, dir. Sparky Greene. Nominated for an Academy Award in 1976, it's hard to see how this one could have missed the Oscar. A profoundly deep and entertaining introduction to the world of the black shoeshine artist, a dozen or so shoe shiners are featured, armed with hot-poppin’ rags and street-corner philosophy. Too rarely shown, this tribute to the rhythm and poetry of an important element of American life is one of the more important films documenting the life of the black worker in the U.S. This out-of-distribution film is indicative of the types of films that the AFA is dedicated to saving.
Thursday, January 29, 2004... 'Camera, Danger, Africa!: Films on Filmmaking by Alan Root
Alan Root's our favorite nature cinematographer, and it's not difficult to see why. He's put himself in real danger every time he's made a film. Consider this email he sent us in August of 2002:
He's a fascinating personality who continues to make films in his native Kenya. For his biography and filmography, visit his AFA page at: http://www.afana.org/root.htm
Tonight, we're featuring two extraordinary films that show the mechanics that go into making his films.
Lights, Action, Africa (1980) 55m, dir. Harry Aldous. Alan and then-wife Joan Root discuss different techniques in filming dangerous or challenging aspects of wildlife, encountered during the making of their films "Mzima: Portrait of a Spring", "Mysterious Castles of Clay", "Year of the Wildebeest", and "Baobab: Portrait of a Tree". Perhaps the most shocking sequence is the filming of the deadly spitting cobra, which aims its venom at the eyes of its prey with deadly accuracy. As Alan films, Joan is the target (if she's too far away, the snake loses interest, if she's too close, she gets bitten), and gets nailed repeatedly on her spectacles. No matter, she wipes them off, and goes back for more...
‘Balloon Safari’ (1975) 55m, prod. Alan Root. For the past few years we’ve been marveling at Root’s African films, from ‘Kopjes’ to ‘Castles of Clay’ to ‘Mzima: Portrait of a Spring’. Until we saw this film, we never knew how he got those shots. This film documents the sometimes hilarious steps Root took to buy and fly the conveyance that has allowed him to create such fascinating footage. Filmed at the Mara River & Game Reserve, Tsavo, and Amboseli, with his pet hippo, aardvark, and porcupine. A masterpiece on the craft of filmmaking in the bush.
Also on the show:
'Jack Paar Outtakes: a Visit with Jonathan Winters' (ca. 1966) 8m, uncredited director. Former late-night television host Jack Paar (1918-2004) passed away this week. Sometime ago, we acquired this short reel which features Paar interviewing comic Jonathan Winters, in Winters' home. It was originally made to accompany Winters comedy footage for a television program that may or may not have been televised, and this 16mm color print was probably spirited away by one of the crew. It shows Paar, witty and urbane in some places, leaning toward pathos (about his waning career: "it's late in the third quarter") in others. This footage is not the best of Paar, and certainly not serviceable as an introduction. It is, however, a curiosity, of primary interest to Winters and Paar fans, and a small bit of television history.
Thursday, January 22, 2004... Love on the Run by François Truffaut
'Love on the Run' (L'Amour en Fuite) (1979) 94m, dir. François Truffaut.
At ciné16, we occasionally program feature-length films from important directors, in an effort to promote film literacy. François Truffaut was one of the more important directors of the 20th century, a noted critic and a founder of nouvelle vague, the French "new wave" cinema movement. Over the past few years, we have been able to acquire several of his films. Tonight’s film is one of our latest acquisitions.
"I wanted an ending deliberately, brazenly, or, if you wish, desperately HAPPY!", said Truffaut, when discussing the fifth and last of his semi-autobiographical series of films on his alter-ego, Antoine Doinel. When Truffaut first introduced Doinel in ‘400 Blows’ (1959), we see a boy buffeted about by the uncertainty of his family life, and transitional nature of his age. In the ensuing three films, we lived with Doinel’s growing pains, as he evolved from relationship to relationship. There are 18 minutes of flashbacks to events from the four other Doinel films, providing contextual material to viewers unfamiliar with the others. In this film, Truffaut wanted to leave Doinel as a young adult finally coming to grips with events in his past, from the difficult relationship with his mother, to his fragmented relationships of the past. One wonders whether the director, who died in 1984, had a foreboding of sorts, recognizing that his hero would live beyond him, through cinema. If so, the viewer can get a sense of how Truffaut wanted to be remembered, through the travails of his protagonist.
In addition to Jean-Pierre Léaud, as Doinel, the films stars Marie-France Pisier and Claude Jade, as his two most significant lovers.
For a review of the film, visit: http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbcfour/cinema/features/love_on_the_run.shtml
Thursday, January 15, 2004... Now About the French…
During the recent, ongoing world crisis, it was yet again a good time to vilify the French. "Les frites" became Freedom Fries, Bordeaux was taken off menus in good restaurants, Citröens and Deux-Chevaux forcefully taken out of American garages and burned in public bonfires. So why is it, exactly, that it’s so easy to dislike the French? It might have started with Vichy, but then again, the French underground fought bravely. Parisians can be rude (I was told bluntly by a Parisian antique dealer not to speak French in his shop; while my French may not have been the best, I was studying it at the Sorbonne at the time), but no one’s quite as rude as a non-native San Franciscan with "attitude".
Fact is, the French are contrarian. It is part of the national character to initially disagree with virtually everyone on any subject, as a means of setting up a basis for discussion. The way the game works, is that one hangs in there through the initial rebuff, offers a contrarian view in rebuttal, and ultimately the discussion ends with in appreciation of the perspectives of each individual, and an agreement that they agree more than disagree. To put some closure on the new-found camaraderie, both individuals are, by that time, drunk and happy.
A true story: I frequent a modest restaurant owned by a French family. The manager is a woman of middle age who has worked hard to keep the restaurant on its feet. The food is good, but the location remote. Her brother is the chef. One November evening, my friend the manager is ecstatic, because a representative of a high tech company is there to test the cuisine. If she approves, her company will host its Christmas dinner there, lots of revenue for a small restaurant. She loved her dinner, and was enjoying her after-dinner port while relaxing next to the restaurant’s fireplace. The chef-brother comes out of the kitchen, and states the following: "Just so you know, I read the newspaper, and I know your company does not treat its employees well. I want you to know, that I do not appreciate that." Satiated, the Old Communist walks back into the kitchen, satisfied that family economics haven’t given way to the rights of the workers. I do not know of the outcome of the proposed company dinner. But I do know the brother is still in the kitchen.
Tonight, we’ll explore some films that, I think, luxuriate in the contentiousness, humor, sense of justice, and joie de vivre inherent in the French character. Sadly, the films on tonight’s program are now all inaccessible; happily, you can still see them here.
‘Goosey Goosey Gander’ (1978) 30m, dir. Michael Croucher. In 1978, writer/producer Croucher made a series of seven films for the BBC, depicting vanishing or threatened ways of life in small French villages and towns, under the title ‘The French Way’. Tonight, we are showing two of them. ‘Goosey’ explores the Perigord region of southwestern France which is famous for its devotion to gastronomy and hunting. Here, animals rights activists will be unhappy, as geese get fattened to create paté. Croucher’s approach is to visit small family farms, where geese are grown and dispatched in a non-factory environment. A particularly fascinating part of the film involves the use of pigs to hunt truffles.
‘Add Penicillin, Stir Well’ (1978) 30m, dir. Michael Croucher. In the southwest of France, midway between Bordeaux and the Pyranees, sits the town of Roquefort, home to cheeses made from sheep’s milk and mould. The fungus is grown on bread, then sprinkled on the raw cheese. From there, the cheese sits in a 43 degree Fahrenheit cellar for three weeks, gaining character and substance. Croucher focuses on the vanishing life of the small cheesemaker, and mentions that regional authorities were miffed that he filmed the old family business, instead of the newer, more sterile, and larger factories nearby. As this poignant film points out, the authorities don’t have much to worry about, as the old pastures are being forced out by a modern military mechanized range, and the old towns are being discovered by tourism, with the resulting boutique businesses and expensive restaurants.
‘La Vie Familiale D’une Ferme Française’(1964) 15m, dir. William Gumbiner. Introduced to U.S. audiences as a French language instruction title, this beautiful film, shot in the Auvergne, near Lascaux, is more. Here, a man reflects on the joys of living on an old French farm, and his sorrow at seeing his son leaving it for the uncertain excitement of the city.
'One-eyed Men are Kings'(1974) 15m, dir. Edmond Séchan. In this Academy Award nominated drama, we witness a man's quest for friendship, in the cold world of the big city. He masquerades as a blind man, acquires new respect, and becomes the center of attention; his ruse is eventually detected, to what point?
Thursday, January 8, 2004... A Tribute to Two Small Film Companies: the Nature Films of Walt and Myrna Berlet, and Georg Schimanski
In the heyday of 16mm academic film, it was possible for small film companies to be profitable, with enough revenue to allow their principals to buy homes and raise families. They tended toward specialized subject matter, their output was generally of the highest quality, and they often preferred free-lancing to the restrictions imposed by companies that would have given them steady employment. Tonight, we focus on the work of two such small companies, one of whom produced films under its own banner, the other of whom contracted his productions to larger companies.
The Berlet Film Company, specializing in nature films, was one of the last to make academic films in the 16mm medium ('Canada Goose', approximately 2000). Walter Berlet (b. Sept. 26, 1910 – d. September 6, 1995) began experimenting with 8mm film while operating a dry goods store in Casper, Wyoming, and performing occasional lectures for the Audubon Society. His first film 'The Living Wilderness', was made for the Society in 1960. While in Casper, he met Myrna (b. May 30, 1940), a Minot State University biology major intending on teaching as a career. She soon changed career paths, and they became an inseparable film team, with Walt doing camerawork, and Myrna writing most of the scripts, and handling the lion’s share of the editing.
After Walt’s passing in 1995, Myrna continued making nature films. As of 2003, there are 36 films in the catalogue, but Myrna surmises the company cannot last much longer, given the thin profit margins and constantly changing curricula.
Of German filmmaker Georg Schimanski, we know little. Benchmark Media’s Mike Solin told us of thinking about making his own photomicrography (close-up) lab, but gave up when he saw Schimanski’s elaborate set-up, and contracted the work to him. Schimanski’s trademark was exceptional close-up and slow-motion cinematography in nature subjects. Much of his work was done for German academic film company FWU (Institut fur Film und Bild in Wissenschaft und Unterricht), and he also made films distributed by Encyclopaedia Britannica, Benchmark, and the National Film Board of Canada in North America. He passed away several years ago. His work has always astounded our audiences, and we’ve been waiting for biographical information to come to light before highlighting his work. His daughter, a long-haul truck driver in Europe, is our only current contact. For now, the biography will have to wait, as the time has come to showcase his work as a filmmaker.
We are showcasing the following Berlet film tonight, in addition to the Schimanski films below:
‘Great Blue Heron Story’ (1989) 20m, dir. Walter and Myrna Berlet. One of their most memorable films was this, the filming of which necessitated their building a 60 foot high camera scaffold adjacent to a nest. Since most rookeries are much higher than that, they had scouted several sites before finding one located in a Lake Erie marsh subject to constant flooding, resulting in stunted tree growth. The scaffold is shown in the film, and the process of making the film is briefly discussed. There are magnificent shots of Herons mating, caring for young, and learning to fly.
We are showcasing the following four Schimanski films tonight:
'Housefly' (1982) 16m, dir. Georg Schimanski. Startling microphotography: houseflies flying in place, feeding off glass-top tables and standing still long enough to photograph every hair and orifice.
‘Seeds Scatter’ (1984) 20m, dir. Georg Schimanski. Perhaps the most beautiful shot in this film is the magnificent time-lapse pinecone opening, displaying the forceful dispersal of seeds. He documents the drying of seed pods, catapulted seeds, and seeds which bore into the ground.
‘Slime Molds: Plasmodial & Cellular’ (1989) 20m, dir. Georg Schimanski. We’ll admit it: everyone likes a slime-mold film. Here, Schimanski, through exceptional close-up cinematography, examines the five-stage life cycle of both plasmodial and cellular slime.
‘Tree’ (1977) 17m, dir. Georg Schimanski . Here, the filmmaker chronicles the environment surrounding the oak tree, utilizing time-lapse cinematography in investigating its floral and faunal elements.
Also on the program:
'Life and Death in a Pond' (1981) dir. Mel Waskin. This film featuring exceptional cinematography by Hans Pfetschinger, is primarily about sex & violence. Of 250,000 tadpoles born in a pond, only 200 will survive to adulthood. Frogs, damselflies, and newts mate, and microphotography chronicles the evolution of their embryos. There's stuff here difficult for the faint-of heart: the diving beetle's larva (aptly named the water tiger), feeds on tadpoles by injecting an acid which it then sucks in through its horns. It feeds upside down, breathing through its tail, which is in contact with the pond's surface. Meanwhile, the damselflies' young, called nymphs, prowl the bottom, eating helpless tadpoles there. Like gangland bullies, the newts also eat tadpoles, but, like an old-fashioned Irish cop on the beat, the diving beetles return, and eat the newts. To illustrate that there really is justice in this insane world of the pond, tadpoles feast on the newt carcass. And we thought it was tough, topside...