2009 Symposium

Ways Of Watching

10th Annual Northeast Historic Film Summer Symposium  

July 24-25, 2009

The 2009 Northeast Historic Film Summer Symposium focused on an investigation of how, where and why we watch amateur and noncommercial films in both the past and the present. The NHF Summer Symposium is a multi-disciplinary gathering devoted to the history, theory, and preservation of moving images. NHF is located in Bucksport, a town of 5,000 on the coast of Maine. Typically, presentations are 30 minutes, followed by 30 minutes of discussion. The symposium is open to archivists, artists and scholars from all disciplines. 

Popular Science Monthly, October 1940


From Introspection to Convivial Participation: Departures from Black Box Topology in Contemporary Video Art Display
Cristina Albu, Ph.D. student, Department of History of Art and Architecture, University of Pittsburgh

Numerous contemporary artists open up the black box to social interaction. Based on an analysis of spaces of video display and convivial modes of watching, this paper proposes a typology of alternatives to conventional cinematic environments and investigates the rationale for changes in video art spectatorship. View PowerPoint

The Film Collector’s Legacy
Liz Coffey, Film Conservator, Harvard Film Archive

This screening uses the Harvard Film Archive’s Howard E. Burr Collection as an object lesson about a dying breed, the film collector. Howard E. “Doc” Burr collected film his entire life. In his professional life he was a dentist, socially he was a golfer, but when he got home, his passion was clearly cinematic. He watched at least one film a day. He put on shows for his family and their friends. In the summer, shows would be put on outside, projected on a screen for his family and the children of the neighborhood. He even showed film in the waiting room of his dental practice.  The screening included projection of three gauges of film from “Doc” Burr’s collection on projectors similar to the ones he used at home.

‘Western Ways’ Gone South: George Herbert as Failed Showman
Jennifer L. Jenkins, Ph.D., Division Head, Film and Television Studies, School of Media Arts, University of Arizona

George and Lucile Herbert founded the Tucson-based Western Ways Features Service in 1936. This regional mom-n-pop operation, run out of a 19th century adobe building, included commercial, portrait, aerial, motion pictures, photo finishing and stock footage production.   Hoping to capitalize on the Arizona landscape and the 1950s craze for all things Western, in 1952 the Herberts formed the Southwestern Motion Pictures & Television Corporation. They produced 18 short subjects for television and two parts of a TV pilot for “Rawhide Riley,” a western set in Tucson. The operation collapsed when their head writer, Tom Bailey, absconded with the company’s funds, estimated at around one million dollars. As the main exhibits in one of the largest financial scams in the state until the Keating Five, these films will be seen publicly for the first time.

“This Splendid Temple”: Watching Films in the Wanamaker Department Stores
Caitlin McGrath, University of Chicago

In a letter dated 1 June 1908, J. K. Dixon (self-described “Lecturer and Demonstrator to John Wanamaker”) writes to Charles Urban detailing his use of the Urban Bioscope. “I consider that there is no machine made that is comparable with the Urban Bioscope.” Dixon describes the Bioscope as indispensable to the “carrying on [of] my educational work in chronicling historical events” and in showing films in the auditoriums of both the Philadelphia and New York Wanamaker Department Stores, each of which contained screening spaces that could seat 2,000 people. Dixon states that “we have had tremendous success, turning away thousands of people.” In addition, Wanamaker’s son Rodman used film as a means of documenting the dwindling Native American population alongside the extensive photographic documentation undertaken by J. K. Dixon, who took on the role of chief photographer for the “Wanamaker Expeditions.” Together they made two films, Song of Hiawatha (1908) and The Last Great Indian Council (1909), using Native Americans as actors. Wanamaker founded a school within the department store in Philadelphia to educate young employees. This educational mission augmented the already present and popular lecture series using film, as described by J. K. Dixon, that took place regularly within the store’s Egyptian Hall, which John Wanamaker himself described as “this splendid Temple…devoted to the cause of Music and Education.”
View PowerPoint

Purposeful pleasures: social awareness and amateur film practice in Britain, c. 1927 -1977.
Heather Norris Nicholson, Ph.D., Research Fellow at the Manchester Centre for Regional History and Manchester European Research Institute, Department of History and Economic History, Manchester Metropolitan University, England

“How strange so many Amateur movies still seem to reflect yesterday’s world… (and)  are in fact thoroughly old-fashioned in a world bristling with social problems and fractured values where nobody is sure of anything and many people are desperately searching for some answers…” Readers of Ian Watson’s regular column in Movie Maker were familiar with his strongly worded sentiments about the state of Britain’s amateur cinema movement and its relationship to wider societal change. From the mid 1920s onwards, amidst other more personal family and holiday records, numerous amateurs used film as a means to engage with topical concerns and to create more purposeful or socially-engaged material.  Such purposeful filmmaking may be considered also alongside other prevailing socially-concerned activity and Britain’s documentary movement as well as issues of media representation and regional identity.

Watching Medical Films
Kirsten Ostherr, Associate Professor of English, Rice University

From the 1920s through the 1960s, community groups across the United States often projected films on disparate topics – such as gardening, dental hygiene, geography, and seatbelt safety – as part of a single evening’s film program. Instead of seeking to acquire a specific form of knowledge, non-commercial film viewers may have attended these screenings out of a historically- and medium-specific desire for pedagogy as an end in itself. This presentation will approach the question of how audiences watched non-commercial films by examining the production of “medical ways of watching” through instructional films made for the laity as well as for medical students and physicians from the late 1920s-1960s. I will compare two versions of a 1929 film co-produced by Eastman Teaching Films and the American College of Surgeons: Acute Appendicitis (Lay Public) and Acute Appendicitis (Professional) By comparing these two films, their respective publicity materials, and documentation of specific exhibition venues, this talk will analyze the ways that both lay and professional audiences used nontheatrical educational films to gain access to authoritative discourses of scientific visuality through the act of film spectatorship.

Spectatorship in the Classroom
Jennifer Peterson, PhD, Assistant Professor, Film Studies Program, University of Colorado

As films began to be adapted for use in many schools nationwide, and as a new distribution network for 16mm classroom films was established, educators launched numerous studies to see just how much students could actually learn from this new educational medium. Many of these academic studies used scientific methods to test student comprehension of subjects with and without the use of motion pictures. A well-known 1929 study by Ben Wood and Frank Freeman, for example, using Eastman Teaching Films (and sponsored by the Eastman Kodak Company), found that “the motion picture film contributes to both [direct and indirect] aspects of the child’s education.” Dozens of similar studies were published by the mid-1930s, they contain careful and detailed accounts of how films were used in the classroom, and they overwhelmingly reach positive conclusions about the effectiveness of visual education. For all their scholarly thoroughness, these studies do not take into account the concept of the “resistant spectator.” How were motion pictures intended to be viewed in classroom situations? How might they actually have been viewed in ways that run counter to these intentions? What happens in the gap between classroom film and pupil? My paper will include images and clips from a number of early classroom films, including Planting and Care of Trees (Eastman Teaching Films, 1928), which contains a segment in which a film is shown to a class. View PowerPoint

What You See is What you Get: Watching Swedish Private Film Collections from the 1960s and the 1970s
Cecilia Mörner, PhD, School of Humanities and Media, Dalarna University, Falun, Sweden

Some years ago the Swedish government decided that non-commercial 16 mm, 9,5 mm and 8 mm films, including amateur films, should be filed and accessible for scholars. In 2003 a special film archive was established in the small town of Grängesberg. Hundreds of private film collections have been donated since, and in 2005 I had the opportunity to analyze some of them (published in 2006 in Swedish with Mats Jönsson, Självbilder: Filmer från Västmanland, Stockholm: Svenska Filminstitutet). One major problem with analyzing private film collections is that they usually lack written documentation, that is, textual analysis must include guessing in terms of who is who and why people behave in certain ways (even if the lack of detailed information about a specific collection does not prevent overall, culturally determined inferences like the fact that all of the collections are focused on versions of ‘the sunny side of life’ rather than everyday life). So, last summer I interviewed some of the donators of the collections I had previously studied in order to get some complementary information. In this paper I re-analyze the film collections, focusing on the discrepancy between how I conceived them before and after the interviews and using theories of “place” – for example French historian Pierre Nora’s theory about milieux de memoire and lieux de memoire – as a framework. The presentation will include moving images from the collections. View PowerPoint

The Role of Award Ceremonies within Leisure Activity: Merseyside filmmakers and the ‘Ten Best’
Ryan Shand, PhD, Research Associate, School of Politics and Communication Studies, University of Liverpool
This paper will initially draw on a selected range of articles and reports published in Amateur Cine World covering these competitions. This British-based journal was a focal point for the amateur cine movement for almost forty years, and it was involved in inaugurating the ‘Ten Best’, an annual production competition that ran from 1936 to 1984. The ‘Ten Best’ is of particular note as it was the event highlight of the year for many cine-clubs, and has even been referred to by one Merseyside filmmaker as ‘our Oscars’. For most of its run the ‘Ten Best’ prize-giving ceremony was held in the National Film Theatre in London, with the distribution of winning entries subsequently touring as a program around the country in public. While some filmmakers that we have interviewed see the pursuit of awards as a bad path to follow, others view the ‘Ten Best’ as setting the standard for others to aspire to. These interviews have revealed that amateur filmmakers have ambivalent feelings about the central role of contests and awards in the amateur sector, and this is certainly illustrative of wider tendencies within leisure culture more generally.

Through Trondheim in a Time Machine: Local Film History as part of contemporary audiovisual practice
Bjorn Sorenssen, Ph.D., Department of Art and Media Studies, The Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway

The term “local film” has received renewed interest in recent publications of film history, especially in connection with the scholarly work connected to the large Mitchell & Kenyon collection in the UK. This paper will look at a similar collection of local film material from Trondheim, Norway. Until 1989 a more than 250 reels of film, most of it nitrate, was kept in the projection booth  at Verdensteatret, one of Trondheim´s four municipal cinema theatres, dating back to 1911. This collection was in time transferred to the Norwegian Film Institute and is presently kept in the nitrate vaults at the Norwegian National Library in Mo i Rana, Norway. The paper will address questions of of historiography, archival practices and provenance in connection with the Trondheim collection. In addition to this, it will also document how parts of the collection was used as an integrated exhibition during the  2005 Trondheim International Film Festival, presenting the inhabitants of Trondheim with continuous screenings of selected historical scenes at relevant locations.’Round the World and Back Again’: An Examination of the Production and Exhibition of Adelaide Pearson Travel Films
Kimberly Tarr, NYU Moving Image Archives and Preservation Program

From 1931-1940, social progressive Adelaide Pearson traveled throughout the world documenting quotidian activities, directing her keen eye to ritual, dress, and craft. Pearson’s travels—and filmmaking—consistently pushed the gender and cultural boundaries of her era. Wealth and social status granted Pearson and her partner Laura Paddock access to such influential figures as Mahatma Gandhi, whom Pearson captured on (what is believed to be) the first color footage of Gandhi in rural India in 1936. Influenced by the work of Burton Holmes, Pearson gained a reputation as a passionate and inspired storyteller, and her lively lectures drew large crowds. Considering the genre of amateur travel film, and the notion that amateur filmmakers were typically male, this presentation will discuss the production and exhibition of Pearson’s 16mm films, as well as the historical and cultural significance of these works. The films of Adelaide Pearson Film are held at Northeast Historic Film.
Our Cameras, Our Lives: Lesbian Home Movies, c. 1935 – 1999
Sharon Thompson, author, Going All the Way: Teenage Girls’ Tales of Sex, Romance, and Pregnancy, Hill & Wang/Farrar Straus Giroux

Drawing on three newly discovered lesbian home movie collections filmed primarily in New England and including Maine material, this presentation begins an exploration of home movies and tapes made by lesbians to record fragments of their lives and the lives of friends, lovers, and families.  The collections are The Ruth Storm Collection (mid-1930s-1960s); The Caren McCourtney Collection (c. 1970-1990); and The Shira Collection (c. 1990-2000).  It’s extraordinary material: funny, moving, and surprising.  And while these films were once watched for the personal memories they evoked, today they shed an important light  on the history of lesbians in Maine.  In addition to clips, the presentation draws on histories gathered from participants in the films as well as from their friends, relations, and acquaintances.  Archival research amplifies the histories.

Thank you to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for their generous support of the 2009 Symposium.