Feb 27, 2009

Sexto Simposio de Cine Huérfano

Even if you don't read Spanish, take a look at the report on Orphans 6 at the web site of the Fundación Patrimonio Fílmico Colombiano. Juana Suárez and Ramiro Arbeláez, who presented the foundation's restoration of the Colombian feature film Garras de oro (1926), wrote this report after taking part in the symposium last spring.

Endearing is the phrase defining the concept of an orphan film:

"material de dominio público, películas caseras, producciones con propósito educativo, documentales independientes, películas etnográficas, noticieros, trabajos experimentales, películas mudas y muchas, muchas más que aparecen descritas en lengua de Shakespeare en este enlace: www.sc.edu/filmsymposium/orphanfilm.html."

The authors' essay about Garras de oro will appear in the Spring 2009 issue of The Moving Image, journal of the Association of Moving Image Archivists.

Feb 23, 2009

New Yorker Films and Theatre

New Yorkers are abuzz, but blue, about the sudden news that the venerable distributor New Yorker Films is no more.  After 44 years. 

Dan Talbot took on the distribution of art-house movies in 1965, having taken management of the New Yorker Theatre in 1960.  The Upper West Side repertory cinema was at 88th & Broadway, where its 900 seats were filled for such screenings as the double-bill of Triumph of the Will (1935) and Night and Fog (1955).  That audacious 1960 program had been preceded that year by the first commercial run of Pull My Daisy (1959) -- seen billed here with the noir classic Murder My Sweet (1944) and the first-run British import Our Man in Havana

The New Yorker was renovated for two screens in 1979, reopening as the New Yorker 1 & 2 Twin Theaters, but razed in 1985.  

Yet New Yorker Films went on, still the leading art film and nontheatrical distributor when the theater was no more.  I recall throughout the 1980s looking forward to each new New Yorker catalog, which came to film programmers in handsomely illustrated glossy format. 

Now all those film prints and such will be going up for auction.

As recently as this past year, the Orphan Film Symposium was still benefiting from the great work of New Yorker Films.  The company provided many swell door prizes, donating choice DVD and video releases.  

Thank you.  Thanks to Dan Talbot, José Lopez, Cindi Rowell, and other NYers. 

p.s.  One degree of separation:  

On Saturday night, I saw the closing screening of Anthology Film Archives's Alfred Leslie retrospective.  Alfred (friend of the show since Orphans 2) continues to make movies, 50 years after making Pull My Daisy and 60 years after shooting his first films (lost in the infamous fire of October 1966).  New Alfred Leslie video works wrapped up the Anthology program.  The musical, animated, computer- and video-generated works were a pleasure.  

The sweetest moment came last.  New Yorker Alfred Leslie's newest work is a documentary (another first!) about his own film career, entitled A Stranger Calls at Midnight (A Self-Interview, of Sorts).  It's worth seeing for several reasons, but let me just mention the best moment.  

At the very end, an intertitle tell us that just one year ago, a previously unknown outtake from Pull My Daisy turned up in Alfred's refrigerator, where he had long ago stashed film remnants of the '66 fire that destroyed his studio.  There, for less than a minute, we see a battered fragment of film showing Alfred and co-director Robert Frank improvising a bit of dance and shtick for the camera, which was rolling on the set. 

Things die, but they also resurrect.  

Feb 16, 2009

Orphans Take Manhattan

"The Orphan Film Symposium biannually reminds attendees of the vast, unexplored range of moving images that transcend the commercial, aesthetic, or philosophical categories that have defined film studies for several decades."

So says Devin Orgeron, at the beginning of his hot-off-the-presses report "Orphans Take Manhattan: The 6th Biannual Orphan Film Symposium, March 26–29, 2008, New York City," in Cinema Journal 48, No. 2, Winter 2009): 114-18. 

I'll happily take the "Take Manhattan" part, whether that's an allusion to Rogers & Hart's song "Manhattan" (1925), Oz & Henson's movie The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984), or lonesome Leonard Cohen's drolly sung "First We'll Take Manhattan (Then We'll Take Berlin)" (1988).  

Thanks to both orphanista Orgeron and Cinema Journal.


Is the Lorenz Hart of 1925 really all that far from Leonard Cohen's comeback?   


"I'll go to Greenwich, where modern men itch to be free." (Hart '25)

"They sentenced me to twenty years of boredom, for trying to change the system from within." (Cohen '88)

Feb 5, 2009

Another moment of joy from the Helen Hill film legacy

The Nickelodeon Theatre (friend of the show) in Columbia, South Carolina, continues to thrive, counter to all evidence that repertory movie houses are no longer viable ventures. So much is it thriving that the nonprofit organization has bought the building that was once the home of Columbia's last Main Street movie theater, the Fox. Renovations are underway. Film projection guru James Bond (Full Aperture Systems, Chicago, without which there would have been no Orphans 2 through 7) is working with the Nick's executive director Larry Hembree to make the renovated building a great viewing and listening space.

Further, the Nickelodeon continues to expand the inspirational legacy of the late filmmaker Helen Hill, so beloved in the orphanista community throughout North America. The Nick gives a Helen Hill Memorial Award to at its annual Indie Grits Film Festival (April 15-19 this year). The $500 prize is "awarded to the best work by a female filmmaker, in honor of Columbia native and celebrated animator, filmmaker and teacher Helen Hill (1970-2007)."

And to top it all off, the renovated building on Main Street will be called the South Carolina Center for Film and Media, housing both the Nickelodeon Theatre and a Media Education Center. The latter's mission will be giving kids experience in making films and videos (something the Nick has done over the years).

Madame Winger Makes a Film

The Story
In partnership with New York University and the University of South Carolina, the Nickelodeon Theatre also administers a separate Helen Hill Award, given to an independent filmmaker whose work shares the creative and community-spirited characteristics of Helen Hill. It funds the filmmakers' travel to and participation in the Orphan Film Symposium; Kodak donates $1,000 in film stock as well.

The director of the USC Film and Media Studies program is Susan Courtney, who has been with Orphans since its birth in 1999. She wrote in an e-mail recently about her two daughters' delights with Helen's Madame Winger Makes a Film (2001):

This a.m. at breakfast table I caught the family up on the Media Education Center idea from the meeting last night at the Nickelodeon. It was great to see the excitement of young Columbians at the thought of such a place in their town. Both girls, as it happens, are having birthday parties at the Nick this year (hooking up with Saturday morning movies for kids series). For May—which happens to be Chloe's birthday—we’re doing a DIY Animation Celebration with Helen Hill films and “make your own flip book” in the basement of IMAC coffee hosue afterwards. Chloe, a huge Madame Winger fan, is very keen about all this. After I told her the idea for the new Center at the Nick she said, “Does that mean we could WATCH Madame Winger in the theater and then go right next door and MAKE a film!?!!” I said yes, ideally, but had to break it to her that that won’t be possible yet this May, and she said, “Next year!”

Chloe Courtney Bohl.
self-portrait, 2007.

In my previous posting, "This Is Why We Do What We Do," I refered to comedian Steve Martin's pleasure in discovering he was briefly captured on film in Robbins Barstow's amateur film Disneyland Dream (1956), which was named to the 2008 National Film Registry. But the Chloe-Susan-Larry-Helen breakfast table story takes us even higher in this realm of the pleasures of orphan films and what they can inspire when inspired people embrace them.

Feb 1, 2009

the Center for Social Media conference

The Orphan Film Symposium (along with the International Documentary Association, POV, Kartemquin Films, Women in Film & Video DC, et al.) sponsors the 5th annual "Making Your Media Matter" conference, organized by the Center for Social Media, February 12 & 13.

The Center invites you to join "filmmakers, distributors, outreach specialists and an impressive cast of media pioneers for a series of panel discussions on the latest tools in creating, distributing, and fundraising for social issue media."

Events take place at American University’s Katzen Arts Center, 4400 Massachusetts Ave. NW, in Washington, DC.

Here's the lineup of speakers and topics.

5:50 pm George Stoney (NYU) on ethics in social-issue film
6:15 Keynote: Gordon Quinn on the ethics of Cinema Verite

10:15 Money and Mission
Danny Alpert, Exec. Producer, See3 and Kindling Group
Julie Goldman, founder, Cactus Three Films
Alyce Myatt, Exec. Director, Grantmakers in Film + Electronic Media
Sheila Leddy, Ex. Director, the Fledgling Fund

1:30 Outreach and Connection
Andrew Mer, Snagfilms
Almudena Carracedo & Robert Bahar, filmmakers, Made in LA
Scott Kirsner, author of CinemaTech
Maia L. Ermita, Director of Festival and Outreach, Arts Engine
Wendy Levy, Director of Creative Programming, Bay Area Video Coalition

3:30 Art, Ethics and Mission
Sean Fine & Andrea Nix Fine, filmmakers, War Dance
Cara Mertes, Director, Sundance Documentary Film Program
Thomas Allen Harris, Director, Chimpanzee Productions
Sky Sitney, Programming Director, SILVERDOCS