Throughout much of the twentieth century, millions of students learned about the world by watching educational films, and many workers learned their jobs by watching industrial films. These films are mostly forgotten today (or remembered for their unintentional comedic value), but looking at how they addressed important issues can tell us how and what students learned about the tumultuous changes in American and global society after World War II. This in turn can give us new insight into how modern media is used for education.
The four screenings in this series look at how educational and industrial films addressed massive social change, how that social change affected the films, and how working on these films affected documentary filmmakers in Chicago. Speakers at each screening will introduce the films and then lead a discussion about what the films said about the era in which they were made, and how they continue to be useful tools for social analysis.
Friday, April 24 at 7pm
Kartemquin Members’ Work for Hire
Presented by Judy Hoffman (University of Chicago, Kartemquin Films member) and Gordon Quinn (Kartemquin Films Co-Founder)
Logan Center for the Arts, 915 E. 60th Street
Chicago’s Kartemquin Films is known for its socially engaged documentaries, but funds haven’t always been plentiful. So, like many Chicago-based documentary filmmakers, they did work for hire to raise money for their projects and pay their rent. But it wasn’t just about getting paid: they used this work as an opportunity to hone their craft and learn about different worlds of work, from fast food to organ transplants to automotive plants. This in turn opened the filmmakers up to thinking about their own relationship to the film industry. In films like Strange and Beautiful (about quality control at McDonald’s) and Roadmap for Change: The Deming Approach (about a radical experiment at a Pontiac factory), the filmmakers behind such classic documentaries as The Last Pullman Car and Hoop Dreams figured out how to survive and perfect their craft. Most of these films have never screened publicly.
1976-1990, 81 min., 16mm and video projection
Friday, May 1 at 7pm
Using Classroom Films to Teach about Race
Presented by J. Andrew Uhrich (Indiana University Libraries Moving Image Archive)
South Side Community Art Center, 3831 S. Michigan Ave.
Despite the cliched idea that educational films were pedantic and authoritative they were, at times, in touch with changing political opinions and social movements. This program, drawn from the collection of the Indiana University Libraries Moving Image Archive, examines how educational filmmakers in the late 1960s and early 1970s reflected upon the struggle for racial equality and expressions of Black pride. The classroom screen became less a place of rote transfer of visual information than a site to examine what it meant to be Black in America. Films like Portrait of a Disadvantaged Child and Real Self were created to explain African American culture to white educators and reflect their own experience to students of color. Others, including The World of Julian Bond and Inner City Dweller, were made by African Americans and represented initial attempts to redress the discrimination behind the camera.
1965-1973, 74 min., 16mm projection
Saturday, May 9 at 4pm
For Educational Purposes Only:
The Jamaica Film Unit Works, 1951-1961
Presented by Terri Francis, Indiana University Department of Communications and Culture
Washington Park Arts Incubator, 301 E. Garfield Blvd.
Formed by the British Colonial Film Unit as part of its efforts to decentralize colonial film production, the Jamaica Film Unit produced films specifically tailored for Jamaican audiences. It used film to instruct local audiences, but increasingly the films came to be used to push the local government’s broader propaganda campaigns. Often, the Unit’s mobile cinema brought electricity to rural areas for the first time. Three films exemplify the output of the Unit: Farmer Brown Learns Good Dairying (1951) teaches management of dairy herds, Let’s Stop Them (1953) looks at the effects of crop theft on farmers, and It Can Happen to You (1956) teaches the importance of treating venereal disease. Prof. Terri Francis will discuss how these films serve different purposes today than when they were produced: they provide a historical record of pivotal moments in Jamaican history, but they also document cultural producers, including musicians, actors, and the fledgling filmmakers who made them.
1951-1956, 56 min., video projection
Saturday, May 16 at 4pm
Urban Renewal and Its Aftermath
Presented by Judy Hoffman (University of Chicago) and Ronit Bezalel (filmmaker)
Black Cinema House, 7200 S. Kimbark Ave.
Postwar urban renewal programs redesigned the urban landscape, ostensibly to solve problems of overcrowding and decay in inner cities. Often this meant the destruction of historic architecture and the mass displacement of residents. “Slum clearance” affected hundreds of thousands of African Americans, leading James Baldwin to dub urban renewal “Negro removal.” The Oscar-nominated The Living City (1953) celebrated these programs as the only hope to save major cities, but as the century progressed it became obvious that urban renewal just created new problems, exacerbating the concentrated poverty of high-rise public housing. Indiana University’s Inner City Dweller: Housing (1973) addresses the failures of urban renewal programs twenty years on, and Voices of Cabrini (1999) asks what comes next as Chicago’s Cabrini Green is demolished.
1953-1999, 85 min., 16mm and video projection
This program is made possible by a grant from the Illinois Humanities Council, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Illinois General Assembly. Further support comes from The MacArthur Funds for Arts & Culture at the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation; Black Cinema House; the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts, Arts + Public Life, the Center for the Study of Race, Politics & Culture, and the Film Studies Center at the University of Chicago; and Media Burn Independent Video Archive.
We would like to thank the Indiana University Libraries Moving Image Archive, Chicago Film Archives, Kartemquin Films, Dirk Wales, Ronit Bezalel, and the National Library of Jamaica for providing prints and/or video files of these films.