Apr 30, 2017

Film Screenings in Remembrance of Japanese Internment Camps


      On Wednesday evening, April 26, I went to room 674(6 floor, Tisch, NYU) to see the Japanese Internment Camp film screenings: Where I Live, produced by my cinema studies classmate Conan Ito and Luyao Ma. A couple of weeks earlier, Conan invited me to go to their upcoming documentary screenings, which would include a film he and Maloo (as we call her) recently made. He said their film is about the World War II Japanese concentration camp. The phrase “concentration camp” he used, instantly made me associate this with what the Nazi regime had done to its Jewish victims. Thus I started to question myself: why didn’t I know anything about this period of history before? But later Conan told me that most of the Japanese Americans in these camps had survived. At the screening, I also found the presenters changed the word “concentration” into “internment,” a more apt term.
      The screening showcased three films in this order: Robert Nakamura’s Something Strong Within (1995), Ito and Ma’s work-in-progress, Where I Live (2017), and Rea Tajiri’s History and Memory: For Akiko and Takashige (1991). The first and the third are documentaries, but quite distinct from conventional ones. Something Strong Within is an assemblage of home movie footage, with intertitles giving the names of their makers. It unfolds these images of the real life in multiple Japanese internment camps across America. In a mix of black-and-white and color footage, we witness how American Japanese reconstruct a new community far away from the outside world, celebrating their traditional holidays; holding sporting events, games, and art classes; chopping firewood and working in the field. But History and Memory: For Akiko and Takashige is far more fragmentary and experimental with its use of documents.
      In the discussion that followed the screenings, Maloo answered a question about why they selected these two to juxtapose with their film. She admitted that even she started to understand them in this second viewing. What’s more important, Conan added that there are plenty of mainstream documentaries which introduce the history of American Japanese in a more dramatic tone, whereas what they intend to do is more directly reveal the truth of this period of history.
      As for their new documentary, I wanted to praise them for doing a good job. From the perspective of the present, they interviewed three women involved in the past and historical trauma in different degrees. What interests me most are the multiple identities of these female interviewees. Instead of being the so-called survivors or the descendants of survivors of that period and experience, they constructed new identities, socially or professionally, to integrate into the multicultural society they have known since the war years. Theodora Yoshikami, the 74-year-old interviewee who came to the screening, was once a dancer. I was deeply moved by seeing the old images (performance record from NYU Tisch, took in 80s, Theodora used to be a student in Dance department in Tisch.) that she was performing traditional Japanese dance in Where I Live.
( Theodora Yoshikami)

      I want to end with some words from the conversation between Theodora and a Japanese girl in the Q&A section. The girl said in Japan she had never heard of the history of American Japanese internment camps. She thought it must be a big part of American history, so she wanted to know how important the issue is to Americans. But Theodora instantly answered it was never a big part of America. What she meant is the American haven’t widely discussed or memorialized the internment camp and it will never appeal on the official textbook no matter in America or Japan. So how should the younger generation consider the issue? Memorize or let it go?

Ni Lei

'Shorts: Postcards' at Tribeca

On Friday evening I attended a program of five short films at the Tribeca Film Festival. They were titled 'Postcards,' presented as "five female-centric stories where the past meets the present." There was no introduction other than a brief welcome by a festival programmer who let us know that four of the directors were present in the audience. The theater was totally packed.

The films ran about 20 minutes each, with each one beginning right after the other. The first film, 'Viola, Franca,' was an incredibly powerful film about the first rape trial in Italy in the 1960s. Shot on film and very aesthetically European, it was an incredible way to begin the program. The second film was called 'Fry Day,' about a young girl coming of age in middle America. It was also heavy, like the first film, and my friend turned to me and said, "Do you think the next one might be happy?" I said probably not - the female experience is often not a happy one.

The third film, 'Dive,' was a Venezuelan film that fell slightly short compared to the first two. While still somewhat thematically heavy, it did not develop as much depth as the others had. The fourth film is where I really knew the programming was struggling, as we watched 'Tokyo Project' a big budget, indulgence from executive producer Lena Dunham and starring Elisabeth Moss. It very much felt like the outlier, and I feel like it was programmed for political reasons more than anything. It was also the man's story much more than the woman's, so I'm not sure why it was included in this series.

The final short was called 'Little Bird,' another period piece set in 1941 - I thought it was interesting to begin and end the program with such obviously period narratives - and while the editing might have helped the story have a little more clarity, it was a powerful, relevant story about abortion and independence.

It was the first time I have attended a shorts program at a major film festival, and overall I loved it; however, a couple of the films were not as enthralling as the others, and out of the 20,000 submissions I like to think they might have had some better options. Still, it's always exciting to see women's stories given center stage in a program such as this.

- Sarah Dawson

Moving Images at the Whitney Biennial

Last Sunday I went to the Whitney Museum of American Art to see the 2017 Whitney Biennial exhibition. Every two years, the Whitney Biennial acts as a survey of the current landscape of contemporary American art and artists. At this year’s exhibition, there are a wide array of different mediums featured, from painting, photography, and sculpture to performance art and a multitude of time-based media works. The moving image artworks in the show include formats such as 16mm, 4K digital video, and even virtual reality. These various audiovisual works are interspersed throughout the museum’s fifth and sixth floor galleries. They are displayed next to non-moving image works such as paintings and photographs in the same, brightly lit gallery spaces, though some are also shown isolated in separate, darkened screening rooms with blackout curtains preventing light spill from the galleries from entering the screening space.

The last time I visited the Whitney, I saw the Dreamlands exhibition, which was comprised entirely of moving image works. One of the impressions I had about Dreamlands concerned audio (an aspect of time-based media works that museum curators should carefully consider when planning exhibitions). In many of the gallery rooms in Dreamlands, the audio from several different pieces could be heard simultaneously, and in some cases the resulting cacophony made it difficult to discern which sound track was meant to accompany which video. I am pleased to report that this was not an issue at the 2017 Whitney Biennial. The audiovisual works on view are dispersed throughout the galleries in such a configuration that the audio from one piece never overlaps with the audio of another.

(Leigh Ledare's Vokzal, 16mm film projection)

Though there are dozens of moving image works featured in the 2017 Whitney Biennial, I will briefly discuss three of them and the curatorial questions they raised for me.

·      The Flavor Genome (Anicka Yi, 2016, 3D high definition video)

       Anicka Yi’s The Flavor Genome is one of the works in the exhibition displayed in its own screening room. This piece requires that the viewer don 3D glasses, which two museum staff members hand out as one enters the screening room. The curatorial question that arose with me for this piece concerns how often components such as 3D glasses need to be replaced over the course of an exhibition. The side pieces on the glasses I received were extremely stretched out, causing the glasses to repeatedly fall off my face during the screening. This type of wear and tear on viewing devices needs to be considered when programming events (especially if it is a months-long exhibition that is open every day).

·      Vokzal (Leigh Ledare, 2016, 16mm film)

      Leigh Ledare’s 16mm work Vokzal was unfortunately projected in an extremely bright gallery space, and was placed next to a large, floor-to-ceiling stained glass piece that had no discernable relation to this work. The light emanating from the windows made the images coming from the 16mm film projector very difficult to view. This arrangement struck me as an odd curatorial decision.

·      Real Violence (Jordan Wolfson, 2017, virtual reality)

      I have seen virtual reality works at a few programmed events and I have to say that I the Whitney handled the exhibition of a VR work in a very efficient way. For Jordon Wolfson’s Real Violence, a table was set up with ten VR headsets so ten people could watch the piece at the same time. Though there was a line to view the work, it moved very quickly (even on a Sunday!) as the piece is fairly short and can accommodate ten viewers at once. As this work features extremely graphic violence, a warning of the brutal content was prominently displayed in the gallery. Museum staff members assisted patrons with putting on the VR headsets and I observed them cleaning the headsets in between viewings. The only issue I found was that the staff informed everyone the work was 90 seconds long, while the wall text said it was two and a half minutes long. Aside from this minor discrepancy, the Whitney and its staff did a great job curating this VR experience.

--Savannah Campbell

Apr 28, 2017

The Ballad of Sexual Dependency

The Ballad of Sexual Dependency by Nan Goldin, an essayistic slideshow of nearly 700 photos taken by Nan Goldin throughout the 1970s and 80s was recently taken down from exhibition at MoMA. In a scramble to see this piece before being taken down, I rushed the day before its end to wait in line and to see what my reaction would be. I had seen a small segment merely two days before, and found myself moved by the work in a way that I couldn't explain, and I needed to see more. So, on the 15th of April, i went to MoMA, wormed my way into the room where it was being shown to a packed and rapt audience, and sat through the entirety of the piece twice. And afterwards, I found myself so moved by the piece, so in need to preserve my connection to the work, that I immediately went to the bookstore on the premises and bought the photo book collection of roughly 250 of the photos from the work. To hold on to the memory of the work, and the powerful effect it had on me. I ended up crying three times that day, twice during the show itself and once hours later at the memory of the piece. I haven't been moved by art so strongly in some time, and that I was able to see this just days before it would be taken down, and unknown years before I would ever be able to see this work again, fills me with an energy and hope. To see it in its original 35mm slide format only enhanced the experience

Raananah Sarid-Segal

Apr 15, 2017

Floral Juxtaposition

Manon Gray

Over spring break I visited the de Young Art Museum in San Francisco. It happened to be during their annual Bouquets to Art. The museum invites florists from around the Bay Area to create flower arrangements that pair with art in the de Young's collection. I've been several times, and there's always been a large crowd. Picture taking of the flowers is so popular that the museum advertises photo-free hours in the morning. Bouquets to Art is a fundraiser, and, according to the museum's website, has "raised more than $6 million for the Museums' special exhibitions, conservation projects, and education programs."

I always find the level of excitement around the flowers intriguing.  It's tempting to conclude that people like flowers more than they like paintings, but I don't think that is it.  I think that the flowers make the art less intimidating. Often art can feel inaccessible without some understanding of its art history context. Since the bouquets are usually paired with a single work, they are interpretations. A visitor can easily compare the arrangement with the work. The arrangements are usually not figurative, so the comparison invites consideration of the piece's formal characteristics such as color and shape. The comparison provides structure for contemplation.

None of the works featured in Bouquets to Art were moving images, and I don't think flower arrangements would pair as well with them compared to static works. However, I wonder if a different juxtaposition could provide similar effects for the interpretation and appreciation of moving images.

Apr 14, 2017

Egyptian Theatre Screens Nitrate Prints

The TCM Classic Film Festival ran from April 6-9 this year, and like any other year, they aired time honored classics in iconic Hollywood venues, sometimes with the artists themselves as guests of honor. This year was entitled Comedy in the Movies, but that wasn't the detail that was particularly special about the event. This year, TCM screened four of their features using nitrate prints of the films. The short but exciting list consisted of the titels: Laura, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Lady in the Dark, and Black Narcissus. Even more exciting, the latter three films are color nitrate stock. Due to Kodak ceasing nitrate producing in 1950, color prints are far less common than earlier black and white films.

In order to accommodate this endeavor, the projection booth at the Egyptian Theatre, where the films were shown, had to be remodeled to be brought up to modern construction codes. This was a collaboration between TCM, Martin Scorcese's The Film Foundation, Academy Film Archive, and the American Cinematheque. Additionally, the project also modified two 35mm projectors: they were connected to a large emergency button. In the case of a fire, when depressed, the button shuts off the projectors and activates metal fire shutters that encase the projection booth to isolate the fire.

While the project itself is exciting enough, the long lasting effects are even more enticing: because the Egyptian is now up to code, they have future plans to show nitrate films in their programming from time to time. This is fantastic news for those who have never seen nitrate projected – which is a large number of younger peoples – and has implications for increased access not only at this theatre, but proves that with some motivation, it is a possibility for other theatres and venues (funding available) as well. 

-- Melanie Miller

Apr 12, 2017

'Casablanca' in the Age of Trump

Last week, I attended an event hosted by Eugene Lang College and The New School; specifically, the Department of Culture and Media at Eugene Lang College of Liberal Arts and the Zolberg Institute on Migration and Mobility, as well as the Department of Liberal Studies at The New School for Social Research. The event included a screening of the classic 1942 film Casablanca, and was titled "Casablanca at 75: A Refugee Story."

I was incredibly excited about the event for two main reasons: Casablanca is one of my favorite films, and one of my primary passions concerning cinema is the ability to recontextualize stories across time, culture, etc. in order to invoke new meanings from them. In the age of Trump and the divisive rhetoric surrounding immigration, this screening event appeared to be the perfect antidote and opportunity for discussion around "new" meanings of a classic film.

The event was also to include a conversation with Noah Isenberg, a Eugene Lang College professor of Culture and Media and the author of We'll Always Have Casablanca: The Life, Legend, and Afterlife of Hollywood's Most Beloved Movie, and Alexander Aleinikoff, director of the Zolberg Institute on Migration and Mobility at The New School. The conversation was to be moderated by A.O. Scott of The New York Times. Honestly, I cannot think of a set-up for an event that could possibly excite me more than this one; when I discovered it on Facebook, I immediately registered (it was also free).

Unfortunately, the event fell incredibly short of my expectations. The venue at The New School was nice and there were about 40 people in attendance (fewer than I had anticipated). The screening was fine - the film seemed to be played via DVD - but there was no real introduction beforehand. When the three men took to the stage after the film ended, no introductions were made. There was also no program or pamphlet, and so I had no idea who was who and had forgotten exactly which each person's expertise was supposed to be. They launched into a too-casual conversation that talked some about the film's renewed relevance in the current political climate, but it felt more like a chat between friends and we all just happened to be there, too. While I think a casual discussion at at event like this is often fine, introductions were definitely necessary and it would have been nice to have felt more addressed as audience members. The conversation lasted 25 minutes or so, with nothing all that substantial to contribute to the relevance of the film.

I had high hopes for this sort of recontextualization of such an iconic film - it felt like it would be the perfect event - but it seemed to fall short based on poor planning and execution. It might have been a really impactful conversation, but I left feeling like I had watched a film I had seen a hundred times before with no new insight. It's unfortunate, because obviously these men have remarkable expertise on the topic. With more proper planning, it might have been a really special experience.

- Sarah Dawson

Apr 9, 2017

On a Mission to Rescue Home Movies and Orphan Films

     “Home movies too often have been perceived as simply an irrelevant pastime or nostalgic mementos of the past, or dismissed as insignificant byproducts of consumer technology”.  Patricia Zimmerman and Karen Ishizuka say it best in their book Mining the Home Movie: Excavations in Histories and Home Movies.  I am a firm believer of this, that home movies serve a much greater role outside of the families that they belong too.  The Center for Home Movies proclaims on their website that “you may be surprised to learn that your home movies can hold great interest for a much wider public, including local historians, international scholars, and artists. Popular celebrities or historic events that appear in your films would be obvious examples, but in fact it is the record of normal human beings being themselves in everyday circumstances that may be of most historical value.” This brings me to the questions: Can someone curate home movies and only home movies? This question stems from a paper I wrote for my final assignment in Howard Besser’s Culture of Archives, Museums and Libraries class in the spring of 2016. In this paper, I surveyed three historic houses located on Long Island, New York. A historic house can be defined as a building, where people can go to learn more about their local history of the town they live in.  Some of those houses represent a single family that once owned most the land at one point in time.  These types of houses are common throughout Long Island and much of the country and I was wondering if I could draw common threads between them and analyze what they might be lacking and in need of.  It turns out that none of them considered themselves historic houses but rather variants of that name.  More importantly, they are all in need of an archivist. Some houses had small moving image collections that were known to exist but had never been inspected or assessed of their value.  It is a hope of mine to survey as many of these houses as I can to bring these materials to light and show the people of New York what wonderful things lay dormant on film and maybe stumble upon something special that no one knew existed before.
     This is the beginning a project that will be based on Long Island that involves surveying not just historic houses but libraries, museums, local television stations, town halls, schools and colleges in Nassau County for home movies and orphan films. The end goal of this project is exhibition of this material in its original form as well as creating awareness of the potential of this material. This could be a good way to drum up attention for home movies and preservation of local history in general. I believe that if enough home movies are discovered, we could curate events using those home movies. We could get local musicians to score the home movies and perform alongside them as they are screened.  Historical societies and libraries are always in search of new and varied events to hold that are also educational.
     Another impetus for this project occurred over the summer.  While interning at Indiana University Libraries’ Moving Image Archive in Bloomington, Indiana, I was given the task of beginning the inventory of the Edward and Naomi Feil Collection. During that time, I was intrigued by a film can that read, “World’s Fair 64-65”. To make a long story short, Edward Feil took his camera into a theater at the fair that was showing a film, Think. Ed captured three minutes of this ten-minute film and I was aware that the Library of Congress was working on a restoration of the film.  There were still questions surrounding the film’s original exhibition and some of the images within it. These questions were answered in Edward’s home movie from the World’s Fair. This re-discovery got me thinking. What other wonders lay dormant on home movies throughout the country? Throughout the world? How could I go about figuring this out? How could I obtain the funds to do it? How can I rescue home movies that have been orphaned over the years? Could I stumble upon something as equally as important as Edward Feil’s home at World’s Fair?


     Could I do this in a pro-bono fashion? How can I get people who don’t care about home movies to care about home movies? So many questions and so few answers.  Over the course of my career as an audio-visual archivist and preservationist I hope to become part of the larger community of like-minded professionals who speak of and save home movies.
     Well, to keep costs down, preliminary work would be done on the phone. This will also be an easy way for others who want to get involved in such a project, to do so. Since I live in Nassau County on Long Island, I will begin there and begin with historic houses throughout Nassau County, which there are many, almost one for every town.  Sixty-three cities, towns and, villages make up Nassau County.  Almost each one has a library, multiple schools and historic houses that work towards preserving local histories.
     Having worked with my local historical society in Malverne, NY and a couple others in the recent past, this is the where we will start. The Malverne Historical and Preservation Society, for the past year, has shown interest in hosting an event using home movies found within the town. I have suggested that, to do this, we could use the local television station to reach out to local people and communicate the idea that home movies are important and relevant to not just the families who originally shot them. With enough home movies, we could program an event to show the development of Malverne over time. This could serve as an example of what can be done in any town with their home movies and could inspire others to reach into their closets, attics, and garages, dig up their home movies and allow them to part of this project.
     In the fall of 2015, I performed a collection assessment for my local television station of their tapes and found a box of VHS tapes of home movies. They broadcast them occasionally. These are films that have been reformatted to VHS by the families that owned them and it is no longer clear who gave the station these reformatted VHS tapes.  A quick search revealed that a film collection at Northeast Historic Film houses some other home movies from Malverne in the 1930s. 
     The first Wednesday of every month, Malverne holds a board meeting that the television station broadcasts live to discuss issues and the goings-on in the town.  During this meeting, there is a segment where anyone who wants to address the board can ask them questions, speak to the camera and address those who are watching.  Here I could make a plea for the opportunity to inspect and exhibit their home movies at an event at the Malverne Historical and Preservation Society sometime in the future.  I will also ask if those who have donated VHS tapes in the past if they still have the film.  I would love to use these home movies but the VHS tapes and DVDs I have seen are poor presentations of the material.
     Looking beyond Malverne, we could contact each historic house and library by phone or email.  For the purpose of this project, when discussing film materials, the term “moving image” will not be used in conversation.  Too often, I receive confused looks when I refer to film and video as moving image material. Below are some questions that could be asked of these places in an email, over the phone or in person:

  • How large are your holdings?
  • How is your material handled and stored?
  • Do you have any home movies on film or home movies that are now on tape or DVD that were born on film?
  • Are you ever approached by local people who want to give you home movies or film materials?
  • Do you have any film projectors in your holdings?
  • Have you ever had an archivist on staff?
  • Would you be interested in having an audio-visual archivist inspect any films materials?
  • Would you be interested in this project I am working on?
  • Do you know of any other places such as other historic houses or libraries that may have film materials that need inspection?
  • Would you be interested in hosting an event this exhibits home movies and/or orphan films?
  • Would you be willing to work with us to secure funds for the digitization of any home movies or orphan films found in your possession?
  • Would you be willing to provide broader access to these materials once they have been digitized?
     In the summer, after graduation from the Moving Image Archiving and Preservation Program (MIAP) at NYU, I will work on answering all of the questions raised in this blog post.  In a hypothetical situation where this project is a success, minimally, we would end up re-discovering a few hundred home movies. The films that are in good shape will be exhibited in their original form with both 8mm and 16mm projectors that have been provided by The Malverne Historical and Preservation Society. Projectors that I help maintain and have access to regularly.  We will attempt to secure funding for films that have been inspected and appear to be in poor condition, shrunken, and are unable to be projected. Assuming we are able to project most of the films discovered, we could stumble upon something of importance. Using the example of Edward Feil’s home movie from the World’s Fair, one never knows how valuable a home movie could be.
     I’m already aware of two historic houses that possess home movies of the families that once owned them. These two houses happen to be Gold Coast mansions.  Gold Coast mansions are home located on the north shore of Long Island.  These mansions were built during the 1920s.  It would be interesting to exhibit these home movies in conjunction with each other.  One could witness how different families of affluent background lived at that time. One of the historic houses from my survey mentioned that they possess nitrate film in their holdings.  This project can also serve to connect local institutions that may not necessarily communicate with each other. Long Island, including Brooklyn and Queens, is a highly-populated area with great potential for home movies and orphan films to be re-discovered. Since most historic houses have material that is in need of archiving and preservation but no money for an archivist, I’m hoping the attention that the combination of events and the re-discovery of home movies and orphan films will highlight the need for archivists in not just on Long Island but all over the country. There is special material, both moving image and non-moving image that is waiting to be researched and re-discovered but no one knows what specials thing lay dormant for people to see.  Beginning with a few emails and phone calls, I am optimistic that this can be done with great results within a year or two. I am on a rescue mission so to save local history in the form of home movies and orphan films.

Sources Cited:

     Center for Home Movies. Web. 02 Mar. 2017. <http://www.centerforhomemovies.org/>.

     Ishizuka, Karen L., and Patricia Rodden. Zimmermann. Mining the home movie: excavations in histories and memories. Berkeley: U of California Press, 2008. Print.