Moving Image Research Collections at Orphans Midwest

The University of South Carolina will be well represented this month at the Orphans Midwest Film Symposium at Indiana University, September 26-28. Born in South Carolina in 1999 and now based at NYU, the Orphan Film Symposium is a gathering of scholars, archivists, and artists that celebrates moving images produced outside the commercial mainstream or forgotten by creators and copyright holders. Orphans Midwest is the perfect venue for Moving Image Research Collections to showcase its varied treasures, and this year there will be several presentations from MIRC and USC faculty and staff.

On Friday, the 27th, MIRC Newsfilm Curator Dr. Greg Wilsbacher will debut a new print of the never before released documentary, A Frontier Post, thought to be the only extant motion picture footage of American Buffalo Soldiers in the 1920s.

The film, shot in 1925 by the Fox Film Corporation as an installment of the news magazine Fox Varieties, documented the lives of the Buffalo Soldiers in the 10th Calvary. It was to be called “A Frontier Post,” and over 2700 feet of negative were exposed. The project went through the normal stages of development, resulting in a yellow tinted print ready for final review.  For reasons unknown, the project was cancelled, and the film never shown. Surviving examples of film magazines like Fox Varieties from the silent era are rare, and while never released, A Frontier Post is an excellent example of the news magazine genre.

The twelve-minute documentary is remarkable in its matter of fact portrayal of African Americans engaged in professional soldiering.  Troopers perform reveille, report for inspection, and demonstrate their equestrian skills.  At a time when racial stereotypes were a commonplace on the screen, Fox Varieties’ attempt to produce an honest portrayal of black soldiers is historically significant, even if it was never publicly screened.

A grant from the National Film Preservation Foundation helped to fund restoration work on the 35mm nitrate negative, which led to the creation of a preservation quality release print, tinted yellow to match the original. The new print will premier on Friday night, accompanied by a live performance of a musical score written by Gabriel Gutierrez Arellano.

Dr. Wilsbacher will also give a talk on Friday about the Fox Varieties series, highlighting Frogland, a stop motion animation from France, in addition to A Frontier Post. On Saturday, in a particular treat for Hoosiers, he will introduce a screening of the Fox Movietone footage of the Indiana University graduation from 1929.

In the Thursday session Un-Caging the Orphan: What Intersectionality Can Teach Us About the Educational Role of Orphan Works, MIRC Cataloging Manager Ashley Blewer and Cataloging Assistant Travis Wagner will discuss intersectionality in the context of orphan films.

Still image from The Black Cop

A theory that seeks to bring voice to individuals who are “othered” based on a combination of gender, race, class, and other non-normative identity signifiers, intersectionality can be applied to certain orphan films to uncover and understand the complex levels of oppression faced by disenfranchised groups. As an example, the presentation will highlight a piece from the Spartanburg Police collection, simply titled “The Black Cop.” The film focuses on the experiences of African-American police officers in 1970s New York, dealing with racist pressures from white colleagues on the one hand, and with distrust from peers in the black community on the other. Films from MIRC’s Fox Movietone and home movie collections will also be screened and discussed, creating a narrative of intersectionality as diverse as the very issues brought up with this important theoretical framework.

On Saturday, Dr. Craig Kridel, Professor of Educational Studies and Curator of the University of South Carolina’s Museum of Education, presents a very rare screening of a film from a Humans Relations Series of classroom films produced in the late 1930s. The print forms part of the rich collections of Indiana University Libraries Film Archive.

Given the Orphan Film Symposium’s SC roots, MIRC is especially thrilled with the generous exchange of research and resources between USC, NYU, and IU. This is shaping up to be a fantastic event, and Moving Image Research Collections is proud to be a part of it.

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