Last semester I did a blog post on the Lilly Library’s David Bradley Collection, a resource used in the selection of titles screened in the City Lights Film Series at the IU Cinema. In my explorations of this wonderful collection I discovered that not only does it have a rich history, but so too does the City Lights Film Series. At that time I talked to Joan Hawkins, Associate Professor in the IU Media School, about the process of acquiring David Bradley’s material and the beginnings of City Lights; but I soon discovered that the story of the latter, and its “sister series,” the Underground Film Series, deserved its own blog post. So, I returned to Professor Hawkins and asked her some more questions about the lives of these series.
KJ: As my previous post on the David Bradley Collection mentioned, the City Lights Film Series predates the IU Cinema correct? How did this series come about?
JH: City Lights predates the IU Cinema by many years. It began around 1997 or 98, as the Film Studies program was getting ready to move from the Departments of Comparative Literature, English, and Telecommunications into a newly configured Department of Communication and Culture (specifically, the area that became known as Media Studies and, subsequently, Film and Media Studies). It was started by some film students in Comp Lit— Drew Todd and Eric Beckstrom—and I believe Barb Klinger was the inaugurating faculty advisor.
KJ: How did the series function back then (before IU obtained the Bradley Collection and the IU Cinema opened)?
JH: We used to do screenings in Ballantine Hall 013— and the films were drawn largely from our own 16 mm film collection. Film Studies used to have about 200 titles, that we used for teaching back in the pre-video, pre-video projector era. (In the nineties if you blew up a video image so that it was large enough for students to see, it looked terrible— became very grainy and the colors washed out horribly). We even had a few anamorphic (widescreen) prints, and an anamorphic projector lens that was so stripped the projectionist would have to hold the lens manually in place during the screening. Those were some gnarly screenings, I can tell you.
We also occasionally rented films from CIC, a consortium of the Big 10 schools, that allowed member participants to rent 16 mm prints very cheaply—$35 for Jeanne Dielman, 23 Rue du Commerce, Bruxelles, for example. I believe the collection was housed at the University of Iowa— and I know there’s a PDF of one of the old catalogues. Both CIC and the Film Studies AV collection purchased exhibition rights along with the physical prints—which is how we could afford to show them.
We showed great films at no cost to the public and so people from both the IU community and the Bloomington community at large came. Later, we moved to the large raked screen auditorium in Radio-TV (room 251, I believe), which was one of the first large rooms on campus to have nice built-in technology. During the time we had screenings in Ballantine and Radio-TV we used to work out arrangements with the University Parking people so that patrons could leave one of our flyers on the dashboard of their car and park for free.
KJ: What was the relationship between City Lights and the Bradley Collection once Indiana University obtained the latter?
JH: When IU obtained the Bradley Collection, we were also able to draw from it and from the Harry Gleim Collection for screenings. This was all handled through the Department of Communication and Culture (CMCL), which also gave us a small budget and which provided a ton of in-kind support. Deb Munson, who was the Film Studies and later CMCL Film and Media Studies Administrative Assistant ordered films for us and returned them in addition to her other many tasks. The Bradley Collection and Harry Gleim Collection were administered through the library, so we worked with Rachael Stoeltje and others to actually arrange the screenings. I don’t remember a time when we were denied access.
KJ: The IU Cinema’s Underground Film Series has a history connected to City Lights, right?
JH: For quite awhile, City Lights held screenings every Friday. Then around 2004, a group of graduate students in CMCL— Tracey Gibboney being chief among them—petitioned the department, and asked to begin a sister series that would focus on experimental and avant-garde cinema. I have been the faculty advisor for Underground since it began.
We began initially screening every Saturday evening—over in Radio-TV 251, but eventually we began to alternate Friday night screenings with City Lights (that is, City Lights would screen one Friday and Underground would screen the following week). We drew from the permanent library 16 mm collections, the Film Studies Collection, the Bradley, and occasionally we were able to borrow from the Kinsey Institute. We also were interested in video and DVD work, so began working with the Welles library AV acquisitions to acquire videos and DVDS that came with public performance rights (these are more expensive, institutional versions of things you can now buy online), and we had a small budget to rent from CIC, Canyon Cinema, Electronic Arts Intermix, and the Chicago Video Data Bank. As digital transfers improved in quality we were able to buy DVDs (again through the library)—compilations of rare films. We were able to show a program of Lettrist and Situationist films this way; and also a program of Vienna Aktionist works.
A key aspect to both City Lights and Underground is that the idea for them came from hardworking grad students, who found professors to help them. Over many years, the Board for each series has shifted and changed— but both series are still grad student operated and curated.
KJ: How did the opening of the IU Cinema impact both of these series?
JH: When the IU Cinema opened its doors we cut back on the number of screenings for each series, but gained a great deal. The Cinema has been incredibly generous to us, renting beautiful prints and enabling all kinds of professional screenings—for instance, Luis Recoder’s 2013 screening with Sandra Gibson and Olivia Block which demands actual manipulation of the projector during exhibition, and a wonderful projection of Andy Warhol’s Chelsea Girls, an exhibition that requires 2 projectors to run simultaneously. This was unthinkable back in the old Radio-TV days, when not only student projectionists but sometimes even my wonderful husband, Skip, ran the projector for us. I remember one night when we didn’t have a large enough take-up reel for a 16 mm screening and Skip was in the projection booth with grad student, Mark Benedetti, trying to physically loop the film on his arm so it wouldn’t get torn and tangled on the floor
The IU Cinema has given very generously and has enabled us to show things we’d never been able to previously screen. And of course the Jorgensen Lecture Series has enabled us to bring filmmakers here. Again, unthinkable back in the day when we were carrying projectors, lenses, and film cans across campus.
This spring the City Lights Film Series will screen The Philadelphia Story (1/29), Soylent Green (2/4) and Paisan (2/25). Underground Film Series started this spring with Tony Conrad: Completely in the Present (1/20) and continues with Lewis Klahr’s Sixty Six (2/17) and the David Gatten: Working with Words Series (3/21) including The Extravagant Shadows and Working with Words: Historical Documents, Systems of Knowledge, & Text-as-Moving Image Art David Gatten Jorgensen Guest Filmmaker Lecture.
Katherine Johnson, currently a third year legacy PhD student in Communication and Culture, studies film and media, genre (particularly the Western), gender, and performance. She has a BA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and an MA from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, and has been obsessed with film since the beginning.