Dorchester Projects film screenings
Chicago Film Archives helps Theaster Gates reel in a neighborhood arts Renaissance.
Six months ago, Chicago Film Archives was invited to hold programming at Dorchester Project, a fledgling arts space named after its 6900 South Dorchester Avenue block—an area with a dearth of cultural institutions in comparison to neighboring Hyde Park. CFA director Nancy Watrous didn’t know what to expect. “When I went there, I immediately became intrigued,” Watrous says. “It’s in a [culturally] neglected area of the city.”
In the last three years, Chicago artist Theaster Gates has been building Dorchester Project: three buildings—part artist residency, part friendly, doors-always-open neighbor—in a community hit hard by the recession (Gates bought the second building in 2009 for a shockingly low $16,000).
Gates, a busy arts director at the University of Chicago who sells his racially infused performative art at Kavi Gupta Gallery, says on his website he works toward the “restoration of poor black neighborhoods.” Watrous’s CFA—a regional film archive devoted to protecting and preserving the film medium—has a complementary modus operandi.
“We want people to understand the important cultural legacy that they already have,” Watrous says about Chicagoans’ oldhome movies.
Another reason the two culture-makers hooked up: Both the CFA and Gates’s cultural haven possess artistic missions involving archives. Gates stores tens of thousands of art-historical slides, art and architecture books, and jazz and blues LPs at Dorchester Project; all archives were deaccessioned from local collections.
Dorchester Project’s ample green space allowed CFA to plan an outdoor screening—a goal for the org since it originated by acquiring the Chicago Public Library’s deaccessioned film collection in 2003. According to Watrous, “when the Chicago Public Library stopped lending out their 16mm films, I started hearing all these stories about the disappointments people felt because they would rent these library films in the summertime and screen them in their backyards for neighbors and friends.”
Watrous fills that gap by inviting neighbors and the public to Thursday night screenings at 9pm on Thursday 21 and August 4, capped by a bring-your-own home movie event on August 11. In her partnership with Dorchester Project, Watrous says Gates asked only that she “create a welcoming sense.” Watrous and her archivist, Anne Wells, found the curatorial freedom exhilarating. “We really don’t know who’s going to come, so we decided to pick a smattering of films we felt were pretty cool,” Watrous says. The shorts, home movies, newsreels and television episodes deal with music, political activism and neighborhoods.
“Once given the site, its geography and loaded political history, it was a slam dunk for CFA,” says Gates.
For info on screenings at DorchesterProject, call 312-243-1808.
DORCHESTER PROJECT SCREENINGS
Thursday 21 at 9pm
1. Grammy-winning music producer Samuel Charters documents music emanating from alleyways, porches and front stoops in “The Blues” (1973).
2. In the 1950s, radio personality Russ Davis produced, distributed and announced professional wrestling fights including “Yulie Brynner vs Rose Roman” from 1958. “We have 300 prints like this—they’re really beautiful,” says Watrous.
3. Documentarian John Cohen captures American bluegrass music in “High Lonesome Sound” (1963).
August 4 at 9pm
4. In response to the murder of a young black man in Cicero, civil-rights activist Robert Lucas led a demonstration, taped in 1966’s “Cicero March.” “This film is really stunning,” Watrous remarks. “It’s ugly in some ways, due to the content.”
5. “Organizing for Power,” from 1968, takes place in Woodlawn, where residents fought to keep the University of Chicago from expanding into the neighborhood.
6. A teenage Jeff Kreines took his camera on the streets, asking people if they’re happy. His “Ratamata,” from 1971, is a nine-minute film that Watrous calls “an example of student home movies that have so much value and craftsmanship—these are the films that get tossed away.”