IU Black Film Center/Archive conference focuses on early black film artifacts

Nov. 4, 2013


BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Of the hundreds of films produced for black audiences before 1950, only a small percentage of original film prints are known to exist, often in fragmentary form.

Scholars, archivists and digital humanities specialists will gather to discuss the issue on Indiana University's Bloomington campus this month as part of the "Regeneration in Digital Contexts: Early Black Film" conference, hosted by the Black Film Center/Archive.

The conference comes on the heels of a recent announcement by IU President Michael A. McRobbie, unveiling a $15 million Media Digitization and Preservation Initiative aimed at preserving and making accessible in digital form the collections of video, recorded music, film and other material assembled by the university over its nearly 200-year history.

Brian Graney, archivist and head of public and technology services at the Black Film Center/Archive, said conference participants will consider how early black film artifacts are rendered as objects of study in transformative digital environments.

"For scholars looking beyond the film text at the contexts of its production, distribution, exhibition and regulation, prints have additional informational value as documents apart from their primary purpose as moving image content carriers," he said. "Because access to original film elements in archives and museums has been, as President McRobbie noted, place-dependent and not readily accessible to scholars, digitization can potentially provide new means to support the growing research interests in aspects of film's materiality beyond the archive -- and possibly beyond the deterioration of the material itself."

The conference is Nov. 15 at IU Cinema. Shola Lynch, filmmaker and curator of the Moving Image and Recorded Sound Division at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, will present the keynote address. Additional details are available online, including a schedule, list of participants and registration information.

In conjunction with the conference, IU Cinema will screen two Library of Congress restorations of black-cast silent features, presented with live piano accompaniment by Philip Carli:

  • 7 p.m. Nov. 15, "The Flying Ace" -- Richard Norman’s story of World War I flier-hero Capt. William Stokes who returns home to solve the mystery of a missing paymaster and save the life of the beautiful Ruth Sawtelle.
  • 3 p.m. Nov. 16, "Within Our Gates" -- Through a young protagonist, Oscar Micheaux critically examines the lines between races, classes, and North and South in his earliest surviving film.

All screenings at the IU Cinema are free but ticketed. Tickets can be obtained at the IU Auditorium Box Office from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday; one hour before any screening at the cinema; or by phone at 812-855-1103 for a $10 service fee per order.

"Regeneration in Digital Contexts: Early Black Film" is sponsored by the Black Film Center/Archive and has been made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities’ Office of Digital Humanities. Additional support is provided by the College of Arts and Sciences and IU Cinema.