For the past five years Chicago Film Archives has sponsored a local artistic collaboration called the Media Mixer. In each year, CFA commissioned three Chicago-based media artists to create new works with material taken from the organization’s archival footage. Nancy Watrous, executive director of CFA, says that the artists could choose and use any footage that they wanted, as long as CFA had the copyrights or the works were in the public domain. “We then would pair them up—in some cases, kind of a blind date—with Chicago audio artists or musicians to score the new piece,” she explains. CFA would then premiere the new works at a Media Mixer event at the Hideout. According to Watrous, the process and events had been “hugely successful,” with some of the pieces going on to win awards at festivals.
In 2016, CFA received a grant from the MacArthur Foundation to produce an international version called the International Media Mixer. CFA will collaborate with Lab 80 film, based in Bergamo, Italy, on the project. The two organizations will exchange digitized film footage from their respective repositories and then commission media artists from the partnering country to create new works using the partner’s footage.
Upon completion of these four silent video works (two from Italy and two from the U.S.), the organizations will bring the footage back to its country of origin so that two musicians or bands from the home country can score the new pieces. Sometime in 2018, the four films will screen in Chicago and in Italy, with live accompaniment by the musicians who created the scores.
“My Italian colleague Karianne Fiorini and I have been talking about doing some type of collaboration or exchange of programming for several years now,” Watrous says. “She and I served on a panel together at a conference and quickly became aware that we both greatly appreciated and valued amateur films.” They talked about forming a joint program of 20th-century amateur films made by women. “I think she knew of a collection shot at a circus in some region of Italy that sounded outstanding,” Watrous says, “and of course, I was falling in love with Margaret Conneely, who had barely moved into her new home in CFA’s vault.” However, “so much was happening for Karianne over in Italy and CFA was going through growing spurts, so we never put the program together.”
But when Watrous learned that the MacArthur Foundation was offering a grant that would allow a cultural exchange, she contacted Fiorini with a new idea. “When I began thinking about some kind of an exchange we could do with an archive in Italy, I realized we had a model in the Media Mixer,” Watrous says. “This time, it would be a sort of blind date between cultures.”
Fiorini, who curates festivals and works with archives throughout Italy, suggested Lab 80 as the partnering organization. Meanwhile, Watrous proposed the musical element that also had been an integral part of CFA’s local Media Mixer. “I thought that by bringing the musicians to their media partner’s country to perform the music live to the video would be exciting, and present opportunities for expanded relationships,” she says.
Though this is the first time that CFA’s local Media Mixer concept is being applied internationally and cross-culturally, this “across-the-ocean ‘call and response,'” as Watrous calls it, has the potential to far surpass its predecessor.
“The goal is to explore the process of creating culturally hybrid media works, mixing and layering artistic expressions from artists of two different cultures,” Watrous notes. “We also are keen to bring definition and scope to the practice of media conservation around the world.”
Watrous says that CFA and Lab 80 will screen the pieces in Italy and in the Chicago area, “probably at multiple dates and venues in 2018.” In 2017, she says, “the artists will be hard at work messing with cool archival footage.”
For more information and updates, please visit http://www.chicagofilmarchives.org/.