By Ray Pride
The Film Group’s “American Revolution 2” is one of the great, neglected Chicago film documents. The seventy-five-minute, post-1968-riot observational doc directed and edited by Howard Alk, shot by Alk and Mike Gray (with additional work by Gordon Quinn) follows the unexpected cooperation between the Illinois Black Panther Party and the poor Southern whites of the Young Patriots in Uptown. (The Film Group’s next film was the better-known, still incendiary “The Murder of Fred Hampton.”) Alk’s film is essential cinema vérité, and painfully timely in its depiction of activism, police brutality and the possibility of collaboration among underserved communities. We talked to Chicago Film Archives’ Michelle Puetz about the process.
How does “American Revolution 2” fit into the CFA’s preservation mandate?
Preservation of films that reflect the Midwest and Midwest filmmaking is central to CFA’s mandate and mission. And from that center, we try to build out and discover multiple means and reasons to provide access. Since 2003, CFA has preserved and brought access to neglected and overlooked films from the Midwest and over 1,500 films are streaming from our website for free. “American Revolution 2” filmmaker Mike Gray and producer William R. Cottle inspired and informed CFA’s mission during the archive’s earliest days. The preservation of “American Revolution 2″ completes Chicago Film Archives’ conservation of the entire body of work produced between 1966 and 1969 by Chicago’s documentary production studio, The Film Group. CFA photochemically preserved all seven “self-contained 16mm film modules” in the Film Group’s educational series, “Urban Crisis and the New Militants,” between 2005 and 2008 with the assistance of two grants from the National Film Preservation Foundation.
What’s the future for the film?
Now that “American Revolution 2” has been preserved on 35mm, it can be seen by new audiences in a theatrical setting (as it was originally intended). This preservation will ensure that the film will be available for generations to come. Following this premiere at the Gene Siskel Film Center, the preservation print will travel to New York to screen at Anthology Film Archives in December. William Cottle donated the 35mm print used for the preservation and preservation work was done at Colorlab.
Where does this stand in terms of how many preservations the CFA have done?
CFA has completed the photochemical preservation of forty films. We are currently working on Robert Stiegler’s “Capitulation” and Kenji Kanesaka’s “Super Up,” which will be completed in 2019. The oldest materials CFA has preserved were shot in 1903, “A Pictorial Story of Hiawatha.” Stored under the proper conditions, these materials will be stable for at least another century. Photochemical preservation on film is expensive and most of these projects have been funded with support from the National Film Preservation Foundation. The preservation of “American Revolution 2” was funded with major support from the National Film Preservation Foundation with additional support from Rebuild Foundation. CFA has digitally preserved hundreds of other films and videos, including seventy-three from the Ruth Page Collection.
So “American Revolution 2” is more ambitious in scale?
“American Revolution 2“ is the first feature-length 35mm film that CFA has photochemically preserved. This work is ambitious given how small our staff is now and has always been.
The restoration of “American Revolution 2” plays at Siskel on Friday, October 26.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His multimedia history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” will be published soon. Previews of the project are on Twitter and on Instagram as Ghost Signs Chicago. More photography on Instagram.