This is a guest post by AFC intern Adam Schutzman, who worked at the Center in the late summer.
Over the course of my summer internship at the American Folklife Center, I had the pleasure of working on a large collection of 16mm films and videos found within the Bruce Jackson and Diane Christian Collection (AFC 2011/009). These moving images consist mostly of production elements and outtakes from the five documentary films that the husband-and-wife team of Bruce Jackson and Diane Christian produced together under the name Documentary Research, Inc. The footage spans the years of 1978 to 1988 and includes outtakes from a couple of documentary film projects that Jackson and Christian never finished. As I began processing the collection, it became clear that some research about the creators would support the work I was doing. I was intrigued by what I found.
Bruce Jackson and Diane Christian have both lived fascinating professional lives. Bruce is a prolific folklorist, photographer, writer, filmmaker and professor based at the University at Buffalo, where he is is SUNY Distinguished Professor and the James Agee Professor of American Culture and co-directs the Creative Arts Alliance. He is perhaps most well-known for his folkloristic and documentary work in prisons. This body of work includes a short film co-produced by Pete Seeger on prison work songs in 1966, a Grammy-nominated album of prison work songs in 1975, a documentary film about death row inmates in 1979 and more recently, a number of books and other publications, and several photographic exhibits focusing on prison life in the Southern United States. Jackson also served as president of the American Folklore Society in 1984, and was on the American Folklife Center’s board of trustees from 1984 to 1989.
Diane Christian is a writer, filmmaker, poet, religious literature scholar, and distinguished professor also based at the University at Buffalo. Before starting her academic career , she lived as a nun in a Roman Catholic order for eight years in Rochester, NY and is featured in the one of the documentary films that Jackson and Christian produced about former nuns, titled Out of Order (1983). She has published numerous articles and books. In addition to the films that they worked on together, Christian and Jackson have collaborated many times over the years, including co-directing the Center for Studies in American Culture at Buffalo, co-curating and hosting the Buffalo Film Seminars, and co-authoring a number of books.
While processing this large collection of moving images, I inspected many films and came across a few in particular that stood out to me. Early on in my work, I happened upon some unreleased footage of the well-known beat poet Allen Ginsberg, shot for the documentary film project titled Creeley. This documentary film focuses on the life and work of poet Robert Creeley and features an interview with Ginsberg at the Naropa Institute. This footage represents one of only a couple of unpublished items that feature Allen Ginsberg in the archives of the American Folklife Center.
Other highlights that I found while processing this collection included footage from two documentary film projects that were never released by Christian and Jackson. One of these projects focused on the famed radical lawyer and civil rights activist, William Kunstler.
Kunstler is perhaps best known for his civil rights work and for defending numerous well-known activists during the 1960s and 1970s such as Martin Luther King, Jr., the Freedom Riders, the Chicago Seven, the Catonsville Nine and more. The other unreleased film project focused on the beat poet and playwright Michael McClure. McClure is perhaps best known as being one of the five poets to read at the famous Six Gallery event in 1955, where Allen Ginsberg first read his influential poem, HOWL and which was immortalized in Jack Kerouac’s 1958 book The Dharma Bums. He is also known for writing the controversial 1960s play “The Beard” and for co-writing the song “Mercedes Benz”, which Janis Joplin later made famous.
The processing of this moving image collection is now mostly complete. Archivists at the American Folklife Center continue to work on the larger collection of which the films are part so that it can be made more accessible to the public in the near future. Be on the lookout for updates on this collection.
Having the chance to work on this collection was truly an honor. Through this work, I’ve learned a lot about what it takes to process a large collection of films, especially those that contain considerable amounts of production elements. Having this knowledge and experience will be very useful as I step into my role as President of the student chapter of the Association of Moving Image Archivists while finishing my master’s degree in Library and Information Science at Simmons College this coming academic year. I’m certain that I will draw upon this incredibly valuable experience for many years to come.
Afro-American Work Songs in a Texas Prison (29 minutes, 1966)
Death Row (60 minutes, 1979)
Robert Creeley: Willy’s Reading (16 minutes, 1982)
William August May (18 minutes, 1982)
Out of Order (89 minutes, 1983)
Creeley (59 minutes, 1988)