HYDE PARK — The second season of Spinning Home Movies, which taps contemporary Chicago artists to create a soundtrack for historical footage from the South Side Home Movie Project, premieres Thursday evening with an original piece from artist and educator avery r. young.
The composition titled “eryday. new mercy(s) pt. 1” is part of a soundtrack for “maim de looter(s),” a choreopoem in progress about the aftermath of the 1968 West Side riots following the murder of Martin Luther King Jr.
A livestream of the composition will be held 7 p.m. Thursday on the Arts and Public Life Facebook page.
It will feature footage of the 1967 Detroit uprisings and the 1968 Resurrection City occupation of the National Mall in Washington, D.C., sourced from the massive collection of the South Side Home Movie Project. It will also incorporate performances from young’s soul-funk band, de deacon board.
The piece is an interpretation of people’s mourning processes and their responses to institutional neglect.
The series, Spinning Home Movies, was initially created as a “quick pivot to virtual programming,” said Sabrina Craig, assistant director of external engagement in the University of Chicago’s Arts and Public Life department.
The series was conceived as the Home Movie Project’s answer to the coronavirus pandemic, since its avenues for community engagement and public screenings — as crucial to the project’s mission as preservation of the films themselves — were no longer available.
“We had planned a whole calendar of projects, workshops and community cataloguing with groups across the South Side,” Craig said. “We had to cancel everything and reimagine how we were going to connect with people.”
That initial call for DJs to soundtrack archival footage soon grew into a months-long effort involving composers, musicians and sound artists.
The fall season debuts this week and will continue with three more monthly episodes through December. A winter season will roll out in January.
South Side Home Movie Project
The South Side Home Movie Project collection that sustains Spinning Home Movies is unique in the field of film preservation, said archivist and project manager Justin Williams.
The Home Movie Project does typical archival work, collecting, preserving and digitizing scenes shot by South Side residents. Nearly 400 films from 1929-2008 are available on the project’s free online archive.
But the films aren’t just neutral snapshots of historical events, preserved for researchers and history buffs — they’re reflections of donors’ memories, identities, cultures and families.
Project staffers build relationships with donors and are in constant communication about how their submissions will be restored, cared for and shared with the world, as the films are “sacred to them,” Williams said.
Crowdsourced research — neighbors are encouraged to reach out to the project to identify and catalogue the scenes — brings the project out of the realm of nostalgia and “keep that history alive.”
Amateur films are “a recognition that stories that are important to us aren’t only the ones coming out of Hollywood,” Williams said. “We are actually capturing the images and narratives that are important to us, and they can be very important to home.”
Exploring the project’s archives helped DJ and producer Ariel Zetina expand her concept of what home movies — and the city as a whole — can be.
A resident DJ at house music institution Smartbar, Zetina worked on the series’ season one episode, “These Birds are Gentle, Please Be Kind.” She tied acid house and the contemporary sounds of her and her peers to archived vacation scenes of Florida, Puerto Rico and Michigan.
Zetina started work on her episode with “this perception that these would be movies in homes, of the intimacy of people’s lives behind closed doors,” she said. “There’s definitely a lot of that,” but she was struck most by the videos of South Side residents on their trips outside the city.
The episode reflects her new perspective, defining Chicago not only within the city’s physical boundaries but also in the experiences of Chicagoans wherever they go.
“Sometimes I forget that the memories and experiences that are outside of Chicago are still part of the Chicago narrative,” Zetina said.
Spinning Home Movies aims to recreate the experience of switching on the projector and reminiscing on experiences long gone — “but instead of just with your family, you’re watching it with families across the South Side,” Williams said.
“I really like this project because it is unique to Black amateur film,” Williams said. “We’re raising [the film] up by preserving it, but also by showcasing it as something worthy of research, as something worthy of art.”
You can watch the YouTube playlist featuring all episodes of Spinning Home Movies here. Archived livestreams, which feature DJ interviews and viewer commentary, are available on the Arts and Public Life Facebook page.
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