University of Wisconsin-Madison Wisconsin Historical Society homepage WCFTR homepage
WCFTR Conference About WCFTR WCFTR Collections Contact WCFTR How to search the archive collections

Latest News at the Center

NHPRC Grant Project
Posted Sept. 4, 2013.

The WCFTR Director Vance Kepley is very pleased to announce the successful completion of a major, year-long effort to systematically reprocess one of the Center’s most important archival collections. With the generous support of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), the Center has completed the comprehensive reprocessing of the Emile de Antonio Collection. After the year-long hiatus, the upgraded De Antonio Collection is now ready to be accessed by interested researchers.

De Antonio (1919-1989) was an innovative documentary filmmaker and participant in New Left political activism. His ground-breaking films on America’s Cold War political culture—including Point of Order (1964), In the Year of the Pig (1968), Millhouse (1971), and Underground (1976)—established him as the leading practitioner of his generation in the realm of political documentary. De Antonio first established his professional archive at WCFTR in 1972, and he made numerous subsequent donations of films and papers at intervals over the years. The original collection was processed inconsistently in different stages over a period of two decades, and was badly in need of a complete, systematic reorganization that followed a consistent plan.

Under the NHPRC grant, the Center was able to reorganize and refile the entire paper collection and to recatalogue the film material. A new, clearer finding aid has been prepared, which will be available on-line by November 2013 ( (Meanwhile, researchers visiting the archive at the Wisconsin Historical Society Building [816 State Street] can consult the finding aid internally.) The work was done skillfully by project archivist Emil Hoelter, working with graduate assistants Laurel Gildersleeve and Kit Hughes. Hoelter notes that the vastly improved design of the collection will promote ease of use by future researchers: “We have created a thorough intellectual arrangement of the entire de Antonio collection. Now researchers can find any folder, film, video, audiotape, poster or prop, with its relationship to the rest of the collection clearly described."

Director Kepley expresses his gratitude to the processing team for a job-well-done and to NHPRC for supporting this important project.

Errol Morris and WCFTR
Posted May 30, 2013.

The brilliant filmmaker and UW Madison alumnus Errol Morris was awarded the Honorary Doctorate by his alma mater at the May 17 commencement. This is the highest honor the University can bestow on one of its alumni. The WCFTR takes pride in having spearheaded Errol Morris’s nomination for that award. WCFTR sponsored the honorary degree nomination, with co-sponsorship support from the Departments of History and Communication Arts.

Errol Morris received his UW degree in History in 1969 and lived for a time in Wisconsin after graduation. In the course of his time in Madison, he spent many hours in the WCFTR archive, watching films from the collection and educating himself about film history. He has often acknowledged the value of that experience in cultivating his growing interest in cinema. In a profile in the alumni magazine On Wisconsin Morris praised the WCFTR and its film collections:

“It was an extraordinary resource,” [Morris] says of the trove of prints that included thousands of movies from Warner Brothers, RKO, and a number of Hollywood’s so-called Poverty Row studios. He began viewing films there as a student and then returned after graduating. “You could go into a room with a Kodak Pageant projector and start watching movies — you could program your own film festival,” he says. “You could select a director like William Wellman and watch thirty Wellman films, or, if you wanted, you could watch Howard Hawks or John Ford.” (from On Wisconsin Magazine, spring 2009).

During his Madison visit over commencement weekend, Mr. Morris revisited the WCFTR and Wisconsin Historical Society archives and met with staff. It was a pleasure for WCFTR and WHS staff members to welcome Errol Morris back to the institution that played such an important role in his early career.

U.S. Premiere of the Newly Restored Portrait of Jason
Posted April 8, 2013.

On March 15, the newly restored film Portrait of Jason received its U.S. premiere at the UW Cinematheque. The film, originally released by the late Shirley Clarke in 1967, is daring, provocative, ground-breaking and truly gripping and one of the first LBGT films to be taken seriously by the general audiences. It remains one of the most remarkable films of American independent filmmaking.

Making the evening even more special was having Wendy Clarke, Shirley’s daughter and a wonderful filmmaker in her own right, and Dennis Doros of Milestone Films in attendance. Milestone Films has spent the past few years restoring three of Shirley’s other films – The Connection (1962), Ornette: Made in America (1985), and Robert Frost: A Lover’s Quarrel with the World (1963). Wendy and Dennis arrived in Madison a few days before the screening to do research in the Shirley Clarke Papers at the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research; Shirley started donating her papers in 1973. The WCFTR worked closely with Milestone Films throughout the restoration process to help bring Portrait of Jason back to the big screen and “hidden” gems from Shirley’s collection at the WCFTR will be included in the upcoming DVD release of the film.

Dennis Doros spoke at the Communication Arts colloquium on March 14 and described in great detail the many twists and turns Milestone Films encountered in the process of restoring the film. To learn more about the restoration adventure, you can watch Dennis’ presentation here: Professor emeritus David Bordwell also wrote an extensive piece on his blog concerning the film:

Nitrate Study Group Presents Findings at the Association of Moving Image Archivists Conference
January 2, 2013

Members of the Nitrate Study Group at the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research and the Wisconsin Historical Society presented the findings of the first year of their NEH funded project to members of the Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA) at the group’s annual conference in Seattle, WA. WCFTR director Professor Vance Kepley, WCFTR archivist Maxine Ducey, Heather Heckman and Katie Mullen described the reasoning for the study, the research protocol, preliminary findings, and the plans for the next year of the study. Professor Mahesh Mahanthappa of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the lead chemist for the project, answered questions from the audience via Skype. The audience, composed of archivists and film preservation experts from around the world, was intrigued and excited by the work being done and what it could mean for the future of nitrate film preservation as well as the regulations governing the storage and transportation of nitrate moving image film. The Nitrate Study Group plans on presenting a final report on the study at next year’s AMIA conference, which will be held in Richmond, VA.

Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research Awarded NHPRC Grant
June 4, 2012

The Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research (WCFTR) has received a 15-month grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) to support processing of the Center’s important archival collection on Emile de Antonio.

Emile de Antonio (1919-1989) was an innovative documentary filmmaker, an art agent, and a political activist who was a force in the New Left movement of the 1960s-80s. An affirmed Marxist, he was also a skilled arts entrepreneur and included among his inner circle of friends the likes of Andy Warhol, John Cage, and Robert Rauschenberg. The de Antonio collection documents the personal life, professional associations, political experiences, and filmmaking activities of an American polymath from the New Deal, through the radical 1960s, to the Reaganite 1980s. It constitutes a complete picture of the business of independent film production and distribution during the most fertile era of American independent cinema. His films addressed the major events of the Cold War era, including the McCarthy phenomenon, political assassinations, and the anti-war movement. The collection thus includes extensive research files and footage documenting post-War America, from the McCarthy hearings to the release of FBI files under the Freedom of Information Act, from the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and both Kennedy brothers to the Nixon administration, from the members of America's most influential art movements to the members of its most radical political groups.

The de Antonio collection is the most complete of the WCFTR’s personal manuscripts collections, but unfortunately it is also the most disordered. This processing project seeks to improve access to the collection by updating the tools for intellectual access, rearranging the manuscripts, and reducing duplicate moving image holdings. Increased use of the collection is the primary goal for both manuscript and moving image materials; preservation is a secondary, but significant goal, for the moving image materials. The grant will enable the WCFTR to hire a project archivist as well as two student assistants to work on the collection.

Nitrate Films Pose Fire Danger
March 19, 2012

Collaborating with the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research and chemistry department, staff with the Wisconsin Historical Society are studying the effects of cellulose nitrate film decomposition and the associated fire risk. "This project offers a vital opportunity to improve our understanding of nitrate film, a medium that has proved problematic for many in the conservation field," said Katie Mullen, the Society's preservation coordinator. "The project results will be of great value not just to the Society and its partner institution, the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research, but also to the wider field of historic preservation." more.

Mary Huelsbeck Joins the WCFTR
March 1, 2012

The Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research is pleased to announce that Mary K. Huelsbeck has joined us as the new Assistant Director. She replaces Ben Brewster, who retired as the Center's Assistant Director last year.

Ms. Huelsbeck comes to the WCFTR from the Black Film Center/Archive (BFC/A) at Indiana University-Bloomington, where she has for the last several years been the Archivist and Head of Public and Technology Services. She holds master's degrees in History and Library and Information Science from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She is active in the Association of Moving Image Archivists, and brings with her a strong background in archival administration and much valuable professional experience that will greatly benefit the WCFTR.

Her colleagues in WCFTR and the Communication Arts Department are very pleased to welcome her.

Wisconsin Center for Film & Theater Research Awarded NEH Grant

The WCFTR has been awarded a $200,000 grant by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). The grant will fund a project titled “Investigation of Cellulose Nitrate Motion Picture Film Chemical Decomposition & Associated Fire Risk.” This project will test cellulose nitrate film stock with the goal of creating guidelines for the handling and long-term storage of this highly unstable medium.

Nitrate film is extremely flammable, as well as very susceptible to decomposition. Though discontinued in the 1950s, much of the early 20th century’s still and moving image content is stored on nitrate film base, and thus a large portion of America’s media heritage is at risk of deterioration or complete destruction by fire. Yet, very little empirical research on nitrate film decay and flammability has been conducted. This project will undertake precisely this research in a 30-month study that will bring together the WCFTR and the Wisconsin Historical Society with the UW-Madison Department of Chemistry’s Mahanthappa Research Group. Project results will be published in a white paper and translated into improved best practice guidelines for the handling and long-term storage of nitrate film. Moreover, this project will provide archival institutions with better information for cost-benefit analyses of preserving nitrate film holdings, as well as clarify contradictory information circulating in current standards and serve as a model for future collaborations between the archival, chemical, and safety communities.

Many thanks are due to Heather Heckman, interim director of the WCFTR and the proposal’s author, for helping secure this significant grant award. ”This is very important research, connecting the sciences and the humanities,” WCFTR Director Vance Kepley confirmed. ”Heather’s elegant NEH proposal identified that connection and produced significant grant activity for two L&S units, Chemistry and the WCFTR.”

Jill Godmilow

The WCFTR was thrilled to welcome recent donor Jill Godmilow in September. Between a University lecture on September 29th entitled “Let’s Kill the Documentary as We Know It” and a 35mm screening of her 1987 film Waiting for the Moon to a rapt Cinematheque audience, she stopped by to view the collection she has given to the Center.

A UW-Madison alum (class of ‘69) and an Emerita Professor at Notre Dame, Ms. Godmilow has had a long and distinguished filmmaking career. Among her credits are the celebrated documentaries Antonia: A Portrait of the Woman (1974; added to the National Film Registry in 2003), What Farocki Taught (1997); and the feature-length re-imagining of the relationship between Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, Waiting for the Moon (1987). Her collection (donated 2010-2011) documents the entire breadth of her career, from Antonia to the present day.

Ms. Godmilow expressed her deep gratitude for the privilege of being archived, particularly alongside friends like Shirley Clarke. We look forward to making her papers and films available to researchers and the interested public.

Filmmaker Jill Godmilow thumbs through her own collection on a tour of the Wisconsin Center for Film & Theater Research

Taiwan Films Donation

Guests at the Taiwan films donation receptionThanks to an historic agreement between the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the government of Taiwan, the film archive of the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research will receive a trove of 35mm films representing some of the best work of the New Taiwanese Cinema. The donation was first announced in November 2010 during Chancellor Biddy Martin's visit to Taiwan and is part of the University's initiative to increase cultural exchange with Taiwan.

The National Central University of Taiwan has arranged for the donation of six important Taiwanese films to the WCFTR's permanent collection in 2011, and this will be followed by additional film contributions in 2012-13. The Center thanks Taiwanese film scholar Wenchi Lin, Director of Film and Visual Culture Studies Center at the National Central University, and Professor Nicole Huang, Director of UW-Madison¹s Center for East Asian Studies (CEAS), who facilitated this exchange.

At a reception co-sponsored by the Department of Communication Arts and CEAS, Professor Lin and a delegation from the Taiwan Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) were guests of honor. Professor Sue Zaeske, on behalf of Communication Arts, and Professor Huang, on behalf of the CEAS, welcomed theTaiwanese guests, along with Dean Giles Bousquet of International Studies. WCFTR Director Vance Kepley thanked Professor Lin and his institution for providing this important film collection and co-signed, on behalf of the Center, a memo of understanding which confirms the terms of the archival donation.

WCFTR Director Vance Kepley signs the memo of understanding for the archival donationThe first group of films will tour the US as a small traveling festival and then return to WCFTR for permanent archiving. The films will then be made available by WCFTR onloan to other US archives, museums, festivals, and campuses, subject to rights agreements with the films'Taiwanese producers. Several of the films were showcased in the 2011 Wisconsin Film Festival and in the UW Cinematheque series, "Taiwanese Cinema: The Next Wave".

This film donation enhances the Center's holdings in Asian cinema, including a collection of 121 Taiwanese films on 16mm acquired from TECO in 2003.

The 2011 donation involves new, subtitled 35mm prints of the following films:

  • Cape No., 7 (Hai-kak chhit-ho, dir. Te-Sheng Wei, 2008)
  • Orz Boyz (Jiong nan hai, dir. Ya-che Yang, 2008)
  • Yang Yang (dir. Yu-Chieh Cheng, 2008)
  • Parking (Ting Che, dir: Chung Mong-Hong, 2008)
  • Somewhere Over the Dreamland (Meng huan bu luo, dir Wen Tang Cheng, 2003)
  • Super Citizen Ko (Chao ji da guo min, dir. Wan Jen, 1996)
Copyright © 2007-2011 WCFTR
WCFTR Home page Wisconsin Historical Society University of Wisconsin-Madison