Schmitz to show 1923 film on Chautauqua’s past

Roxana Pop | Daily file photo
Institution archivist and historian Jon Schmitz will give a presentation at 9 a.m. Thursday at the Women’s Club house titled “Looking at Chautauqua: Past, Present, Future.”

In the Amphitheater last week, Ken Burns riveted Chautauquans with historical film footage from the early 20th century.

At 9 a.m. Thursday at the Women’s Club house, there will be another such opportunity. This time, the focus will be on Chautauqua rather than the Roosevelts.

For his presentation titled “Looking at Chautauqua: Past, Present, Future,” Institution archivist and historian Jon Schmitz will show a 1923 film about Chautauqua and place it in historical context.

Schmitz, who has served as Chautauqua’s archivist since 2002, said this film is significant not only because it appears to have been made in order to market Chautauqua, but also because it was one of the earliest safety films ever used.

Its existence means that George Eastman had been producing film that was less likely to catch fire earlier than had previously been thought.

Schmitz said that he noticed the film in Smith Memorial Library about eight years ago. It was transferred to the Oliver Archives Center and later taken to Eastman House.

“They measured it for shrinkage and hand-pulled it through so we know what’s on it,” Schmitz said. “They also looked for damage through emulsion and found it was in good shape.”

The archives took the film to Kodak four years ago and had it digitized, Schmitz said. During his presentation, he’ll be using a DVD copy of the film.

“It is without sound, and we’re unaware of there being a text for it,” he said.

The filmmaker, he added, was based in California and Dunkirk, New York.

Visually, the film provides an overview of activities, architecture and people of all ages on the grounds just five years after World War I ended.

Schmitz said that Chautauqua’s big building period had occurred during the first 15 years of the 20th century. By 1923, the Arts Quad and most of the public and administrative buildings on the grounds today had been constructed. Smith Memorial Library and Smith Wilkes Hall are two exceptions.

As part of the archives’ Heritage Lecture Series, which he initiated, Schmitz showed this promotional film last June in the Hall of Christ. George Cooper interviewed him for an article previewing that screening, which appeared in the June 28, 2013, issue of The Chautauquan Daily.

Cooper wrote that this film would have been shown in movie houses as a way of sharing the Chautauqua experience. Since automobiles were increasingly in use, vacation plans could be altered. The Bestor administration sought more people and money so that additional improvements could be made to the grounds, which in turn were needed for attracting still more people and funding.

This historical film “contains visions of the Institution as a place for family, good for kids, full of recreation and edifying spirit — views that people familiar with the Institution will recognize, even almost a century later,” Cooper wrote.